Strategic Forces:

Minuteman Weapon System Status and Current Issues

NSIAD-90-242: Published: Sep 28, 1990. Publicly Released: Oct 29, 1990.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO evaluated the Air Force's plans to retain the Minuteman II and III missile force through fiscal year (FY) 2008, focusing on: (1) the costs; (2) the impacts of aging; (3) life support extension programs; and (4) the capability of the Air Force to assess and demonstrate the operational condition of the missiles.

GAO found that: (1) to extend the life of the Minuteman force, the Air Force must maintain missiles in a launch-ready state; (2) the Intercontinental Ballistic Missile Systems program office estimated that it would need about $30.4 billion to maintain the force, although the estimate could decrease by an undetermined amount in light of a decision to retire half of the force; (3) a shortage of missiles and missile components curtailed operational flight testing of the Minuteman II system; (4) the Air Force maintained Minuteman III missiles in accordance with planning criteria; (5) the reliability of the Minuteman III force was at an acceptable level, but the reliability level of the Minuteman II was not acceptable; (6) under current testing schedules, the Air Force would not have spare components for flight testing to support Minuteman III reliability assessments after 1999; and (7) under current plans, confidence in Minuteman II missile performance could not be restored and sustained.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: By letter dated January 24, 1992, DOD advised that MMII was scheduled for retirement between fiscal years 1992 and 1997 but, consistent with the recommendation, DOD was determining the feasibility of accelerating the missiles' retirement.

    Recommendation: In view of the Department of Defense's (DOD) decision not to correct the deteriorating condition of the missile and the several hundred million dollars in costs to operate and support the system, the Secretary of Defense should direct the retirement of the Minuteman II weapon system at a rate that would retire the system earlier than the projected date of 1998, consistent with any strategic arms reduction talks agreements that are concluded.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: By letter dated May 6, 1991, the Department of Energy advised that its plans for warhead development would be contingent upon DOD plans for the MMII. DOD is considering reducing the number of warheads on the MMII from three to one. This action would resolve the potential problem GAO reported, i.e., lack of available warhead components for testing purposes.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Energy, in conjunction with the Secretary of Defense, should develop a plan to ensure the availability of Minuteman III MK 12A warhead components for flight testing through FY 2008.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy


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