Air Force Bases

Atlas Missile Deployment Strategy

The Air Force deployed Atlas models D, E, and F; each was based in a different launch configuration.

As an emergency measure, in September 1959 the Air Force deployed three Atlas Ds on open launch pads at Vandenberg AFB. Completely exposed to the elements, the three missiles were serviced by a gantry crane. One missile was on operational alert at all times.

The first full Atlas D squadrons became operational in 1960. In these so-called "soft" sites, which could only withstand overpressures of 5 pounds per square inch (psi), the missiles were stored horizontally within a 103- by 133-foot launch and service building built of reinforced concrete. The missile bay had a retractable roof. To launch the missile, the roof was pulled back, the missile raised to the vertical position, fueled, and fired.

An individual Atlas D launch site consisted of a launch and service building, a launch operations building, guidance operations building, generating plant, and communications facilities. The launch operations buildings were two-story structures built of reinforced concrete measuring 73 by 78 feet with earth mounded up to the roof lines. Constructed much like blockhouses at missile test ranges, these buildings housed the launch operations crew and were equipped with entrance tunnels, blastproof doors, and escape tunnels. The guidance operations buildings, which sent course corrections to the missile in flight, were one-story structures, 75 by 212 feet, with a full basement. The basement walls were reinforced concrete and the remaining walls were of concrete block. The power plant was a 63- by 65-foot single-story, concrete block building. It housed three large diesel generators and the pumps for the water system.

At the first Atlas D squadron at F.E. Warren AFB, six launchers were grouped together, controlled by two launch operations buildings, and clustered around a central guidance control facility. This was called the 3 x 2 configuration: two launch complexes of three missiles each constituted a squadron. At the two later Atlas D sites, a second at F.E. Warren AFB, and at Offutt AFB, Nebraska, the missiles were based in a 3 x 3 configuration: three launchers and one combined guidance control/launch facility constituted a launch complex, and three complexes comprised a squadron. At these later sites the combined guidance and control facility measured 107 by 121 feet with a partial basement. To reduce the risk that one powerful nuclear warhead could destroy multiple launch sites, the launch complexes were spread 20 to 30 miles apart.

The major enhancement in the Atlas E was the new all-inertial system that obviated the need for ground control facilities. Since the missiles were no longer tied to a central guidance control facility, the launchers could be dispersed more widely. Thus, the three Atlas F squadrons located at Fairchild AFB, Washington; Forbes AFB, Kansas; and F.E. Warren AFB, Wyoming; were based in a 1 x 9 configuration: nine independent launch sites comprised a missile squadron.

The Atlas Es were based in "semi-hard" or "coffin" facilities that protected the missile against overpressures up to 25 psi. In this arrangement the missile, its support facilities, and the launch operations building were housed in reinforced concrete structures that were buried underground; only the roofs protruded above ground level. The missile launch and service building was a 105- by 100-foot structure with a central bay in which the missile was stored horizontally. To launch a missile, the heavy roof was retracted, the missile raised to the vertical launch position, fueled, and then fired. The 54- by 90-foot launch operations building was 150 feet from the missile launch facility; the two were connected by an underground passageway. The launch operations building contained the launch control facilities, crewo the silo and served as a conduit for the launch control cabling.

In the firing sequence the missile was fueled, lifted by an elevator to the mouth of the silo, and then fired. Although the silo sites were by far the most difficult and costly sites to build, they offered protection from overpressures of up to 100 psi.

The Air Force deployed six squadrons of Atlas Fs, one each at Schilling AFB, Kansas; Lincoln AFB, Nebraska; Altus AFB, Oklahoma; Dyess AFB, Texas; Walker AFB, New Mexico; and Plattsburg AFB, New York (the only ICBMs ever based east of the Mississippi). Each squadron included 12 launch sites. Distances between the sites ranged from 20 to 30 miles.