Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Remembering the Cold War

Just a few miles--but a handful of decades--south of Tucson is the only remaining preserved example of a Titan II missile silo. During the Cold War there were 17 other similar silos around Tucson, as well as 18 in Wichita, Kansas, and 18 in Little Rock, Arkansas. This Site (named 571-7) was on alert from 1963 to 1982 with a single 110-foot tall 330,000 pound Titan II missile armed with a nuclear warhead.

The silo closure door is a steel and concrete structure designed to protect the silo from nearby nuclear blasts and resulting radiation. When the base was decommissioned, the door was permanently locked at the halfway position so that the silo could no longer be used for missile launches.

Surrounding the silo was a security system provided by "tipsies." This radar-like system could detect movement around the silo. Two tipsies were positioned at each corner, forming a "radar square" around the silo.

At each corner one of the pair faces either north or south and the other faces either east or west; each aligns with a corresponding tipsie at the corner in the direction each faced.

The brief description of these above ground features had the quality of satisfying my curiosity about the sights. When we headed underground, the mood changed.

As our guide talked about the multi-ton doors and the huge springs located at essential points, the sobering realization sank in. The memory of the mushroom clouds arising from the tests conducted in the desert were clear reminders of the shock resulting from such a bomb. So not only were these silos the source of our country's defense system, they were also likely targets.

As we walked the hallway to the command center, there was an increasing sense of isolation in this underground work space.

Along this hallway, we passed these suits. They were worn by guys who handled the fuel, which was toxic if mishandled. The darker patches were places were repairs had been made to open spaces in the suits.

The control center, a buried three-level, reinforced, concrete structure, had the controls for launching the missile and for monitoring the operations of the entire complex.

Here, crews of four worked 24-hour shifts. Two officers monitored the complex's systems and personnel and awaited orders. Two enlisted personnel maintained the launch facility and the missile itself.

The missile silo was a reinforced concrete structure with inside dimensions of approximately 146 feet in depth and 55 feet in diameter.

A launch duct, with an acoustical lining, was located in the center of the silo.

The Titan II is a two stage booster, each using liquid hypergolic propellants. The main (first) stage was 71 feet high and provided 430,000 pounds of thrust at sea level. The second stage was 19 feet high, and provided a thrust of 100,000 pounds. The titan II could hit targets up to 6,5000 miles away in 35 minutes.

In the mid-'80s as part of the Strategic Arms Limitations Treaty (SALT) with the then-Soviet Union, the other 53 Titan II sites were destroyed or filled with concrete to make innoperable.

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