Since the first silo-based Minuteman went on alert at Montana’s Malmstrom Air Force Base on Oct. 27, 1962 — the day Cuba shot down a U-2 spy plane at the height of the Cuban missile crisis — the missile has “talked” to its operators through thousands of miles of hard-wiring in cables buried underground.
Those Hardened Intersite Cable Systems, or HICS, cables carry messages back and forth from the missile to the missileer, who receives those messages through a relatively new part of the capsule — a firing control console called REACT, for Rapid Execution and Combat Targeting, that was installed in the mid-1990s.
It’s a closed communication loop, and a very secure one that brings its own headaches. Any time the Air Force wants to test one of the missiles, it literally has to dig up the cables and splice them, to isolate that test missile’s wiring from the rest. Over decades of testing, there are now hundreds of splices in those critical loops.
But it’s also one of the Minuteman’s best features. You would need a shovel — and a lot more — to try to hack the system. Even when missile crews update targeting codes, it is a mechanical, manual process.
Minuteman is “a very cyber-resilient platform,” said Col. Charles Clegg, the Sentinel system program manager.
Clegg said cybersecurity for the software-driven Sentinel has been a top focus of the program, one that has all of their attention.
“Like Minuteman, Sentinel will still operate within a closed network. However, to provide defense in depth, we will have additional security measures at the boundary and inside the network, enabling our weapon system to operate effectively in a cyber-contested environment,” Clegg said.
Here’s to hoping we don’t end up missing HICS and all those eight-inch floppies.