title: "Communication With 50 Nuke Missiles Dropped in ICBM Snafu"
published: October 26, 2010
author: Noah Shachtman
"The Air Force swears there was no panic. But for three-quarters of an hour Saturday morning, launch control officers at F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming couldn’t reliably communicate or monitor the status of 50 Minuteman III nuclear missiles. Gulp.
Backup security and communications systems, located elsewhere on the base, allowed the intercontinental ballistic missiles to be continually monitored. But the outage is considered serious enough that the very highest rungs on the chain of command — including the President — are being briefed on the incident today.
A single hardware failure appears to have been the root cause of the disruption, which snarled communications on the network that links the five launch control centers and 50 silos of the 319th Missile Squadron. Multiple error codes were reported, including “launch facility down.”
It was a “significant disruption of service,” an Air Force official familiar with the incident tells Danger Room. But not unprecedented: “Something similar happened before at other missile fields.”
A disruption of this magnitude, however, is considered an anomaly of anomalies.
“Over the course of 300 alerts — those are 24-hour shifts in the capsule — I saw this happen to three or four missiles, maybe,” says John Noonan, a former U.S. Air Force missile launch officer who first tweeted word of the issue. “This is 50 ICBMs dropping off at once. I never heard of anything like it.”
“There are plans and procedures available to deal with individual broken missiles,” Noonan adds, “but they are wholly inadequate to handle an entire squadron of missiles dropping offline.”
The incident comes at a particularly tricky time for the Obama administration, which is struggling to get the Senate to ratify a nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia. In conservative political circles, there’s a distrust of the nuclear cuts — and a demand that they be matched with investments in atomic weapon upgrades. Saturday’s shutdown will undoubtedly bolster that view.
The disruption is also dark news for the Air Force, which has been hustling to restore the “zero defects” culture that was the hallmark of its nuclear forces during the Cold War.
After a series of mishaps — including nosecone fuses mistakenly sent to Taiwan, and warheads temporarily MIA — the Air Force has made restoring confidence in its nuclear enterprise a top priority. Officers have been fired and disciplined for nuclear lapses. The Air Force’s top general and civilian chief have been replaced. A new Global Strike Command has been put in place, to oversee all nuclear weapons. Nuclear Surety Inspections, once relatively lax, have become pressure cookers. These days, a few misfiled papers or a few out-of-place troops means the entire wing flunks the NSI.
“Any anecdotal exposure of a weakness … could result in an unsafe, unsure, unsecure or unreliable nuclear weapon system,” Maj. Gen. Don Alston, who oversees the Air Force’s entire ICBM arsenal, told Danger Room last year. “And I am not encouraged when people can rationalize: ‘but for that mistake, we were, y’know, kicking ass.’ Well, but for that mistake, you would have passed. But you didn’t. You failed. Tough business. And it needs to stay that way.”
Yet the Air Force official claims there was “no angst” about Saturday’s incident.
“Every crew member and every maintainer seemed to follow their checklists and procedures in order to establish normal communications,” the official says. “I haven’t detected anyone being particularly upset with what happened.”"
an extract from "UFO sightings at ICBM sites and nuclear Weapons Storage Areas"
author: Robert L. Hastings
"F.E. Warren AFB, Wyoming (1965):
Comment: Beginning at 1:30 A.M. on August 1, 1965, various personnel at F.E. Warren AFB, Wyoming—including the base commander—telephoned the Air Force’s UFO Project Blue Book, at Wright-Patterson AFB, to report several UFO sightings at Warren’s Minuteman missile sites.
The officer who fielded and logged the telephone calls to Blue Book that night was a Lt. Anspaugh. A memorandum summarizing these telephone calls was published in 1972 by Dr. J. Allen Hynek, the civilian scientific consultant to the project, in his book The UFO Experience: A Scientific Inquiry.
Inserted below are the verbatim entries in Lt. Anspaugh’s memo:
1:30 A.M. - Captain Snelling, of the U.S. Air Force command post near Cheyenne, Wyoming, called to say that 15 to 20 phone calls had been received at the local radio station about a large circular object emitting several colors but no sound, sighted over the city. Two officers and one airman controller at the base reported that after being sighted directly over base operations, the object had begun to move rapidly to the northeast.
2:20 A.M. - Colonel Johnson, base commander of Francis E. Warren Air Force Base, near Cheyenne, Wyoming, called Dayton to say that the commanding officer of the Sioux Army Depot saw five objects at 1:45 A.M. and reported an alleged configuration of two UFOs previously reported over E Site. At 1:49 A.M. members of E flight reportedly saw what appeared to be the same [formation] reported at 1:48 A.M. by G flight. Two security teams were dispatched from E flight to investigate.
2:50 A.M. - Nine more UFOs were sighted, and at 3:35 A.M. Colonel Williams, commanding officer of the Sioux Army Depot, at Sydney, Nebraska, reported five UFOs going east.
4:05 A.M. - Colonel Johnson made another phone call to Dayton to say that at 4:00 A.M., Q flight reported nine UFOs in sight; four to the northwest, three to the northeast, and two over Cheyenne.
4:40 A.M. - Captain Howell, Air Force Command Post, called Dayton and Defense Intelligence Agency to report that a Strategic Air Command Team at Site H-2 at 3:00 A.M. reported a white oval UFO directly overhead. Later Strategic Air Command Post passed the following: Francis E. Warren Air Force Base reports (Site B-4 3:17 A.M.) –A UFO 90 miles east of Cheyenne at a high rate of speed and descending—oval and white with white lines on its sides and a flashing red light in its center moving east; reported to have landed 10 miles east of the site.
3:20 A.M. - Seven UFOs reported east of the site.
3:25 A.M. - E Site reported six UFOs stacked vertically.
3:27 A.M. - G-1 reported one ascending and at the same time, E-2 reported two additional UFOs had joined the seven for a total of nine.
3:28 A.M. - G-1 reported a UFO descending further, going east.
3:32 A.M. - The same site has a UFO climbing and leveling off.
3:40 A.M. - G Site reported one UFO at 70' azimuth and one at 120' . Three now came from the east, stacked vertically, passed through the other two, with all five heading west.
END OF SUMMARY
Airman 2nd Class Robert R. Thompson—Former Air Policeman, 809th Combat Defense Squadron, at F.E. Warren AFB, Wyoming:
Thompson states that he was on duty at the Quebec Flight Launch Control Facility one night in 1965, when he got a telephone call from the underground launch capsule. The Missile Combat Crew Commander asked Thompson and his partner to walk outside and look straight up. Thinking this was a joke of some kind, the two Air Policemen nevertheless complied. Directly overhead, Thompson saw eight stationary lights, much brighter and larger than stars, grouped together in four pairs. Due to their altitude and brilliance, it was not possible to determine the objects’ shape or other details.
Thompson said that one light eventually left its position and began to roam among the others, moving slowly from pair to pair. He and his partner watched the mysterious aerial formation for about 10 minutes, before reporting the sighting to the missile commander. In response, Thompson was informed that NORAD, located at Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado, had earlier notified FE Warren that its radars were tracking eight unknown objects hovering in the vicinity of the Quebec launch control site. Apparently, Warren’s Command Center had called the LCF and asked the missile commander to verify their presence.
Said Thompson, “I wasn’t sure what we were seeing until I reported back to the launch commander. When he told me of the report of UFOs from Cheyenne Mountain, I could tell by his voice that he wasn’t joking.” Thompson states that he and his partner were never debriefed, or warned to remain silent about the incident, but he never again mentioned it to the missile commander.
Perhaps significantly, the Blue Book memorandum inserted above may lend credence to Thompson’s report. Specifically, this entry:
4:05 A.M. - Colonel Johnson made another phone call to Dayton to say that at 4:00 A.M., Q flight reported nine UFOs in sight; four to the northwest, three to the northeast, and two over Cheyenne.
However, because Thompson can not remember the date of his own sighting at “Q” or Quebec Flight, it may or may not have been the same incident noted above.
In any event, Thompson’s sighting was not the last UFO incident to be reported at Quebec Flight during that period. Less than a week later, he had been approached by another individual in his unit, and told about a far more dramatic incident.
“We worked three days on, three days off,” Thompson said, “One crew would relieve the other. Shortly after the sighting, when my crew returned to the LCF, an acquaintance came up and told me that while we were off-duty, he had been involved in another UFO sighting, at one of Q-Flight's Launch Facilities.”
According to this individual, he and his partner had been on stake-out duty one night, and were sitting in a Security Alert Team (SAT) camper that was parked next to the missile silo. Without warning, the vehicle began to shake violently. He quickly leaned his head out the window and saw a large, very bright light silently hovering directly above the camper. After a few seconds, the shaking ceased and the light rapidly departed.
The SAT guard went on to tell Thompson that he and his partner had later been debriefed by an OSI agent and ordered not to talk about the incident. However, in spite of this warning, he had nevertheless felt compelled to compare notes with Thompson, whose own UFO experience had occurred less than a week earlier, and was common knowledge among the missile guards at Quebec Flight.
After hearing this strange story, Thompson approached the Non-Commissioned Officer In Charge (NCOIC) who had been on duty at Quebec the night of the camper incident and asked him to verify it. To his surprise, the NCOIC did so. Furthermore, he told Thompson that he had personally seen the UFO as it hovered over the LF.
“The Launch Facility in question was the one located closest to the LCF,” said Thompson, “Even though it was five, maybe six miles away, the NCOIC told me that, on the night of the incident, he had seen an extremely bright light hovering over its location.”
Thompson said that he later heard that the UFO activity at various missile flights had continued for about a month.
Comment: Although the bizarre report involving the camper is strikingly similar to a scene in Steven Speilberg’s 1977 movie, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, UFO researchers Jim Klotz and Tom Tulien have heard a nearly-identical account from a former USAF missile guard who was stationed at Minot AFB, North Dakota, in 1968.
Airman 2nd Class Terry Stuck—Former Air Policeman, 809th Combat Defense Squadron, F.E. Warren AFB, Wyoming:
Stuck states that one morning in the summer of 1965, while reporting for duty at the Oscar Flight LCF, he was informed about a UFO sighting by the departing night-shift guards. “The night team had observed fast-moving lights or objects,” said Stuck, “vehicles moving with incredible speed.”
Apparently, during the shift-change, the departing security team leader also informed the arriving missile commander about the UFOs. Stuck overheard the exchange. “The OIC (Officer in Charge) was a Captain—I don't recall his name,” said Stuck, “I do remember him saying that he had been a pilot in Korea and had observed UFOs and had reported the incident. He said they had sent him to the base psychiatrist and had basically put a stop on advancements in his career.”
The moral of this story was clear to Stuck and the departing security team leader: Be careful what you report because there may be repercussions. Stuck did not know whether the team leader had ever filed an official report about the incident. In any event, the Oscar Flight UFO sighting incident is not mentioned in the Project Blue Book memorandum inserted above. Perhaps it took place on another date during that period, or perhaps it did indeed occur on August 1st, but went unreported.
A few days after these events, Stuck had his own UFO sighting, again at the Oscar Flight LCF. “The observations,” he recalled, “were actually made in front of the launch control security facility which was at ground level, facing the access gate of the main launch control facility. I was never able to determine the size or shapes [of the UFOs]. When I saw them, they were at extreme distances and were doing right [-angle] turns at unbelievable speeds. I never heard any sounds.”
F.E. Warren AFB, Wyoming (1973-74):
1st Lt. Walter F. Billings—Former Minuteman ICBM launch officer (Deputy Missile Combat Crew Commander), 90th Strategic Missile Wing, F.E. Warren AFB, Wyoming:
I have inserted below excerpts from Billings’ first letter to me, with a few clarifications (in parentheses) and minor modifications relating to grammar and punctuation:
Dear Mr. Hastings,
...I arrived at F.E. Warren AFB in Cheyenne, Wyoming, in late January of 1972 from Vandenburg AFB [where I] had been trained in Minuteman I. After further training at F.E. Warren [I] was sent with the operations crews as a Deputy Missile Commander and assigned to a Squadron for the typical duty as a 2nd lieutenant. I was later trained as a training officer for the [missile] wing in Minuteman I, which encompassed assisting new arrivals in training and running simulators, and other duties. [These were] the standard duties until the Spring of 1973.
As a first lieutenant, along with so many others, [I] went back to school at F.E. Warren to learn the new Minuteman III system that was to be installed during the year of 1973. After training and evaluations, alert duties were assigned for the new system to those that had completed their training. We were to go on alerts as the new missile system was installed. In those days, F.E. Warren had 200 missiles on alert and was very active.
I am afraid that the dates that I will provide are somewhat vague. I wrote my experiences for a publication in this arena back in September 1993, and even then the dates were not exact. Also, some of the missile terminology may not be exact. I have forgotten some of the terms. I am sorry that I did not keep a private log of these events, back when they occurred.
The first event took place in the Fall of 1973. Over half of the LCCs (Launch Control Centers) had been converted to Minuteman III by this time, and I was on alert at Golf LCC. It was late at night. The UHF radio linking all twenty LCCs opened up with urgent talk from India LCC. In those days, the UHF radio was turned on, at all times, and if one LCC spoke to their SAT (Security Alert Team) or other LCCs, all twenty LCCs heard the conversation. After the India crew received a Outer Security Zone [alarm] on one of their missiles, and sent their SAT crew out for the standard investigation trip, we began to hear over the radio the events that developed.
From the UHF radio communication between the SAT and the India LCC crew, as we listened, we heard that as the truck was heading to the missile silo, the Inner Security Zone [alarm] had been tripped at the silo. Upon arriving near the subject silo, the SAT team observed a bright UFO hovering above the silo. The LCC crew advised the SAT team to proceed no further and to observe only. Approximately a minute later, the UFO moved off slowly for several thousand feet and then sped off at a high rate of speed. The conversation between the India LCC crew and the SAT team was heard by 19 other LCC crews on duty that night.
Upon relief by the next crew and upon return to F.E. Warren AFB, all crews on duty that night were informed that they would not speak to civilians or the news media about what they had heard on the UHF radio. Severe penalties were mentioned for those that did not heed this warning.
We, the LCC crews in general, began to hear rumors and stories, from other officers in operations and maintenance, that SAC headquarters at Offut AFB had sent the OSI (USAF Office of Special Investigations) to investigate this incident by helicopter. The India crew of that night would not speak of the incident at all. There were stories from missile maintenance that the missile in question had been carefully examined and that they found the target tapes (which guide the H-bomb warheads to their targets) on the three warheads had supposedly been erased that night by the UFO. Needless to say, I only heard that these things had occurred. These stories were told between missile guys over the following week, but they were reliable people, who did not speak to civilians or the press about this subject. However, the squadron commanders warned us, again, not to speak of the incident.
The second incident involved an entire missile maintenance crew, I believe six enlisted men and one officer. This also occurred in late 1973. A Minuteman III missile was being worked on for some routine problem during one of those late fall nights. A UFO was observed by the entire maintenance crew. The UFO appeared to be watching the work and was seen for a full five minutes as it maneuvered close to the missile silo. This was told to me by a missile maintenance 1st lieutenant, approximately three days after the incident occurred.
The third incident took place in early Spring of 1974. As I was arriving at Charlie LCC in the morning with my captain, to begin an alert duty, we were told by the staff sergeant and two security police who had been on duty that night, of the strange thing that had happened. They told us that a UFO had actually landed near the LCC and had been observed by the three, and that a minute-by-minute report had been given to the operations crew downstairs. When we asked about this, as we were relieving the LCC crew for our duty to begin, they would not talk about it with us. I heard a few days later that the staff sergeant was in some sort of trouble for speaking to us about what he saw, and that the OSI was again involved.
While I was in SAC, I personally was not directly involved with a UFO incident while on duty. However, during June of 1974, while on a camping trip in Dubois, Wyoming, with three other lieutenants, we observed a UFO flying relatively low. It was similar to the ones that were described to us, in the above three incidents. Since all four of us were Air Force lieutenants, we knew that this low-flying object was not an aircraft. From that time forward, I have had an interest in this subject and have read some on the subject as well.
I can tell you that these three incidents at F.E. Warren AFB did occur. It was a long time ago and I am sure many other things have happened since. I have not been able to find any written statements of these three incidents since. This could be because there was a very good cover-up of the situation at that time, or they were not deemed important enough to bother with. Though, I doubt that the latter is true.
I have always wondered as to what really happened to the missile that had the UFO hovering above it, and if the warhead target tapes had really been erased.
I wish you good luck on any research that you may do on this subject. I doubt that you will receive any help from those that might know the truth. I am sure that the cover-up that I observed many years ago is still in effect.
Thank you for your interest.
Walter F. Billings
Comment: In an effort to obtain an informed perspective on Billings’ statements, I forwarded his letter to retired USAF Lt. Col. Philip Moore who, in 1978-79, had been the Commander of the 321st Strategic Missile Squadron at F.E. Warren AFB. Moore found the letter to be entirely credible. In an e-mail to me, dated 6/12/05, he wrote, "Billings' statement is totally believable, and his supporting facts are correct in spite of his dates and terminology caveats."
However, I also sent the letter to another former Minuteman missile launch officer who skeptically questioned Billings’ use of the term "target tapes", when describing the Minuteman III’s guidance system. (While the Minuteman I missile utilized such tapes, the Minuteman III did not.)
When I asked Moore to comment on this particular discrepancy, he replied, "[Regarding] Billings use of ‘tapes’ to refer to the maintenance part of the [guidance] system, the old tape system was replaced by a plug-in unit system. I think I remember that Billings was at F.E. Warren at the time MMI was deactivated and MMIII replaced it, having served in MMI and retrained in MMIII. Old terminology dies a slow death and the new system was often referred to as ‘the tapes’ for awhile after MMIII was in-place, until the old-timers got used to the new terminology."
Lt. Col. Moore’s own ICBM-related UFO experience is discussed in the Walker AFB section of this article.
F.E. Warren AFB, Wyoming (1980-81):
Airman 1st Class Jay DeSisto—Former Air Policeman (Law Enforcement), 90th Security Police Squadron, F.E. Warren AFB, Wyoming:
Comment: Jay DeSisto’s “UFO” experiences are somewhat different from those reported by my other former/retired USAF sources. For that reason, I have chosen to include his statement to me in its entirety.
DeSisto states, “I was an Airman First Class while stationed at FE Warren, in 1980-81. I worked as an LE (Law Enforcement) with the 90th Security Police Group. I was assigned to base patrol and very soon promoted to the position of Desk Sergeant, even though I was only an airman. Thinking back, I can recall numerous occasions when I was on duty as Desk Sergeant when the security personnel at the Weapons Storage Area would contact me and report ‘lights’ overhead. I would usually dispatch a base patrolman to the area to confirm the sightings but I cannot recall any specific outcomes. I am sure I would have reported these incidents in the desk blotter.”
“While I never experienced or heard of any ‘UFOs’ while stationed there, there were several times when we were called in for duty on our days off to patrol the base perimeter because there were satellites allegedly overhead taking pictures. I always wondered what those recalls were about. It was strange. Again, no one ever mentioned UFOs, it was always ‘satellites’. None of those recalls happened while I was on duty as the Desk Sergeant.”
“The ‘satellite’ incidents were clustered, not spread-out, during my tenure at Warren. I seem to recall they would occur two or three nights in a row. I recall three times when my flight had to report for extra duty. One time we had been out at a bar off-base and when we returned to the base, the gate guards told us to immediately report to the armory to obtain weapons. Even though we had been drinking, they issued us weapons and we were posted on the perimeter of the nuclear Weapons Storage Area on base. It was unusual to use Law Enforcement personnel for this duty in that it was normally a function of the Security Police personnel.”
“On two other occasions we were contacted at our barracks and told to report to the armory and obtain weapons. One of those times, I was posted at the Weapons Storage Area and another I was posted at the Combat Command Center doorway. Each time I was recalled for duty, our Flight Chief, a Tech Sergeant name Robert Moore, explained the situation regarding the satellites. During these instances our group headquarters was very active. Our squadron commander, Major Bernal F. Koersen, was usually present.”
“It really did not make sense to us that we were being called in for duty because of a satellite overhead. It seemed odd to have us don combat gear and weaponry. We just accepted the explanation of ‘satellites’ but, because of the way we were rousted for duty and the command activity present, we knew these incidents were very different from any type of readiness response exercise we had participated in, which were frequent and routine. We were often called in for extra duty during DoD inspections or Global Shield exercises, but again, during the satellite incidents, there was a different feel to the situation and the hurried and tense demeanor of command-level staff was quite different.”
Comment: One of my other sources suggests the possibility that the mysterious satellites reported above FE Warren were actually Soviet satellites involved in the verification of the 1979 U.S./Soviet SALT II agreement, which limited the number of strategic missile launchers in each country. However, given the specifics of DeSisto’s statement, this theory seems unlikely. Regardless, the Soviet satellite scenario would not explain the unidentified lights reported hovering at low altitude above the base’s nuclear Weapons Storage Area.
DeSisto states that those sightings, by Air Force Security Police, had occurred on “numerous occasions” during 1980 and/or 1981. It should be noted that declassified documents from the Air Force Office of Special Investigations (OSI) confirm similar reports of UFOs, in August 1980, near the Manzano Weapons Storage Area, outside Kirtland AFB, New Mexico.
Furthermore, another UFO was observed in December 1980, as it directed laser-like beams of light down into, or near, the Bentwaters AFB Weapons Storage Area, during the now-famous series of sightings at the Anglo-American base, in Suffolk, England."
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