Author: Thierry Etienne Joseph Rotty
Occupation: Senior Controller at NATO
When the ICBM sites were chosen, the following criteria were used:
- Cheap real estate. Since ICBMs are located far and wide apart, you need a lot of real estate.
- Access to good roads and railroads. Since all building materials had to be shipped to the ICBM bases, this is vital … you do not want to go over budget because you have to extend roads and railroads.
- Suitable small nearby population centres where you can get your initial labour pool for construction work, and where your airmen and their families can live once the ICBMs become operational.
- Locations that offer maximum target coverage [depending on the range of the ICBMs] of the Soviet Union while being away from coastal areas [in later years] to prevent surprise attacks by Soviet submarines.
Now let us look at the initial locations:
- Vandenberg AFB, California. Already existing facility. Used for Atlas D/E/F and missile tests.
- F. E. Warren AFB, Wyoming. Existing base, expanded, cheap land, northern location. Used Atlas D/E.
- Offutt AFB, Nebraska. SAC HQ, existing base, not expanded, northern location. Used Atlas D.
- Fairchild AFB, Washington. Existing base, expanded, expensive land, northern location. Used Atlas E.
- Forbes AFB, Kansas. Existing base, not expanded, too far south, discontinued. Used Atlas E.
- Schilling AFB, Kansas. Existing base, not expanded, too far south, discontinued. Used Atlas F.
- Lincoln AFB, Nebraska. Existing base, not expanded, northern location. Used Atlas F.
- Altus AFB, Oklahoma. Existing base, not expanded, too far south, discontinued. Use Atlas F.
- Dyess AFB, Texas. Existing base, expanded, cheap land, too far south, discontinued. Used Atlas F.
- Walker AFB, New Mexico. Existing base, expanded, cheap land, too far south, discontinued. Used Atlas F.
- Plattsburgh AFB, New York. Existing base, not expanded, northern location. Used Atlas F.
The bases too far south were discontinued as ICBM bases but kept as bomber bases to increase the time the bombers would have to take off to avoid Soviet ICBMs coming in from over the North Pole.
With the advent of Soviet SLBMs, Vandenberg, Plattsburgh, and Fairchild were too vulnerable.
The Titan I base at Beale in California was also closed for this reason, as was Larson in Washington [again Titan I].
Ellsworth, South Dakota housed initially Titan I but, because of its northern location, cheap land, and good access, became a Minuteman base; so did F. E. Warren.
Lowry, Colorado and Mountain Home, Idaho were closed as Titan I bases because of lack of proper infrastructure.
New Minuteman bases were all created in the north, away from coasts, in areas with cheap land: Malmstrom in Montana, Grand Forks in North Dakota, and Minot in North Dakota as well.
The exception was Whiteman AFB in Missouri. This was the base where 8 Emergency Rocket Communication Systems ICBMs were hidden among the rest of Minuteman. These ERCS rockets would launch a satellite that could broadcast Emergency Action Messages in case of a Soviet surprise attack. A central location was vital to reach most strategic forces and to ensure their timely launch in case of a surprise SLBM attack.
Alaska, Guam, and Hawaii would have been too expensive from an infrastructural point of view. Guam and Hawaii were too vulnerable to SLBM attacks, and Hawaii was just too damn expensive anyway.