Missile combat crew

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A missile combat crew (MCC) is a team of trained specialists manning Intermediate Range and Intercontinental Ballistic Missile systems (IRBMs and ICBMs, respectively).[1] In the United States, men and women of the United States Air Force operate underground missile systems at launch control centers located throughout the country.[2] Crew size varied among the different missile systems, but the number was always greater than one, to abide by Strategic Air Command's Two-man rule for positive control of nuclear weapons.

Origins[edit]

First missile combat crews were composed of trained aviators (i.e. B-47, B-36), but later generations had no aviation experience and were "grown" to be missileers from the start of their careers. Crews were composed of all males, until 1978, when the restriction of having women on crew was lifted for the Titan ICBM. For the Minuteman ICBM, the restriction was lifted on 1 January 1988.

Training[edit]

Combat crew training consisted of three phases, Initial Qualification Training (IQT), Unit Qualification Training (or Unit Orientation Training), and recurring training.

IQT was performed by the 4315th Combat Crew Training Squadron/392d Training Squadron at Vandenberg AFB, California and lasted 13 weeks. UQT/UOT was held at the missile base(s) the personnel was assigned to, and conducted by local instructors, lasting three or four weeks. Recurring training happened continually on a monthly basis, and was conducted by local instructors.

Locations[edit]

Locations of United States missile launch complexes varied by system. Most launch control centers were built in population sparse locations, such as the Northern Tier (Washington, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota), Midwest (Kansas, Missouri, South Dakota, Colorado) and the Southwest (Arizona, Texas, New Mexico). Each missile complex was organized near a missile support base (MSB). Crews would gather on the base, receive briefings and equipment, and travel out to their alert location by either truck or helicopter.

Working environment[edit]

The missile launch control environment also varied by system. Early missiles such as Thor and Atlas, relied on support facilities above ground, with crews protected in a shelter of some sort. Later systems were buried underground, either with the missiles located nearby (i.e. Titan) or a distance away (Peacekeeper, Minuteman). In the underground environment, crews dealt with artificial lighting, recycled air, loud noises, and intimately close quarters (in Minuteman and Peacekeeper) with equipment racks.

Alert tours[edit]

Minuteman and Peacekeeper alerts were usually 24-hour tours, with additional time required for briefings at the MSB, and travel time to and from site. An experiment with 72-hour tours was started in 2006 but was ended sometime later for unknown reasons.[3]

Project OIL CHANGE[edit]

OIL CHANGE was a test implemented by SAC to test if two-person 36-hour tour for Minuteman ICBM crews were feasible; before OIL CHANGE, three crew members were needed (MCCC, DMCCC, Alternate MCCC). The test ended in mid-1968, with the OIL CHANGE recommendations implemented 29 November 1968.[4]

System specifics[edit]

Each missile crew had at least two officers on-site operating the equipment: the missile combat crew commander (MCCC) and deputy missile combat crew commander (DMCCC). The earlier systems, such as Atlas, Thor and Titan, required more personnel to monitor increasingly complex systems (as listed below).

Titan[edit]

Titan II crews numbered four: MCCC, DMCCC, Ballistic Missile Analyst Technician (BMAT), and Missile Facilities Technician (MFT).[5]

Minuteman/Peacekeeper[edit]

Minuteman and Peacekeeper missile crews numbered two: the MCCC and DMCCC. Tasks within the system technical orders were sometimes labeled for each crew position, although the majority of tasks could be accomplished by either member.

Global counterparts[edit]

Soviet/Russian[edit]

Very little is known about Soviet/Russian missile crew members. Following with Soviet doctrine, launch control functions are trusted with higher-ranking officers (lieutenant colonel equivalents), in contrast to United States policy of entrusting lower-ranking officers (captains and lieutenants) with day-to-day functions.

French[edit]

Little is known about the French ICBM system, including personnel issues. The land-based deterrent, consisting of Hadès and SSBS S3D missiles was deactivated by President Jacques Chirac in February 1996.[6]

China[edit]

Nothing unclassified is known about Chinese ICBM personnel or their activities.

Chronology[edit]

In popular culture[edit]

American writer Mordecai Roshwald's 1959 science fiction novel "Level 7" tells the fictional story of "push-button" officer PBX-127. The character's job is almost identical to that of a modern day missile combat crew member.

In the 1983 film "WarGames", the prologue of the movie shows a missile crew performing a highly fictionalized changeover and alert before a SAC exercise commences (with the crew initially not knowing whether the action is real or just an exercise).

Controversy[edit]

From the early days of United States missile crew operations until the late 1970s, the career field was closed to female personnel.[8] Changes were implemented to allow for full female crews on both Titan II and Minuteman/Peacekeeper crews. Recognizing the limitations in personnel scheduling, Strategic Air Command relieved restrictions on same-sex crew pairings, into "mixed" crews on January 1, 1988.

In January 2014 it was reported that 34 US Air Force officers in charge of launching nuclear missiles cheated on proficiency tests and a major-general was sacked for having drunk too much and met "suspect" foreign women during a work trip to Russia.[9]

Photo gallery[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

External links[edit]