MINOT AIR FORCE BASE The 91st Missile Wing at Minot Air Force Base reached a milestone with the removal of the last 2012 age-out missile downstage at the base March 5.
Pulling the final 2012 missile at I-08 Launch Facility is a landmark event in the sustainment of our weapon system," said Col. Joel Hanson, commander of the 91st Maintenance Group. "These upgrades are a critical extension of our nuclear credibility and our nation's ability to deter and hold any potential adversary at risk."
The old downstage booster will be swapped out with a new one having an age-out date of 2025. This means the downstage does not need to be removed until 2025. This effectively increased the longevity and reliability of the weapon system.
Submitted Photo --
Master Sgt. Derek McCurry, missile handling team noncommissioned officer in charge with the 91st Missile Maintenance Squadron at Minot Air Force Base, gives a signal to raise the container on a transporter erector during the removal of the last 2012 downstage March 5, shown in this photo by Senior Airman Sharida Jackson. Once a downstage is removed, it is returned to Hill AFB, Utah, for maintenance and inspections.
The downstage is comprised of three stages of solid rocket fuel and is more than 40 feet long and weighs 68,000 pounds.
The maintenance team performed the mission using a special purpose vehicle consisting of a tractor and specialized trailer called a transporter erector, or "TE," to remove and swap out the downstages. The team was vigilant and ensured safe vehicle operations and maintenance from the start of the day until the mission was complete.
Once a downstage is removed, it is returned to Hill AFB, Utah, for maintenance and inspections. All parts will be recycled or placed back into use following its inspection. The solid fuel propellant is also recycled and made safe to ensure zero effect on the environment.
According to Master Sgt. Derek McCurry, missile handling noncommissioned officer in charge with the 91st Missile Maintenance Squadron, there are always inherent risks with any maintenance operation. However, the airmen of Minot AFB performed the task to the highest of standards to ensure the safety of all involved.
"The hoist in the TE is proof loaded and inspected on a set schedule to ensure it is in the best possible condition prior to use. In addition, all other tools and equipment are inspected before and after each use to keep them in a constant ready state," said McCurry. "All team members are properly trained and utilize maintenance manuals or Technical Orders in the performance of their duties."
"Technicians are vigilant to ensure all safety precautions and technical data are followed to guarantee safe and accurate accomplishment of the task," he added.
The $120 million sustainment program saves taxpayers money in the future. The cost to research, develop, build and place a new weapon system into service would be considerably more than the cost to extend the life cycle of the current system.
The mission of removing a downstage is complex and takes much planning to ensure a smooth operation. The date and site to remove the downstage must be identified. The availability, shipping and receipt dates for the downstage must be verified and tracked. Even the route taken must be considered. Nothing too small is overlooked. It is because of this attention to detail that the recent mission was a success.