A vestige of the Cold War, the mammoth, 10-warhead MX missile is on schedule to become history next fall just like the superpower conflict that spawned its creation. Yet, Pentagon planners are already contemplating the missile’s possible reincarnation.
Air Force Space Command has deactivated 26 MX intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), also known as “Peacekeepers,” and has 24 more to go, according to spokesperson Michael Kucharek. The last MX missile is supposed to be disassembled by September 2005.
The Bush administration is deactivating the entire MX force as part of its efforts to reduce the number of operationally deployed U.S. strategic nuclear warheads to comply with the terms of the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty negotiated with Russia in 2002.
In decommissioning the MX group, the four-stage missile is taken apart in sections, beginning with its payload, and then the sections are shipped to Hill Air Force Base in Ogden, Utah, for storage. The Pentagon plans to maintain the MX missile silos, rather than blow them up, in order to keep them available to house future missiles.
A February 2004 report by a task force of the Defense Science Board, an independent advisory body to the secretary of defense, recommended redeploying MX missiles armed with conventional warheads so as to be able to hit targets around the globe in no more than 30 minutes.
The Air Force Space Command plans to review the proposal as part of a study beginning this month. That effort will examine what systems should be developed to replace hundreds of U.S. Minuteman III ICBMs whose service lives start to expire in 2018. The United States currently deploys 500 Minuteman IIIs armed with 1,200 nuclear warheads.