Titan of War

Buried in the desert south of Tucson sits the only remaining Titan II Intercontinental Ballistic Missile site in the United States. Once the backbone of the United States nuclear missile arsenal, the Titans were made obsolete by the Minuteman series (500 Minuteman IIIs are presently located in North Dakota, Montana, and Wyoming) as well as nuclear weapons on submarines and heavy bombers. Following the signing of the Salt II Treaty in 1982, sixty Titan II sites in Arizona, Arkansas, and Nebraska were decomissioned and all the missiles, except for this one, were removed from their silos and dismantled. Today, USAF Titan Missile Complex 571-7 is a museum to a Cold War relic from the era when peace was never fully won; it was only kept minute to minute.

Above ground, there isn't much to see, other than a huge cement door on tracks. Since the other Titan silos were dynamited into rubble piles after the Salt II Treaty, one of the requirements for establishment of the Titan museum (other than removal of the warhead) was placement of barriers on the tracks so the door could not be opened. Russian satelites watching from high above regularly check on the site to make sure no funny business is taking place. Not that sneaking one additional missile into the current U.S. arsenal of 3,700 nuclear weapons would make much of a difference, but hey, an agreement is an agreement.

Five stories below the surface is the launch control center. Protected by concrete walls several feet thick and steel blast doors weighing 6,000 pounds, the room is designed to withstand either a direct hit from an incoming warhead or accidental explosion of the bad boy sitting 250 feet away.

Another fascinating engineering feature was how the entire complex sits suspended on massive springs. A necessary component, when you consider over 400,000 pounds of thrust would be pushing an object weighing 270,000 pounds out of a hole in the ground.

A total of four airmen would be inside the complex at any given time. Every 12 hours, two man crews would rotate duty at the control center. Had the relationship between Moscow and Washington DC ever spiraled into Def Con 1, a series of numbers and letters would be transmitted over the speaker atop the control panel. Both airmen would write the code in notebooks. They would then switch notebooks and the code was read again.

The airmen would then open this cabinet (each had the combination to one of the locks) and compare the launch code to the codes inside. If there was a match, a numerical code would be revealed. This number was entered into the control panel and unlocked a butterfly valve inside the booster rocket of the missile, allowing the propellant fuels to combine for ignition and lift off. Then the airmen would simultaneously turn the launch key at their stations and thirty minutes later, the warhead would reach its target. Both men carried .38 revolvers on their belts, in the event the threat of force was necessary to ensure the launch order was followed to completion.

The Titan II carried the largest thermonuclear warhead ever deployed in the U.S. arsenal. With a yield of 9 megatons, the Titan II warhead had 700 times more power than Little Boy, the first nuclear bomb used in WWII (15 kilotons). The blast alone from a Titan II warhead would result in a fireball 1 mile wide lasting 12 seconds. The radiated heat could be fatal to a 20 mile radius. Blast effects would collapse most residential and industrial structures within a 10 mile radius. Within 3.5 miles, virtually all above-ground structures would be destroyed and blast effects would inflict near 100% fatalities. Envisioning the destruction these weapons can render is mind boggling, especially when you consider some 27,000 active nuclear weapons are currently deployed throughout the world.

If a launch ever occurred, the crews had 30 days of food and water and perhaps two weeks of oxygen within the complex. At some point, they would have to enter a new world, a nuclear world. And they would've been among the very few people on earth still alive.

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