Three U.S. Air Force airmen have been stripped of their nuclear certifications after a “mishap” caused approximately $1.8 million in damage to an intercontinental ballistic missile on May 16, 2014, officials said Friday.
The incident occurred when the Minuteman III nuclear missile, assigned to the 90th Missile Wing at F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming, became “non-operational” during a diagnostic test, according to a statement released by the U.S. Air Force.
While troubleshooting the issue, the maintenance team chief “mistakenly performed an action not directed by the technical guidance,” the statement said.
Air Force officials did not specifically address whether or not radiological material was released when the missile was damaged, but said the incident did not result in any injuries or threaten public safety.
Further details as to the nature of the “mishap” remain murky, as the full report from the military’s Accident Investigation Board remains classified.
The Air Force insists that the maintenance team chief was properly trained for the task he was performing but made a mistake that resulted in damage to the missile.
In response to the incident, the Air Force said it has “strengthened technical guidance, modified training curriculum, and shared information with the other missile wings regarding the conditions that led to the mishap.
The Minuteman III is the only land-based Intercontinental Ballistic Missile system used by the United States and is one component of its nuclear triad. The other two parts of the triad include the Trident submarine-launched ballistic missile and nuclear weapons carried by long-range strategic bombers.
First deployed in the 1960s as part of the U.S. nuclear deterrent program, the Minuteman system’s effectiveness is largely tied to the idea that missiles can be launched quickly and at any time.
Missiles are dispersed in hardened silos and connected to an underground launch control where crews are on standby around-the-clock.
The United States currently has 450 Minutemen III missiles at F.E. Warren AFB in Wyoming, Malmstrom AFB in Montana, and Minot AFB in North Dakota.