LG-118A Peacekeeper

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Test launch of a Peacekeeper ICBM by the 576 Flight Test Squadron, Vandenberg AFB, CA (USAF)

The LG-118A Peacekeeper is a land-based ICBM deployed by the United States starting in 1986. Under the unratified START II treaty, the missile is to be removed from the US nuclear arsenal by 2005, after which the LGM-30 Minuteman will be the only type of land-based ICBM in the US arsenal.

The Peacekeeper is a MIRVed missile: each rocket could carry up to 10 re-entry vehicles, each with a nuclear warhead with the explosive power of up to 300 kilotons (twenty-five times the power of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima during World War II). It was designed to replace the Minuteman III, being the first "third-generation" ICBM. Design work began in 1972 on the MX (Missile-eXperimental). Apart from technical improvements in the missile the issues of survivability and mobility were regarded as of increasing importance. In 1976 Congress refused to fund a silo-based system on the grounds of vulnerability and the project was halted until 1979 when President Carter approved the missile development and a system of multiple protective shelters linked by rail as a deployment system. President Reagan cancelled the new shelter system in 1981 and pushed for a "dense pack" solution to speed deployment in 1982, Congress again rejected the silo based sytem. A compromise was developed in mid-1983, by which there would be swift deployment of 100 new missiles in silos to show "national will" and remove the Titan II ICBM from use followed by a new more mobile single-warhead ICBM later.

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Technicians secure a number of W87 re-entry vehicles on a Peacekeeper MIRV bus.

Reagan pushed the name Peacekeeper, but the missile was officially designated the LG-118A. It was first test fired on June 17, 1983, from Vandenberg AFB, California, it covered 4,200 nautical miles (7,800 km) to impact successfully in the Kwajalein Test Range in the Pacific. The operational missile was manufactured from February 1984 and first deployed in December 1986 to the 90th Strategic Missile Wing at F.E. Warren AFB in Wyoming to retro-fitted Minuteman silos. Fifty working missiles had been deployed at Warren by December 1988. The planned deployment of a hundred missiles was cancelled by Congress in July 1985 again over the survivability issue. In that decision, Congress limited Peacekeeper ICBM's to 50 missiles until a more survivable basing plan could be developed.

The survivability issue was to be solved by a "rail garrison" system whereby 25 trains each with two missiles would use the national railroad system to conceal themselves. It was intended to begin this system in late 1992 but budgetary constraints and the changing international situation led to it being scrapped.

The project has cost around $20 billion (up to 1998) and produced 114 missiles, at $400 m for each operational missile. The "flyaway" cost of each missile is estimated at $20-70 million.

Currently the missiles are being gradually retired, with 17 withdrawn during 2003, leaving 29 missiles on alert at the beginning of 2004. At the start of 2005 only 10 remained on alert, scheduled to be retired by the end of the year. Many are being converted to a satellite launcher role by Orbital Sciences, as the OSP-2 Peacekeeper.

Operational test launches are performed by the men and women of the 576th Flight Test Squadron at Vandenberg AFB, California. This squadron is also the home of "Top Hand", a board-selected professional development program for launch officers, deemed to be "America's Best Missileers."

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Testing of the Peacekeeper re-entry vehicles, all eight fired from only one missile. Each line, were its warhead live, represents the explosive power of twenty-five Hiroshima-sized weapons.

LG-118A Peacekeeper

  • Contractors: Boeing, Martin Marietta, TRW and Denver Aerospace
  • Power:
    • First Stage: 2.2 GN thrust Thiokol solid fuel motor;
    • Second Stage: Aerojet General solid fuel motor;
    • Third Stage: Hercules solid fuel motor,
    • Mirv Bus: Rocketdyne restartable liquid fuel motor; storable hypergolic fuel
  • Length: 21.8 m
  • Diameter: 2.3 m
  • Mass: 87.75 Mg
  • Range: 9723 km
  • Guidance: Inertial (AIRS), 100 m CEP
  • Payload: 3950 kg; up to 10 Avco Mk-21 re-entry vehicles each carrying a 300 kt W-87 warhead

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