Strategic Weapons: Missile Silo Burns And No One Notices


November 5,2008: The U.S. Air Force revealed that an unnoticed fire in an unmanned Minuteman III missile silo burned itself out, and then went unnoticed for five days. The fire occurred when a battery charger overheated in an equipment room adjacent to the silo chamber containing the missile. The fire burned itself out after an hour or two, but there were no sensors in the sealed room to report the incident. Because the fire never got outside the room to where there were sensors, like in the silo itself, the distant missile command center had no way of knowing about it.

Five days later, a sensor in the silo did report a possible problem with electrical wiring, and a repair crew was sent in. They discovered the fire. Among the items burned up in the equipment room was a shotgun and box of shotgun shells. These were standard items in the equipment room, in the event of a security problem. The air force checked out the entire silo, and found no other damage. But they promptly replaced all the battery chargers in silos. An investigation of the incident criticized the design of the silo, and recommended changes in the ventilation system for the silo, among other things. Apparently nothing like this had ever happened before, and none of the engineers who created simulations for potential mishaps, considered this one. It cost the air force over a million dollars for the investigation, replacement of equipment and repairs.



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