SAC Missile forces
Ground and air launched
As World War II progressed, the allied nations learned of the rocket technology of Nazi Germany. After the war both the United States and the Soviet Union worked to improve missile technology culminating in the families of Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) but also Intermediate Ballistic Missiles (IRBMs), Air-launched missiles, decoys and even an Air-Launched Ballistic Missile (the failed Skybolt program).
SAC realized that missiles could deliver nuclear weapons half-way around the world in about 30 minutes. This revolution in weaponry caused extensive operational and even cultural changes within the U.S. Air Force. New, robust command and control systems would have to quickly react to a Soviet missile attack while the fielding of ICBMs was an extremely complex and expensive program. Hundreds of missile silos were dug during the late 1950s and throughout the 1960s. Eventually leveling off at about 1,054 missiles (Minuteman and Titan-II types) in the 1970s, numbers fell during the 1990s with 400 Minuteman III missiles in service with Air Force Global Strike Command as of 2017.
Air-Launched missiles were at first utilized to aid bombers penetrating Soviet airspace. Missiles such as Hound Dog and SRAM were designed to hit anti-aircraft warning and missile sites before dropping bombs on primary targets. As the B-52 aged, a “standoff” role was introduced by arming the aircraft with cruise missiles launched outside the range of enemy aircraft and missiles to strike deep targets.
While SAC’s missile assets were among the lesser-publicized parts of the nuclear detterent mission, their role was a reliable backbone of the American nuclear triad.