the early '70s I was stationed at Whiteman Air Force Base, Knob Noster,
Missouri, as an ICBM Minuteman II Flight Commander. Below are
some photos of a Launch Control Center (LCC) that was located at
Whiteman. At the time there were three missile squadrons at
Whitman, the 508th Strategic Missile Squadron, the 509th Strategic
Missile Squadron, and the 510th Strategic Missile Squadron. Each
squadron had control responsibility for 50 ICBM missiles with atomic
warheads. Each missile squadron contained five LCCs with prime
responsibility for ten missiles each. The LCCs and the missiles
were spread over a wide area of the Missouri countryside and some
missile crews had to drive as far as ninety miles to their LCC.
Whiteman is now a B2 stealth bomber base and all missile sites have
been deactivated. However, there is still one LCC open for
visitors, Oscar LLC, located on the base itself.
Above is a diagram of a typical Launch Control Facility. All
personnel enter through the building shown in the upper center.
Crew members would go down the elevator shaft shown in the center of
the diagram to the LCC. On the lower right is shown the Launch
Control Equipment Building (LCEB) which contained an emergency
generator, food supplies, and other miscellaneous items. The LCC
shown in the lower center of the diagram and was shaped like a medicine capsule.
Blast door entrance to the Launch Control Equipment
Launch Control Center blast door. It would take the bad guys quite a while to work their way through that door.
You gotta love those Air Force issue glass frames.
A little light reading for those long boring hours on
Deputy dog at his work station.
Deputy LCC Crew Commander pursuing intellectual studies (maybe).
The photo on the left is of what was unaffectionately known as the knee
knocker. It was used to record a copy of the go to war
message on six ERCS (Emergency Rocket Communication System) missiles
located only in the 510th Strategic
Missile Squadron at Whiteman AFB. Those six missiles did not have
atomic warheads, but instead radio transmitters used to broadcast the
war message out over the western U.S. and the Pacific Ocean, and
eastward out over the Atlantic Ocean. Such transmissions might be
especially important to submarines and ships because nuclear blasts can
disrupt normal communications. I and my deputy, Lt. Jerry
VanLear, Launched an ERCS missile from Vandenberg AFB in
March of 1972. It worked fine, the message I had recorded
on the knee knocker began broadcasting a minute or so after launch.
The photo on the right is the safe
where the launch keys were kept as well as the documents used to
authenticate a launch message.
This last piece of equipment is highly classified, so I am not allowed to describe its function to you,
but be sure it was very imporatant to the war effort (and some other efforts too).
At the time I was assigned to missile duty at Whiteman AFB it was the
custom to allow individuals or groups to visit any LCC or LCCs in
the missile wing. Visitors were not searched nor subject to any
security measures other than having to obtain a trip number prior to
visiting the LCCs. This was during the time period when
terrorists had killed many Israeli athletes during the Olympics
(1972). I discussed the visitor procedures with my squadron
commander, pointing out that it only took launch commands from two of
the five LLCs in a squadron to launch that squadron's missiles, and
that it would be quite easy for terrorists to conduct visits to two
LCCs in a squadron and then take over the LCCs and launch 50 nuclear
missiles resulting in a nuclear war. In fact, it had been nothing
but sheer dumb luck that such an event had not already taken
place. My commander agreed and asked my to inform Headquarters
Strategic Air Command (SAC) of the situation. I spoke to a
colonel at SAC who became quite excited when I informed him of how easy
it would be to put the U.S. in such an untenable situation. He
said he would call me back on the matter and he did so several hours
later. He no longer seemed excited or upset at the possible
prospect of an imminent nuclear war and asked me to submit an emergency
classified change to the regulation limiting visitor trips to no more
than one LCC in a squadron at any one time throughout SAC, which I
did. After the regulation change was made, I submitted an
after-the-fact suggestion through the base suggestion program outlining
the extreme danger we had been in and that it was only by great luck
that the wrong persons had not become aware of the situation and taken
advantage of it. Sometime later I received notice that the
suggestion had been adopted by SAC and I was given an award of ----
$50. The award letter stated that the suggestion had provided
"moderate and extended benefits." I spoke to the little old lady in tennis shoes in the
suggestion office at SAC who had approved the award and she told that
it was worth no more than $50 because it only affected six SAC bases!
Several years later I happened to be working in the same organization
with an officer who had been at SAC Headquarters when my call was
received. He told me that the apparent calm of the colonel who
had called me back was just that, apparent. He said that my call
had turned SAC headquarters upside down and that they were frantic to
devise a method whereby the possibility of such a catastrophic event
taking place could be positively eliminated. Merely depending on
bases strictly adhering to the changed LCC visitor regulation would not
be sufficient. The end result was that changes were made to
procedures and LCC equipment whereby the crew would receive coded
information in a launch message which had then to be inserted into LCC
equipment before the missiles would respond to launch commands.
That change absolutely prevented unauthorized launch of missiles by
anyone, including the LCC crews themselves.
It would be my guess that this incident represents the most benefit for
the least amount of money that any government anywhere has ever