North Dakota’s Senate delegation secured an amendment to the Senate version of the Fiscal 2007 defense authorization bill that would prevent the Air Force from implementing its plan to retire 50 of the nation’s Minuteman III ICBMs. The service wants to use those 50 for ICBM testing and as spares for the remaining 450 missiles. The amendment, introduced by Sen. Kent Conrad (D) and Byron Dorgan (D), not onlycalls for a “detailed strategic justification” for reducing the fleet to 450 missiles but also a “detailed analysis of the strategic ramifications” of continuing to equip the entire MM III force with multiple rather than single warheads. It also would require an inventory of the current test assets and spares and assessments of what’s needed to maintain either a 500 or 450 missile fleet and full modernization. Conrad maintains this is not the time to dismantle the nation’s “most potent deterrent” in the face of the impending threat from North Korea. He says, “If we reduce our missile force now, we will never get them back.”
NASA, SpaceX, and United Launch Alliance are all preparing to launch their next-gen rockets from Florida’s Space Coast, two of them before the year is out. One is expected to liberate the U.S. launch enterprise from its reliance on Russian-made RD-180 engines, while all three rockets could eventually carry astronaut crews.