Peace Through Deterrence: the Titan ICBM Program

MOUNTAIN HOME AIR FORCE BASE, Idaho -- Peace Through Deterrence: the Titan ICBM Program
For most of us the Cold War is one of those eras which is remembered in history books and old relics. It was a time of uneasiness and paranoia, of backyard bomb shelters and computer war games. The Cold War lasted 44 years from 1947 to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Remnants of the United States’ preparation for attack remain; their shadows are a grim reminder of how close the world came to annihilation.

At the height of the Cold War, Mountain Home AFB served as an alert base for the Strategic Air Command. With tensions rising between the U.S. and the USSR, the base gained a new mission. In 1960, construction began on three Titan I missile complexes at Bruneau, Oreana, and a third site near Boise. The initial construction cost was $28.9 million, but the budget swelled dramatically to over $51 million due to labor shortages, material shipping costs, extreme weather and extensive design modifications. Water wells used in the construction varied in depth from 950 to 3,030 feet and the water required special filtration. Three workers died in accidents and several labor strikes delayed the work. Despite these problems, construction ended before the deadline of 1 April 1962. These sites were not a secret back then, even to the Russians. Peace through Deterrence was the goal, with the mutual understanding that instant retaliation would occur should either side strike first.

Each of the three sites in Idaho had a short lived existence. In May of 1964 Defense Secretary McNamara directed the accelerated phase-out of the Titan I weapons, replacing them with the more efficient Titan II. As a result, the 569th Strategic Missile Squadrons sites in Idaho closed down and the personnel moved to join two Titan squadrons at Lowry AFB, Colorado. All Titan I squadrons were deactivated in June 1965. The missiles, most of the equipment, classified information, wiring and salvageable metals were removed from the sites. These and some of the other sites around the country are privately owned, with the occupants living above ground or in the refurbished command centers.
The sites themselves are engineering marvels, buried deep in the dry Idaho dirt and designed to withstand earthquakes and nuclear missile impacts. The silos are 160 feet in depth, built in groups of three and supported by propellant and equipment terminals, a power house, control center, and antenna terminals. Reinforced concrete 3 to 4 feet thick protects the sites from impact. Shock absorbers built into important areas protect delicate wiring and instruments from vibration. Self-contained, the sites were on alert 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Launch crews conducted exercises constantly and were able to raise each missile into position in 15 minutes. If launched, a missile could reach its target 5,500 miles away in just 33 minutes. There were several instances in which the only thing holding the nation back from full scale nuclear war was a launch order from the Pentagon. Fortunately, none of the 3,800-pound warheads were unleashed.
While none of the missile sites in Idaho are open to the public, a non-profit Titan II museum is located in Tucson, Arizona. This facility provides guided tours of a well-preserved silos and support areas. The museum’s missile is still in its cradle, although it is modified so that it cannot be used. The weapon is now an educational relic and a reminder of the perils of war.

This article is brought to you by the Gunfighter Heritage Committee.