Major ops change for missiles

MINOT AIR FORCE BASE, N.D. -- Missile combat crews from the 742nd Missile Squadron prepare for alert Monday exactly as they have for the last thirty-plus years -- with one notable distinction. Three crew members will head to the missile alert facility for 72 hours of alert duty as part of a demonstration concept.

Overall, this represents a major change from the current two-person crew, 24-hour alert concept. The demonstration concept, known as alert transformation, will allow the unit to reduce manning while still performing its deterrence mission. The test will run through February 2007 and calls for sending a three-person crew to each site for a 72-hour period. 

Using alert transformation, two crew members will remain in the capsule while the third will be topside and have the opportunity to interact with security forces, maintenance teams, facility managers and chefs -- in addition to having time for professional development and other military duties. The crew members will cycle through duties in the launch control center and topside in the MAF every 12 hours for professional development, hygiene, etc. The new 72-hour alert cycle matches the missile operations crew rotations with the security forces, facility manager and chef rotations. This familiarity is expected to improve communication on site and allow the crews to gain more insight into other career fields and enlisted concerns. 

"If implemented (after the test phase), this will be the biggest change in missile operations in my career," said Maj. Jim Penrod, 742nd MS operations officer. "It has tremendous potential for our operators to gain experience with other career fields and provides excellent interaction with our fantastic enlisted corps." 

During the test, the 742nd MS will continually gather metrics to assess the impact on mission, morale, and cost savings. For example, one of the projected major cost savings areas will be the potential fuel savings due to crews driving to the field once every three days instead of every day. Also, driving safety will be enhanced since crews will not drive as much, reducing vehicle fatigue in the process. After the test phase, 20th Air Force will assess the overall impact and decide whether or not to implement 72-hour alerts for all ICBM units. 

Like other wings, the 91st Space Wing is looking for initiatives that will improve mission effectiveness, enable manpower savings and reduce the cost footprint for current operations in support of Air Force Smart Operations 21st Century or AFSO21.
"As with any change, there will be some ups, downs and lessons learned, but the potential upside is huge," said Major Penrod.
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