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Minuteman stacking mission hones operational capabilities

An inert Minuteman II Intercontinental Ballistic Missile stands erect on Test Pad 01, during a training operation, July 22, 2016, Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. Also known as Pathfinder operations, the regularly occurring exercise is designed to determine the operational capabilities involved in Intercontinental Ballistic Missile launches, while agencies from a multitude of regions and backgrounds work in cohesion. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Shane Phipps/Released)

An inert Minuteman II Intercontinental Ballistic Missile stands erect on Test Pad 01, during a training operation, July 22, 2016, Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. Also known as Pathfinder operations, the regularly occurring exercise is designed to determine the operational capabilities involved in Intercontinental Ballistic Missile launches, while agencies from a multitude of regions and backgrounds work in cohesion. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Shane Phipps/Released)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. --

Airmen from the 1st Air and Space Test Squadron, alongside members of the Rocket Systems Launch Program office at Kirtland Air Force Base, and various other agencies, recently conducted a training mission involving the receiving, stacking, and removing of an inert Minuteman II missile, here, July 13 through 26.

Also known as Pathfinder operations, the regularly occurring exercise is designed to determine the operational capabilities involved in Intercontinental Ballistic Missile launches, while agencies from a multitude of regions and backgrounds work in cohesion.

“This Pathfinder, along with all operational ICBM-booster based operations are conducted through the Rocket Systems Launch Program Office, and incorporate a diverse team spanning three different Major Commands,” said Capt. Kelly Alexander, 1st ASTS mission maintenance flight commander. “The RSLP program office at Kirtland Air Force Base, coordinates the refurbishment of the boosters and acquisition of the launch vehicle. The launch vehicle is designed and built by Orbital ATK. The boosters are refurbished and maintained at Hill Air Force Base, through the 309th Missile Maintenance Group in Air Force Materiel Command. The 1st ASTS, through Air Force Space Command, here at Vandenberg performs transportation and lower-stack integration of the boosters, with support from our Mission Assurance organization Artic Slope, the 583rd Missile Maintenance Squadron and the 576th Flight Test Squadron.”

While honing technician skills and validating a potential launch site, the exercise utilized an array of specialists from different organizations – all lead by the Rocket Systems Launch program office.

“This operation involved receiving an inert Minuteman II lower stack, which is everything but the warhead, from Hill Air Force Base,” said Capt. Jake Woller, 1st ASTS mission maintenance flight deputy commander. “Then it was placed on the launch stand and taken off, at Test Pad 01. Our Space Launch Maintenance Technicians, who are prior ICBM maintainers, used a modified transporter erector to bring the inert lower stack to the test pad and raise it vertical. Then, along with Orbital-ATK and Bragg Crane, they lifted the lower stack out of the transporter erector and placed it onto the launch stand. The reverse was then accomplished and the lower stack will be shipped back to Hill Air Force Base. Rocket Systems Launch program, which is the program office at Kirtland Air Force Base, had several members out at Test Pad 01 and were responsible for leading this operation. The purpose was to keep our SMT’s current and familiar with ops when a launch comes down, as well as to validate Test Pad 01’s capability of launching a Minuteman-based launch vehicle.”

For those involved, the experience was a success and can be attributed primarily to the smooth inter-agency cohesion exhibited.

“The success of the mission would be compromised without any one of the organizations involved in these small lift launches,” said Alexander. “Maintaining a 100 percent mission success track-record takes careful planning and logistical support from the experts at the depot, to the engineering design experts, to the programmatic experts who integrate all the mission partners. No one player could do all the tasks involved, but together we are able to make a complex mission, spanning three MAJCOMS, a seamless and effective resource for the Air Force.”

The exercise also provided the only active duty space launch maintainers in the Air Force invaluable and realistic training, which enhances Vandenberg’s overall mission capabilities.

“We have the only active duty space launch maintainers in the Air Force,” said Woller. “They are all prior ICBM maintainers and use modified equipment to reuse old ICBM motors above ground instead of down in silos. This operation better prepares Team V to successfully accomplish missions by providing training to the only guys who are capable of placing Minuteman, or Peacekeeper-based launch vehicles, onto the launch stand. It went super smooth and I’m proud of all the organizations that contributed, the 1st ASTS Mission Maintenance Flight, Rocket Systems Launch Program Office, TASC (our engineering expertise), Orbital-ATK, and Hill Air Force Base.”