By Bill Orndorff
309th Maintenance Wing
Last cruise missiles crushed at Hill AFB
The era of the AGM-129A Advanced Cruise Missile (ACM) came to an end at Hill AFB on April 10 when the last one in the Air Force inventory was crushed to pieces by an excavator that resembled a large yellow dinosaur.
The 21-foot-long missile was the last of 395 demilitarized by the 581st Missile Maintenance Squadron since 2008, and completed 16 months ahead of a deadline set by Headquarters Air Force. The final crush was held outside Building 1424 in a farewell ceremony attended by officials and onlookers.
"This is a tremendous accomplishment," commented Brig. Gen. Garrett Harencak, Nuclear Weapons Center commander at Kirtland AFB, N.M. "Your great work allows us to close the chapter on a tool that we used in our great Air Force to defend our nation against the nuclear threat."
While the missile was never fired against an enemy, Harencak said it was used daily.
"We used these weapons every day -- it's called deterrence," the general said. "What you do when you come to work, whether you're in the great organizations of the 309th Maintenance Wing or you're working for a contractor or a salvage company -- what you're doing is helping us defend America and our families and our way of life."
Harencak called the ACM and other weapon systems a "great piece of equipment," but added "the greatest weapon system does not come with a serial number or a tail number -- our greatest weapon system comes with a Social Security number. Each and every day you come to work and say, 'What I'm going to do will make a difference in the defense of a free people.' That's what this ceremony is about."
Harencak and Maj. Gen. Andy Busch, Ogden Air Logistics Center commander, each got a turn operating the excavator and crushing two remaining missiles before David Christensen, the regular excavator operator, crushed the last missile, No. 87-0854. The excavator, brought in monthly from A One Salvage & Pic-A-Part in Ogden, is fitted with a metal shearer on the boom that acts like a giant pair of pliers and effectively crushes the aluminum missiles in about 10 minutes. The aluminum remains were sold to Clearfield Recycling of Clearfield, Utah, through the Hill AFB Defense Reutilization and Marketing Office.
Before the missiles were demilitarized, they were disassembled and blasted with an abrasive to remove the radar-absorbing coating, according to Jay Parkin, 581st director. Classified information from each missile was destroyed by burning.
"We were the source of repair for all cruise missiles," Parkin said. "They were stored in the field and brought here for maintenance. We have a crew of six people who have been employed full time since 2008 to accomplish the disposal. It took about 10 days to tear everything off each missile, and 10 minutes to crush it."
Following design and testing that started in 1982, the first test cruisemissile flew in 1985, according to an Air Force fact sheet. The first missiles, developed by General Dynamics, were delivered to the Air Force in mid 1990.
The ACM was capable of carrying a nuclear warhead and was highly accurate with a range of more than 2,000 miles. It was measured 2 1/2 feet in diameter, with a wingspan of 10 1/2 feet. When militarized, it weighed 3,500 pounds, the fact sheet said. The weapons system was delivered exclusively by the B-52H Stratofortress bomber, which could carry up to six AGM-129A missiles on each of two external pylons for a total of 12 per aircraft.
The AGM-129A consistently filled a critical nuclear deterrence role from 1992 through 2007. Tinker AFB, Okla., was home to the ACM program office responsible for the sustainment of the ACM fleet. The program office is part of the Missile Sustainment Division, a tenant unit at Tinker aligned under the Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center Headquarters located at Kirtland AFB, N.M., and has provided Program Management and Technical support for ACM.
In February 2008, a final destruction decision was issued by the Air Force headquarters Air, Space and Information Operations and Plans and Requirements office, directing the ACM be demilitarized within 66 months. At that time, there were 394 in the inventory located at Minot AFB, N.D., and Barksdale AFB, La.
The Missile Sustainment Division and the Logistics Centers at Hill AFB and Tinker AFB have ensured that the demilitarization of ACM missiles, trainers, components and engines has been executed within budget and ahead of schedule.
With the crushing of the last 27 missiles on April 10, all operational missiles have been completely destroyed. Two deactivated missiles have been saved for museum display.