Series: Minuteman Missiles and the Nuclear Arms Race

Minuteman Missile Deployment and Site Selection

Black and white line drawing of the upper midwest states showing the location of the six missile fields
The six Minuteman missile fields were located in the states of Montana, North Dakota, Wyoming, South Dakota, and Missouri.


The Air Force wanted to deploy Minuteman as a single, immense, "missile farm," equipped with as many as 1,500 missiles. However, the Air Force soon determined that "for reasons of economy 150 launchers should be concentrated in a single area, whenever possible, and that no area should contain fewer than 50 missiles." Consequently, the Air Force organized the Minuteman force into a series of administrative units called "wings," each comprised of three or four 50-missile squadrons. Each squadron was further subdivided into five smaller units, called "flights." A flight consisted of a single, manned, launch control facility, linked to ten, unmanned, underground, missile silos. The silos were separated from the launch control facility and from each other by a distance of several miles.

The Air Force initially considered putting Minuteman missiles as far south as Georgia, Texas, and Oklahoma. But when early models of Minuteman missiles fell short of their intended 5,500-mile range, the Air Force selected sites in the northern part of the United States, which was closer to the Soviet Union. In 1960, the Air Force decided to locate the first Minuteman installation on the high plains around Great Falls, Montana, at Malmstrom AFB. In the event of a nuclear accident or attack, the low population density near Malmstrom AFB would minimize civilian casualties. In addition, the region offered an established network of roads and, like much of the West, a large amount of easy-to-acquire public land.

The Air Force began constructing the Nation's first Minuteman missile field on March 16, 1961. In the spring of 1962, the Associated Press reported that the Montana silos were being "rushed to completion," and that the first missiles, each loaded with "one megaton of death and destruction," would be ready by late summer. Air Force crews began lowering the weapons into the silos at the end of July, and Malmstrom AFB's first ten-missile flight was hurriedly activated on October 27, 1962, at the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis.