President Barack Obama has been informed that the US Air Force lost complete command and control of one-ninth of their ICBM arsenal last Saturday. Administration officials stressed that the problem was only temporary, but that doesn't mean it wasn't big.
In fact, according to The Atlantic, a military officer briefed on the matter said that they have never experienced something so big: "[w]e can deal with maybe 5, 6, or 7 at a time, but we've never lost complete command and control and functionality of 50 ICBMs."
The US Air Force has declared that there was no danger to the population, while administration officials said that "at no time did the President's ability [to use the nuclear weapons] decrease." Taking one-ninth of the ICBM arsenal off line certainly decreases the President's ability to fully control the US nuclear arsenal.
The ICBM squadron went to "LF Down"—Launch Facilities Down—status, which means that nobody could communicate with the missiles and several security measures—like intrusion and warhead separation alarms—were offline. That seems to contradict the USAF statement about the public not being in danger. If there's the possibility of unauthorized personnel accessing the missiles—no matter if the base was in high alert—there was the possibility of something going wrong, as remote as it could be.
The cause of the failure
remains unknown may have been faulty cabling, the Pentagon says. This is not the first time this has happened: Twelve years ago, a similar problem happened in North Dakota and Montana missile bases.
Missiles from the 70s
The Minutemen III Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles that suffered the problem are stationed at F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming, home of the 90th Missile Wing. The LGM-30G Minuteman III—which entered service in 1970— is the bread and butter of the US nuclear attack stockpile. The 78,000-pound ICBM can reach any place in the world at 15,000 miles per hour, delivering up to three 335-kiloton nuclear warheads on its target.
Currently, 450 of these missiles are distributed across Wyoming, North Dakota (Minot Air Force Base, 91st Missile Wing) and Montana (Malmstrom Air Force Base, 341st Missile Wing). The US Air Force plans to keep the missiles up and running until 2040, and have been retrofitted with new features—like new guidance systems—since their initial deployment. [The Atlantic]