F.E. Warren AFB begins initial preparations for nuclear missile replacement project
By TOM COULTER | Wyoming Tribune-Eagle, Cheyenne | Published: December 4, 2020
CHEYENNE, Wyo. (Tribune News Service) — After the announcement earlier this year that F.E. Warren Air Force Base would be the first to have its nuclear missiles replaced in the coming decade, base officials have started initial preparations for the project, which could begin as soon as 2022.
The large-scale project to replace the Cold War-era Minuteman III missiles at F.E. Warren is expected to take 15 years to complete and create hundreds of local jobs as part of the country's Ground Based Strategic Deterrent program, which will replace all 450 of the country's Minuteman III missiles at a cost of about $90 billion.
90th Missile Wing Commander Col. Peter Bonetti said Thursday that he was excited to learn that F.E. Warren would be the first to have its missiles replaced, ahead of Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana and Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota.
"Seeing that (F.E. Warren) was going to be the beginning of the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent really brought a smile to my face, because this community is amazing," Bonetti said.
Though work on the project was initially pegged to begin between 2023 and 2025, Bonetti said he was expecting it to begin a bit earlier, in fiscal year 2022. The new missiles, which are expected to last until at least 2075, will allow the Air Force to adapt with evolving technology.
"We've had these systems since the 1960s, and we've seen a lot of advances in both rocket propulsion and other technologies," Bonetti said. "We'll take advantage of those technology advances. At the same time, we'll do this in a safe, secure manner, so that we're maintaining national security for our nation (during the replacement)."
A few projects at F.E. Warren are already in the works "to include all of the foundational work that we need to do to get ready for that GBSD planning for the missile field itself," Bonetti added.
There are also ripple effects of the project that Air Force and city officials have begun preparing for. With more military officials and subcontractors likely to come to Cheyenne during the project, Bonetti said he was "extremely concerned" about having adequate housing for local airmen and women.
A housing project planned for development just south of the base could help ease some of those concerns. The project, which is being contracted by Balfour Beatty, will include roughly 300 apartment units for use by both military members and residents at large.
"It's really affordable complexes (and) nice apartments for our single airmen, for our smaller families, and certainly for our entire military community," Bonetti said. "The nice thing about it is it's located off of the main base complex, so that allows the community to take advantage of this complex, as well — really a smart move."
Earlier this year, the city of Cheyenne won grant funding from the Wyoming Business Council, allowing local officials to begin design work on the housing project between Happy Jack Road and Old Happy Jack Road.
While completion of the housing project will likely take a few more years, there have also been some short-term projects underway at F.E. Warren. Last month, Air Force officials announced the base would be receiving a fleet of new MH-139 Grey Wolf helicopters, which Bonetti said will be a welcomed upgrade from the base's existing UH-1N Twin Hueys.
"All the airframes that we have were born in the same year I was, so 1969, that's how old that airframe is," Bonetti said. "It makes me a little nervous ... it's a very capable machine, but the capabilities that we're going to gain with the MH-139 will allow us to continue providing secure missile ICBM forces in the future."
With several long-term plans at F.E. Warren in the works, base officials have simultaneously been managing the immediate impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on their facilities. Bonetti said COVID-19 has been "both a blessing and a curse," presenting challenges at the base while also creating opportunities for new setups.
"It's allowed us to take some some really great steps toward some new capabilities, like enhanced telework and understanding what requirements really are," Bonetti said. "How do we move forward off of a static requirement, where two people have to be in a room, and move toward something where you can virtually connect and still have that same same type of connection? So I've been really happy to see that kind of blossom."
While the COVID-19 pandemic has led to some temporary closures at the base, Bonetti said the missile operations were never impacted, with daily checkups still being conducted "to ensure that the capabilities that we have out there were on demand for the president, should he require those."
"As the commander here, I had no concerns at any point in time that we weren't able to perform our mission," he added.
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