WHERE AGING MIS­SILES GO TO FI­NAL­LY BE MIS­SILES

Le der­nier voyage de mis­siles en fin de car­rière (aging vieillis­sant)

Vocable (Anglais) - - Armement -

A quoi servent les mis­siles ? A tuer. A dis­sua­der. A se vendre… mais que se passe-t-il lors­qu’ils de­viennent dé­pas­sés ? Aux Etats-Unis, ré­gu­liè­re­ment, de vieux mo­dèles sont re­te­nus pour être lan­cés sur des cibles fac­tices dans le Pa­ci­fique. Un moyen, pour les mi­li­taires, de vé­ri­fier tous leurs équi­pe­ments et de mon­trer au monde l’ef­fi­ca­ci­té de leur ar­se­nal.

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Ca­lif. — A Mi­nu­te­man III mis­sile in­side the si­lo known as Fox­trot 2 in Mon­ta­na was on alert for near­ly half a cen­tu­ry, rea­dy to fire a more than 300-ki­lo­ton hy­dro­gen bomb to an ad­ver­sa­ry anyw­here in the world in about 30 mi­nutes. That mis­sion en­ded in Fe­brua­ry, when an Air Force crew ven­tu­red out on­to the fro­zen Great Plains with a spe­cial crane and pul­led it out of the hole. It was hea­ded for sun­ny Ca­li­for­nia. The aging mis­sile had been se­lec­ted for a test-fire, to prove it still wor­ked and could hit a bull’s-eye — wi­thin se­ve­ral hun­dred feet, any­way — on a tar­get in the South Pa­ci­fic, 4,200 miles away.

TEST LAUNCH

2. About four times eve­ry year, the Air Force goes through the exer­cise of pul­ling an ICBM out of a si­lo, re­mo­ving its nu­clear wa­rhead and sen­ding it to Vandenberg Air Force Base near Lom­poc for a test launch. The tests, which cost $18 mil­lion each, not on­ly give the Air Force cru­cial da­ta on the func­tion of its aging mis­siles, but al­so send a clear in­ter­na­tio­nal si­gnal, com­plete with high-de­fi­ni­tion pho­to­gra­phy, of Ame­ri­ca’s conti­nued abi­li­ty to launch a nu­clear strike. 3.The mis­sile se­lec­ted for tes­ting had been cho­sen ran­dom­ly in an im­pro­bable but ap­pa­rent­ly long-stan­ding Air Force tra­di­tion: A map of mis­sile sites was put on a wall and an of­fi­cer was se­lec­ted to throw a dart at it. The dart hit Fox­trot 2’s lo­ca­tion, about 22 miles nor­theast of ti­ny Au­gus­ta, Mont., so­me­times called the “last ori­gi­nal cow town in the West.” “We can’t think of a more ran­dom me­thod than that,” said Maj. Gen. Fred Stoss, ope­ra­tions com­man­der for the Glo­bal Strike Com­mand.

Stoss re­cal­led that when it was his turn to se­lect a mis­sile, it took him a couple throws to even hit the list — a fact not to be ta­ken as pre­dic­tive of the Air Force’s ac­tual tar­ge­ting ca­pa­bi­li­ties in the event of nu­clear war.

LET IT GO

4. The mis­sile was trans­por­ted by truck to Vandenberg, where the Air Force has been tes­ting its ICBMs for more than half a cen­tu­ry. A do­zen launch of­fi­cers and main­te­nance men and wo­men from the 341st Mis­sile Wing at Malm­strom Air Force Base in Mon­ta­na left their Arc­tic-like condi­tions and drove to Vandenberg for a vi­sit that would span more than two months.

5.Once there, the test mis­sile was reas­sem­bled, in­ser­ted in­to a si­lo and po­we­red up. The mis­sile hard­ware dates to the 1960s, the same era when the U.S. ae­ros­pace in­dus­try built the Apol­lo spa­ce­craft that took men to the moon. Un­like the moon ro­ckets, the ICBMs are still at work.

6.The mis­siles wait in their un­der­ground si­los with the gy­ro­scopes spin­ning in­side their gui­dance sys­tems around the clock, rea­dy to launch in mi­nutes if the pre­sident or­ders a nu­clear strike. (The mis­sile hou­sed in Fox­trot 2 had clo­cked 32,500 on its gui­dance sys­tem by the time it was ex­trac­ted and ship­ped to Vandenberg.)

7.Once at the test base in Ca­li­for­nia, two of­fi­cers from Malm­strom were as­si­gned to an un­der­ground launch control cen­ter that re­sembles their ac­tual launch fa­ci­li­ty in Mon­ta­na — and the pre­pa­ra­tions be­gan. It would be a full month la­ter, just af­ter mid­night, when mis­sile launch of­fi­cers would is­sue a com­mand to open a 110-ton door over the test si­lo. Si­mul­ta­neous­ly, they each tur­ned keys on their un­der­ground consoles, sen­ding an elec­tro­nic si­gnal to the 79,432-pound wea­pon: ig­ni­tion. The mis­sile roa­red po­wer­ful­ly out of the si­lo, a trail of flames and ro­cket ex­haust ar­cing be­hind it in the night sky. A brief mes­sage ap­pea­red on their dis­play screen: “Mis­sile away.”

A SHORT FLIGHT

8. The mis­sile lit up the Ca­li­for­nia coast­line for miles as it soa­red across the Pa­ci­fic. Its po­wer­ful roar took about 20 se­conds to travel from the si­lo to the clo­sest ob­ser­va­tion point, where Air Force per­son­nel, their fa­mi­lies and vi­si­tors wat­ched from me­tal blea­chers.

9.The Mi­nu­te­man has three so­lid ro­cket stages and a fourth li­quid stage that fi­ne­tunes the wa­rhead’s tra­jec­to­ry be­fore it is re­lea­sed. Du­ring the ini­tial mi­nutes of the test flight, the first two stages could be seen fal­ling off in­to the Pa­ci­fic, where they sank in­to the deep ocean. Af­ter a few mi­nutes, the ti­ny white dot di­sap­pea­red on its way to Kwa­ja­lein Atoll, the site of an Ar­my gar­ri­son in the Mar­shall Is­lands that was cap­tu­red from Ja­pan in World War II.

10.On its tra­jec­to­ry across the globe, the mis­sile rea­ched 700 miles in­to space, near­ly three times hi­gher than the In­ter­na­tio­nal Space Sta­tion. No dart­board was used for this job. A so­phis­ti­ca­ted soft­ware sys­tem de­si­gned the route to avoid a Chi­nese spa­ce­craft and space junk that or­bit Earth.

11.The dum­my wa­rhead re-en­te­red Earth’s at­mos­phere about 28 mi­nutes af­ter it laun­ched and plun­ged in­to the la­goon at Kwa­ja­lein. It was des­troyed when it hit the wa­ter and the de­bris sank to the bot­tom.

12.Tra­cking sys­tems at Mount Wil­son in Los An­geles Coun­ty, a Na­vy base in Ha­waii and the Kwa­ja­lein Atoll had mo­ni­to­red the flight from start to fi­nish. Air Force of­fi­cials de­cla­red it a suc­cess. How close did it come to the bull’seye? That re­mai­ned a se­cret.

(DR)

A Mi­nu­te­man-III mis­sile in its si­lo.

(2nd Lt. William Col­lette/U.S. Air Force via AP)

In this image ta­ken with a slow shut­ter speed and pro­vi­ded by the U.S. Air Force, an unar­med Mi­nu­te­man 3 in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal bal­lis­tic mis­sile launches du­ring an ope­ra­tio­nal test just af­ter mid­night, Wed­nes­day, May 3, 2017, at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Ca­lif.

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