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SRMSC Introduction (HAER)

(Excerpt from Historic American Engineering Record, HAER No. ND-9)

IV. Stanley R. Mickelsen Safeguard Complex

A. Introduction

Safeguard was truly a remarkable set of accomplishments. Politically, it reflected the impact of being produced by a democratic nation. The very size and location of the Safeguard system could be viewed as a compromise welded in open political debate. As noted earlier, the Safeguard funding and deployment issues were made against a background of widely publicized, hotly debated issues. This during a time when daily our attention was drawn to events in the Vietnam conflict. Congressional testimony by Secretary of Defense Melvin R. Laird on May 22, 1969, provided telling reasons to implement Safeguard. He listed clearly the Soviet threat as well as the possibility of Chinese ICBM deployment. He reminded Congress that the Russians were building their own antiballistic missile system -- the mutually assured destruction theory had not deterred them from proceeding with developing an ABM system for their capitol city.

The points of view about Safeguard and ABM defense varied widely. Congressional testimony by Ambassador Gerard Smith (chief U.S. negotiator) after the 1972 ABM Treaty on the effect militarily on the size of missile fields for Safeguard reflected the divergence of views:

(Senator Henry Jackson, Democrat, State of Washington) Senator Jackson: Why in your view, did the Soviet Union insist on limiting the number of interceptors in the U.S. ABM system at Grand Forks to only 100?

(Ambassador Gerard Smith) Mr. Smith: The Soviets did not insist on that. We proposed it and they accepted it. We never had any substantial difference in numbers. At one time there was a very slightly higher number suggested, but the figure that we were shooting for was a figure to keep ABM deployment to a low level. This seemed a reasonably low figure. It is about the level that was projected for the Grand Forks deployment and, therefore, this was not a Soviet proposal.

Senator Jackson: Why did we propose such a low number when we know or should know that it would be totally inadequate for the defense of Minuteman: You see, I would have argued for zero ABM, instead of an ineffective ABM.

Mr. Smith: I am glad to hear you say that because I personally share your view about zero. It seems to me, in the future that is not ruled out, and I hope I can count on your backing for such a proposal. But the conclusion was that it would be better to have a small system at this time, while the offensive missiles were not under a definitive limitation, than to have zero. The number 100 seemed to be a figure that was consistent with the concept of arms control. If we had proposed 500 or 600 or 1000, I think it would have looked very unlike arms control but instead an arms buildup.

Despite Senator Jackson's displeasure with the limited number of missiles allowed (only 100), Safeguard deployment proceeded on schedule. Scientists, engineers, and computer specialists raced against the clock to produce data processors, systems that could support the huge radars and control the missile systems also. Safeguard brought about developments in software by creating demands that could not be met by then-current technology. Tests of the missiles themselves continued as well as necessary planning for the operation and maintenance of the entire complex.

Following a decade of technological development and system tests, a single Safeguard ABM site was authorized by Congress to be constructed near Nekoma, North Dakota, to defend Minuteman ICBM's based near Grand Forks, North Dakota. Construction of the Stanley R. Mickelsen Safeguard Complex (SRMSC) began in April 1970 and involved a monumental effort in planning and coordination of personnel recruitment, training, and scheduling as well as materials acquisition, storage, and transfers on site. While working with advanced technologies requiring materials and construction methods never used previously on this scale, the facility was completed on schedule. The construction effort itself was a significant civil engineering challenge. The construction itself required a large work force which placed extreme demands on the surrounding communities' existing infrastructure. The SRMSC project was the largest single contract awarded by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to that date, resulting in a total project cost of $468 million. At the peak of construction during the summer and fall of 1972, approximately 3,200 workers were employed. An extraordinary amount of material was used in constructing SRMSC, to include 714,000 cubic feet of concrete, 27,500 tons of reinforcing steel, and 2,273 miles of wire (not including that required for radars or weaponry). Further complicating construction was the remoteness of the site, and weather extremes that ranged from 100o Fahrenheit (F) temperatures in summer to -40o F temperatures and frequent blizzards in winter. Through all of this adversity, the necessary accommodations were made and work schedules were maintained. The end result was a large complex dedicated to ballistic missile defense.

B. Facility Description

Located in the farm fields of northeastern North Dakota, near the Canadian border, the Safeguard system located at the SRMSC consisted of two types of phased-array radar, the MSR and the PAR; two types of missiles, the Spartan and the Sprint; a high-speed data processing system; and a communications network which tied the components together into an integrated weapons system allowing personnel to control the radars and conduct engagement planning and execution. Both the PAR and MSR sites were considered small, self-contained communities. The four Remote Sprint Launch (RSL) sites, clustered about the MSR at varying distances, were manned by personnel garrisoned at the MSR site. As the radar must be close to the point where the missile comes into the atmosphere and the response time was short, an MSR and Sprint site could protect an area only a few tens of kilometers across and had to be located near that area. The Sprint defended both the radars and nearby retaliatory Minuteman missile fields.

1. Facility Design Considerations.

The functions and relative locations of the Safeguard facilities necessitated three distinctly different design approaches. As mentioned earlier, certain facilities had to be hardened in order to withstand the shock waves of nuclear weaponry. On the other hand, some facilities only had to be hardened to the extent that, under nuclear attack, their components would not form debris that would restrict or interfere with tactical operations. The remaining facilities were of conventional construction.