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What could be considered one of the largest national security failures in US history; 50 United States nuclear missiles went offline over the weekend. It happened at the FE Warren Air base, outside of Cheyenne, Wyoming, the home to a ninth of the US missile stockpile. Ploughshares fund President Joseph Cirincione said the missiles could have done 500X the damage of Hiroshima if launched.
Washington (CNN) -- The Air Force lost partial communications with 50 nuclear missiles for almost an hour last weekend, an Air Force spokesman said Tuesday. The problem, characterized as a "single hardware issue," affected more than 10 percent of the country's ICBM arsenal on Saturday morning, according to Air Force spokesman Lt. Col. Wesley Miller IV. Because of redundant systems, at no time was the Air Force unable to monitor, communicate with or, if need be, launch the intercontinental ballistic missiles on the president's command, several military officials said. "Any time the president wanted to fire those missiles, he could have," a senior defense official said. At no time was the public in jeopardy, according to another military official. The Minuteman III ICBMs are multiple warhead missiles that are controlled from Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming but are in missile silos spread out over a wide area around the base.
One in nine of the American ICBM strike force went offline on Saturday, according to a report on US magazine The Atlantic's website, as a series of control errors multiplied beyond the ability of engineers to compensate. The squadron of 50 missiles affected is stationed at FE Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming, said the report. The weapons are controlled by five Launch Control Center computers (LCCs), which periodically interrogate the on-board guidance systems of the weapons to confirm their status. According to the report, one LCC began to ping the missiles out of sequence, causing the guidance systems to return errors. As the errors cascaded, the engineers decided to take all of the LCCs offline, leaving the missiles in 'LF Down' status where they cannot be controlled from the ground. An official, quoted by The Atlantic, said that there were back-up systems from airborne command and control platforms. All LCCs, apart from the one malfunctioning unit that caused the error, were then returned to service. The problem is thought to have been caused by faulty cabling, but no definite diagnosis has been reached.