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November 20, 2009—The $7 billion, multi-year program to upgrade the Minuteman III ICBM through guidance and propulsion replacement programs is essentially complete, and the Air Force was recently instructed by Congress to plan on maintaining the nuclear missiles not just to 2020, but through 2030. But then what?

ICBMs are so important to America's deterrent posture that the commander of Air Force Global Strike Command says it is already time to think about what comes next.

"It's not too early to begin considering, again, what a next-generation ICBM might look like," Lt. Gen. Frank Klotz, AFGSC commander, said Thursday at AFA's Global Warfare Symposium in Beverly Hills, Calif. (AFGSC is poised to take over the ICBM force from Air Force Space Command on Dec. 1 and plans to absorb the nuclear bomber force of B-52s and B-2s from Air Combat Command in February 2010.)

ICBMs are effective, responsive, highly reliable, and offer a strong deterrent value, Klotz noted, but there are certainly major improvements that can be made in the manpower, security requirements, and maintenance burden required to support the missiles.

Over time, he said, failure to continue to invest in major upgrades will allow the Minuteman III to simply waste away, an unacceptable situation for the most cost-effective and reliable leg of the nuclear triad.

USAF's last attempt to determine what is needed in a next-generation land-based strategic deterrent ended in the simple conclusion that for the immediate future, the Minuteman III's life should simply be extended.

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For more on the state of the Minuteman ICBM force, read Many More Minutes