The Titan II Missile carried America’s largest nuclear payload on its largest missile. The Titan II program designed to be in service 10 years, was on continuous alert for 24 years starting in 1963. These hardened silos were in three locations in the United States. The Tucson area was one of the three and was supported by the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base (near the sister Pima Air and Space Museum). The other two areas were Arkansas and Kansas, also near their supporting air force bases. The Titan II Missile Museum site is just south of the Tucson area in one of the original launch sites and is the last remaining silo of the 54 operational locations.
Visitors to the underground missile complex are required to participate in a guided tour led by knowledgeable guides. While the daily tours are given frequently, they do sell out, so keep that in mind if you visit. There are other more extensive tours given on a much less frequent basis. If you can plan ahead, check out the website. In about an hour you are provided with about as much information as you can take in. Since all of the facility is underground the tour takes the same steps as the alert team would take for their 24 hour shift: down the steps and through the massive, massive blast doors.
The tour includes the control room, connecting corridors, and the missile silo itself. You quickly learn that a key facility function was focused on protection of the site from attack as much as launching the weapons themselves. Of course, the technology is many years old with analog clocks, mechanical buttons, and seemingly ancient phones. Even so, due to the innovation of being able to preload the propellant, the Titan II was capable of being launched in less than 60 seconds to one of three predetermined targets. I think that this fact is the most sobering of the entire experience.
Most of the areas of the facility required that none of the alert team be by themselves at any time. This buddy system also carries over to locks and keys required for code decryption and launch operations. The four person alert team could only be by themselves in the small quarters set aside for meals and rest.
The museum also has displays/videos on the construction of the facility as well as the period known as the “Cold War” with the U.S.S.R. The Titan II objective was “Peace through Deterrence” which it accomplished for almost a quarter of a century until decommissioned during the Reagan administration in the 1980s.
Whether viewing down the missile silo from the top or passing through the enormous blast doors, you are awed by the power once contained in this facility. The further revelation of the power of a 9 megaton warhead travelling 16,000 mph over a distance of 6,000 miles takes that to another level.