New ICBM will take US nuclear missiles out of Cold War-era but add 21st-century risks


F.E. WARREN AIR FORCE BASE, Wyo. — The control stations for America’s nuclear intercontinental ballistic missiles have a sort of 1980s retro look, with computing panels in sea foam green, bad lighting and chunky control switches, including a critical one that says “launch.”

Those underground capsules are about to be demolished and the missile silos they control will be completely overhauled. A new nuclear missile is coming, a gigantic ICBM called the Sentinel. It’s the largest cultural shift in the land leg of the Air Force’s nuclear missile mission in 60 years.

But there are questions as to whether some of the Cold War-era aspects of the Minuteman missiles that the Sentinel will replace should be changed.

Making the silo-launched missile more modern, with complex software and 21st-century connectivity across a vast network, may also mean it’s more vulnerable. The Sentinel will need to be well protected from cyberattacks, while its technology will have to cope with frigid winter temperatures in the Western states where the silos are located.

The $96 billion Sentinel overhaul involves 450 silos across five states, their control centers, three nuclear missile bases and several other testing facilities. The project is so ambitious it has raised questions as to whether the Air Force can get it all done at once.