Groundwork for Spacepower

Dec. 1, 1959

The aerospace revolution of recent years has, interestingly, placed new emphasis on ground facilities.

More than ever today, whether a commander’s primary weapon is a manned aircraft, an air-breathing missile, or an ICBM, his combat capability is closely linked with the installation from which he operates.

Side by side with development of missiles, ultrasonic aircraft, and space capabilities, the Air Force daily faces new challenges in the design and construction of ground facilities to serve in both offensive and defensive capacities.

Consider some terms of our everyday military vocabulary in this dawning aerospace age: launch pad, hardened site, base dispersal, DEW Line, silo, SAGE facilities, missile complex, BMEWS.

Consider also, the new Air Force Aerospace Medical Center at Brooks AFB, Tex., the Air Force Academy standing proudly in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, or the thousands of much-needed housing units now appearing in increasing numbers on USAF bases across the country.

These suggest the scope of the Air Force Military Construction Program, its problems and achievements. Now let us view some of its areas in greater detail.

SAC ballistic missile bases naturally have a high priority. They pose special problems. It not only requires a long lead time — some two years — to transform a construction concept into a fully developed concrete-and-steel operational facility, but adaptability must be designed and built into the facility so it will fit in with the Air Force’s long-range and ever-changing mission requirements.

Construction of the earlier ICBM sites was begun long before the first Atlas missiles, now operational, had passed the research and development stage. Unlike the airfield, which had evolved and improved over a period of several decades, no operational experience was available to guide the engineer.

Recognizing the kinship of the missile base to its mission, the Air Force civil engineer has overcome the problem by using a weapon system approach for establishment is assured.

To date the Air Force has announced plans to construct ICBM facilities on or in the vicinity of eleven existing Air Force bases: Francis E. Warren, Wyo.; Schilling, Kan.; Vandenberg, Calif.; Forbes, Kan.; Offutt and Lincoln, Neb.; Fairchild, Wash.; Lowry, Colo.; Ellsworth, S.D.; Mountain Home, Idaho; Larson, Wash.

The first seven of these sites will serve the Atlas ICBM. The remaining will be Titan ICBM bases, when the Titan becomes operation. The parent air bases will furnish technical and logistic support and community facilities. Construction at six of these sites is well under way.

Test and prototype launching facilities for the second-generation Minuteman ICBM are now in their early stages.

At Vandenberg, the first operational Atlases are housed in an upright position utilizing the thirteen-story gantry crane widely associated with the missile art through test firings at Cape Canaveral, Fla. Newer launch facilities at the California base will maintain the missiles in a horizontal position, still above ground but protected by massive doors, which move back before the missiles are raised to firing position.

In the summer of 1958, the decision was made to “harden” additional Atlas sites to protect them against nuclear attack. In this hardened configuration, the Atlas will rest horizontally in a coffin-like structure built partially below ground level. The missiles also will be protected from all but direct attack by banks of earth surrounding each launch area.

The Titan, representing a further step in missile development, will be protected by fully hardened sites. Each Titan will be housed in a 165-foot subterranean silo along with its control center, power unit, maintenance support, and fuel storage area. All facilities will be joined by connecting service tunnels far below the surface.

During a training exercise, or in combat employment, only the control center will be occupied. There launch crew members will set in motion a sequence of operations to move back massive concrete doors at ground level, raise Titan from its silo, and launch the missile after a brief countdown. An operational squadron will use three underground complexes, each containing three of the ninety-foot Titans.

Titan bases are designed to withstand substantial overpressures in the event of enemy attack. In addition, a high degree of survivability is assured through dispersal of the complexes from each other and from the support base.

The Titan complexes in the Lowry AFB area are costing some $45 million including support equipment, access roads, and utilities. Major savings, however, are expected to be made at Ellsworth, Mountain Home, and Larson through standardization. Design and engineering costs are being kept to a minimum for actual construction and miscellaneous support equipment such as air-conditioning and utilities. In addition, standard facilities are expected to result in greater efficiency on the part of the operation crews.

Just as the development of missiles has established an urgent requirement for adequate launch facilities, the threat posed by Soviet missiles has made the construction of a Ballistic Missile Early Warning System an essential item.

BMEWS, estimated to cost some $800 million for construction, procurement, and installation of advanced electronic equipment, will provide early warning in the event of an enemy missile attack. As an indication of the complexity of this system, the antennas required to detect enemy missiles up to three thousand miles away are larger than a football field, able to withstand gale-force winds and resist arctic temperatures ranging as low as sixty degrees below zero. It has been estimated that the power requirements at each BMEWS station will equal those of a small city.

According to present plans, three BMEWS stations will monitor the most likely routes for a ballistic missile attack on North America. The midstation at Thule AFB, Greenland, is rapidly approaching completion and will be the first will an operational capability. At Clear, Alaska, a second station is under construction. Work on a third BMEWS site at a location still to be announced is expected to begin at an early date.

Also high on the defensive side are the Distant Early Warning Line and Semi-Automatic Ground Environment systems. These are designed to provide advance warning of enemy air attack and assure that the enemy is engaged as far away from the target as possible.

The DEW Line, with some fifty radar stations in operation across the arctic wastes, has been extended westward over the Aleutian chain. It is also being extended across Greenland on the east. SAGE, which went into operation last year at McGuire AFB, N.J., is being refined to improve warning techniques.

Plans are under way both to build new SAGE centers in a hardened configuration and revamp their equipment to make greater use of transistorized computers, a true breakthrough in the electronic field. While the hardened facilities will make the air defense system less vulnerable to attack, the new SAGE combat centers will also give an air defense commander more information on the tactical situation and better control of his weapons. Some $90 million is planned for construction of modernized SAGE facilities in the current Military Construction Program.

The Bomarc air defense missile puts added teeth in our highly sophisticated electronic warning system. Under construction at present are a string of Bomarc sites. First operational site, announced in September, is at McGuire AFB, N.J. Present plans call for twelve Bomarc installations. As in the case of the ICBMs, each is to be on or near an existing base.

So far, all the programs we have listed have been in the fields of air defense or missilery. Actually, one of the most critical current USAF construction projects falls in neither category. It is the Strategic Air Command base dispersal program, designed to make it more difficult for an enemy to strike all SAC bases at once. Spread out at a greater number of bases, SAC bombers would also be able to get into the air faster.

Necessary construction under this program is reaching completion at thirty-three bases. B-52 bombers, current mainstay of free world deterrent strength, are being protectively dispersed to these bases, one squadron to each. Additional facilities are also planned for the great US bomber fleet.

As might be assumed, the major shares of the Air Force construction dollar go to strategic deterrent capabilities and air defense. The strategic forces get more than half the allocation, air defense about twenty-five percent. The remainder is divided between tactical and general support requirements.

Budgetary factors are an important consideration here as elsewhere in the Air Force. Excluded from this year’s construction planning was $4 billion worth of work recommended by USAF commanders in different parts of the world. The construction budget for the current fiscal year was cut to what amounted to bare bone, about a billion dollars in what Air Force Secretary James H. Douglas described as “many exacting reviews.”

Maj. Gen A. M. Minton, Air Force Director of Civil Engineering, says the service is placing continuing emphasis on design improvement with a view to efficiency and financial savings. Whenever possible, existing facilities are adapted rather than a new design being developed for each project. In a recent appearance before Congress, General Minton cited the use of this procedure for Bomarc, Titan, Atlas, and SAGE.

No major new bases are being built this year. The Air Force currently runs 276 major operational, training, logistic, and research installations — 163 in the United States and 113 overseas. New construction is planned to modernize and expand facilities at 127 major installations, ninety within the United States and thirty-seven in foreign territory. Also programmed are facilities at 200 miscellaneous sites essential to the Air Force mission.

Three small air defense squadrons and their facilities will be deactivated in the near future. They are located at Ethan Allen AFB, Vt., Youngstown Municipal Airport, Ohio and Niagara Fall Municipal Airport, N. Y. Deactivation of other less essential bases, caught in a financial and technological crossfire, was expected.

In addition, construction of Richard I. Bong AFB, Wis., which was well along, has been abandoned. Bong would have served as a B-58 base. Facilities for the B-58s became available elsewhere through the phase-out of B-47 units.

The Air Force, when possible, seeks to use facilities for a number of missions. A prime example of this multiple tenancy is McGuire AFB. There one finds MATS air transport squadrons, ADC fighters, the Bomarc missile, a SAGE center, a SAC air refueling squadron, and a New Jersey Air National Guard tactical fighter unit. Other examples are provided by construction of missile sites to draw on support of existing bases.

USAF, of course, is people even more than hardware. The portion of Air Force construction devoted to the officers and men of the service reflects this fact.

Now wrestling with the question of how best to train young men to be officers in a rapidly changing weapon situation is the Air Force Academy, nestled in its sparkling newness at the foot of the Rockies’ Rampart Range close to Colorado Springs. Construction of a 135-bed hospital this year will bring basic facilities of the $135 million professional education complex to over ninety-eight percent of completion. The contract for the last major structure, an interdenominational chapel, will be let this month. Still not programmed is the Academy’s own airfield, which has been recommended thrice by the Academy’s Board of Visitors.

Construction in many parts of the country of new barracks, community facilities — some replacing wartime “temporary” structures — and hospitals has suffered from the competition for the Air Force construction dollar. However, this year some 13,700 airmen and 980 officers will enjoy new bachelor quarters now being completed. Modern dining halls for 10,133 airmen and 300 officers are also under way at several bases. These, with eighty-one other community support structures are being built at far-flung Air Force bases at home and overseas. Support facilities include commissaries, base exchanges, gymnasiums, schools, service and NCO clubs, recreation workshops, chapels — all planned to contribute to the welfare of airmen, officers, and families.

Air Force medical facilities are also being improved with new hospitals going up on fourteen bases. Five of these will replace obsolete facilities used since World War II. Brooks’s great Aerospace Medical Center went into operation earlier this year.

During fiscal year 1960, four hospitals and three dispensaries are planned together with housing, community, and recreational facilities costing over $36 million.

Title VIII of the National Housing (Capehart-Rains) Act today is the foremost source of housing for Air Force families. More commonly known as Capehart housing, the units completed under the authorization are considered to be a major contribution to the welfare of Air Force personnel. But in addition to morale, Capehart projects assure better mission performance by keeping combat crews in easy reach of their bases and by reducing personnel turnover causes by substandard family support facilities. Since the cost of these projects is amortized by the occupants, much like civilian housing, they do not funnel off large sums required for other programs vital to the Air Force missions.

To date, the Air Force has some 64,000 units of Capehart housing at 110 Stateside bases in its construction into these quarters. Housing projects average 400 to 500 units and vary from single to multiple family dwellings depending upon location and local construction costs.

In housing projects, site planning takes into consideration topography, climatic conditions, and proper use of terrain to keep site preparation and construction costs to a minimum. Interiors of units are open and give a feeling of spaciousness although limited in area. Kitchens are equipped with range and refrigerator, utility rooms have a washer and dryer.

Besides Capehart, limited numbers of housing units have been provided this year from appropriated funds, chiefly in remote areas. Overseas, 6,000 units are being built under arrangements with host governments, which provide materials in exchange for American agricultural products.

By year’s end the Air Force is expected to have close to 130,000 units of all types in its inventory. This, however, is only part of the number required for the officers and airmen entitled to quarters by law and or lower-grade airmen who are not authorized government quarters under current legislation.

All of these facilities fall within the purview of the Air Force civil engineers under General Minton. The civil engineers build the facilities and take care of them.

On major jobs, civilian contractors or the Army’s Corps of Engineers often enter the picture with their considerable resources and skills after the requirement for the project has been set up and it is past the design stage. In all cases, the Air Force people hang onto the reins of authority throughout, then take over the massive responsibility of keeping the facility in shape to meet its mission after construction is completed.

The task is a big one — as big as the Air Force itself.

The author, Capt. William M. Mack, is Deputy Chief of the Air Force’s Magazine ranch. He served previously as ISO of the Eighteenth Air Force at Donaldson AFB, S.C., and Chief, Press, Magazine, and Pictorial Branch, Far East Air Force, Tokyo. Captain Mack took part as a glider pilot in the Normandy invasion and the Allied crossing of the Rhine River during World War II. He left the service at the end of that war and was recalled in 1951.