AF GLCM and
Its Role in the INF Treaty
AAFM Mbr SA017
The United States Air Force’s Land-based Ground Launched
Cruise Missile (GLCM) and its role in The Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces
(INF) Treaty are now just memories.
Unlike other weapon systems such as the B-52 ‘Buff’ bomber or the F-4
‘Phantom’ fighter, GLCM ‘Gryphon’ missile was in service but for a short eight
year period. Its life was literally cut
short by INF Treaty; December
8, 1987 to May 31, 2001. GLCM
was not scrapped due to obsolescence, it was eliminated by treaty and cut up
and sold for scrap metal. GLCM and the
INF Treaty are truly significant firsts in the annals of U.S.
history. Their stories have never been
told and should be. Like December 7, 1941,
the date of December
8, 1987 becomes just as important a date in history. The 8th was chosen very carefully
for its importance, but not to take away from the 7th; “The
Day of Infamy”. One date
brought us into war and the other may have prevented war; a “No-Win” war.
There was much written and vocal opposition, in both the United States and Europe,
casting doubt on support for the cruise missile concept. Whatever information the average American got
about GLCM came from the evening news; and, it told only the smallest part of
the story. Many people feared that the
deployment of modern North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) missiles would
lead to a nuclear war, even though the Union of Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR or
Soviets) had initiated the nuclear forces modernization process. Few people realized, then or now, that GLCM
was a deterrent that accomplished its mission simply by being on alert. Eventually, most people got used to the
missiles being there and got on with their daily lives. The ‘inevitable nuclear war’
did not occur and people soon realized that an arms control agreement was
actually possible. By bargaining from a
position of strength, the U.S.
and its NATO allies forced the Soviets into meaningful arms discussions. The weapons that were thought could provoke a
war had helped to prevent one. Thus,
from its design to elimination, never was one fired in anger. Had a European war occurred, however, the
missile would have performed a vital role by releasing piloted aircraft for
The Soviets had always proclaimed a ‘no first use’ policy
regarding nuclear weapons. However,
their air and ground forces had trained extensively in the use of such weapons
for years. Short range missiles, rocket
launchers, and nuclear artillery rounds had been deployed by the Soviets since
the 1950s. The picture changed
dramatically by the mid-1970s. A
modernization of nuclear forces began, but an overwhelmingly conventional
advantage remained. Three new Soviet
weapon systems came on line. The TU-26
‘Backfire’ bomber, the SU-24 ‘Fencer’ attack aircraft, and most destabilizing
of the three, the multiple warhead SS-20 ballistic missiles (BM). The delicate NATO/WARPAC (Warsaw Pact)
balance of power was seriously eroded, bringing about a crisis within the NATO
It was the SS-20 that NATO experts feared the most; a modern
replacement to the SS-4/5s Intermediate Range Ballistic Missiles (IRBM). The new missile used solid propellant instead
of volatile liquid fuels. It carried a
payload of three warheads,
instead of one, and was very accurate. From launch sites located in western USSR, the SS-20’s 4,500km range put every point
within Europe at risk. Furthermore, the SS-20s were a mobile
system. This made locating and
destroying them very difficult. By replacing the SS-4/5s with the SS-20, the
Soviets had more than doubled the number of warheads directed at NATO.
In light of the emerging nuclear threat, the NATO Alliance
was faced with a difficult decision. Since NATO nuclear forces were primarily air
delivered, they were at grave risk on vulnerable air bases. Clearly a survivable deterrent force of
mobile missiles was needed to redress the imbalance. Aside from the military threat European
governments also realized that the new SS-20 missiles posed a grave political
threat to the Alliance. European ‘fringe’ political groups could be
influenced by Moscow
to oppose a rearmament plan. If some
leftist groups could gain more influence, the basic structure of the Alliance could possibly
In late 1977, then West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt
called the United States
to respond to the crisis. In January
1979, leaders of Britain, France, and West
Germany agreed to former U.S. President Jimmy Carter’s
proposal to deploy the Army’s Pershing II ballistic missiles (1800km) and the
GLCM missiles (2500km) in Europe. Another part of the proposal called upon the
Soviet Union to begin ‘meaningful’ discussions with the United States aimed at eliminating all
intermediate range missiles in Europe. In December 1979, the ‘two-track’ proposal
was unanimously approved by the NATO leaders.
Politically, the deployment would clearly show U.S. resolve
and commitment to NATO. Also, each host
country would be seen as sharing the defense burden.
The Air Force’s GLCM BGM-109G Gryphon was a modified version
of the Navy’s Tomahawk built by General Dynamics Convair Division in San Diego, California. The Gryphon missile was different from the
Navy’s in several ways. It was fitted
with the new W84 nuclear warhead and a new inertial navigation system (Digital
Scene Matching Area Correlation, or DSMAC) coupled to the Terrain Contour
Matching (TERCOM) system. Support
equipment, particularly the Transport / Erector / Launcher (TEL) had to be
designed and built. European bases had
to be located and permanent facilities constructed, taking into account
missile, site security, and range requirements.
A total of six Main Operating Bases (MOBs) were selected; two within the
United Kingdom (501 &
303Tactical Missile Wings (TMWs)), one within Sicily
(487TMW), one within Belgium
(485TMW), one within Germany
(38TMW), and one within the Netherlands
(486TMW). In addition to the military
considerations, there were serious political implications in choosing a
base. It was not acceptable to put all
missiles in one country, since NATO wanted to show a common front towards the
adversary. Five nations agreed to host
GLCM, but some only with great reservations and intense national debate.
Kingdom agreed to the largest number; and,
with only moderate protests. On the
other extreme, The Netherlands delayed the decision and tried hard to get out
of accepting any; and, severe protests were raised.
The Gryphon missile was prepackaged in an aluminum canister
with a frangible (fly-through) seal; the prepackaged unit was called an All Up
Round (AUR). The missile was fueled,
pre-targeted, and could remain sealed within the canister for months without
requiring maintenance. Each TEL carried
four AURs, with four TELs and two Launch
(LCCs) forming a combat flight. Both the
TEL and LCC were hardened against nuclear and chemical effects as well as small
arms fire. The deployment plan called
for 29 flights dispersed among the above mentioned host countries.
Under normal operations, Quick Reaction Alert was maintained
in the GLCM Alert and Maintenance Area (GAMA); a hardened facility located at
each MOB. At a higher state of readiness, each combat flight was dispersed into
the countryside in convoys of 22 vehicles and some 70 personnel. Many of the dispersed personnel comprising
the flight were specially trained Security Police. Every member, however, was trained in the use
of an M-16 automatic rifle and had a backup security function. The Flight Commander was the senior missile
launch officer and had the overall responsibility for the security and combat
readiness of the flight. Making extensive
use of camouflage and other deceptive measures, the flight would then await the
order to launch. Well equipped with
various communication systems (HF and UHF radios, and AFSATCOM satellite
systems), the flight was self-sustaining and prepared for every contingency.
This overriding concern for security was well founded. The Soviets were known to employ special
‘diversionary troops’ (SPETSNAZ) much like the U.S. Army Special Forces (Green
Berets). These highly trained and well
disciplined soldiers were responsible for covert infiltration and destruction
of high value NATO assets, assassination of political and military leaders, and
civilian targets like television or radio stations. In wartime, SPETSNAZ troops would have sought
out the combat flight and attempted to destroy it by any means possible. To prevent this, U.S. Army Special Forces
units acted as SPETSNAZ forces attempting to locate a dispersed GLCM flight and
aggress it. Of the numerous occasions
that these units were used to aggress, they were unable to accomplish their mission. Often these units sustained serious
‘casualties’ at the hands of the GLCM security forces and with nominal damage
to flight assets; and, never to a ‘critical‘asset (TEL or LCC).
Had a launch order been received, the four missile launch
officers (two per LCC) would have decoded the message, authenticated it and
fired the missiles. With the 2,500km
range, GLCM could strike virtually any target within western USSR, including Moscow.
Because of its high speed and flight profile, the GLCM, once launched,
was extremely difficult to locate and destroy.
It was also very difficult to
locate and destroy the GLCM while on base in the GAMA, and most
especially once dispersed into the field.
It became very clear to the Soviet leadership that they could be safe
only through negotiations.
The Soviets agreed to bargain in good faith, eventually
giving up three weapon systems (primarily the SS-20) to NATO’s one under the
Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty; an unparalleled accomplishment
in the history of U.S.
/ Soviet relations.
On December 8, 1987, in Washington, D.C., the late former
President Ronald Regan and then General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev signed the
INF Treaty into effect between the United States of America and the Union of
Soviet Socialist Republics bring about the elimination of a complete class of
nuclear missiles; Intermediate and Short-range.
This accord became a momentous historic event due to its being the first
time the U.S.
and Soviets agreed to actually reduce their nuclear arms rather than simply
placing limits on their growth.
Ratification and start of the treaty was June 1, 1988.
The INF Treaty covered U.S. and Soviet land based nuclear
missile systems with ranges from about 300 to 3,400 miles (500- 5,500km). Immediately the treaty banned any further production
or flight-testing of INF designated missiles and their specialized support
equipment (TEL, LCC and Training Devices).
It called for a three year draw-down of all deployed critical assets
(Missiles, TELs, LCCs, and related training devices). This treaty seriously limited the threat
posed by the six MOBs located within the NATO host countries during the three
year draw-down period. By the treaty
implementing this course of action, production of INF missile systems ceased
and the ability to deploy, store, and repair basically ceased until all Treaty
Limited Critical Items had been eliminated.
This virtually eliminated the use of production facilities and the GLCM
bases for any other use for thirteen years.
The treaty’s duration was from June 1, 1988 to May 31, 2001; the three year
draw-down of missile systems and ten years of future inspections. To me, this revealed the true fear that the
Soviets had that NATO have used the recently completed GLCM facilities for some
other weapon system at a future date.
After treaty ratification (June 1, 1988) U.S. and Soviet
INF Treaty Inspection teams began conducting inspections once the comprehensive
‘critical assets’ database (by serial number and quantity) was developed and
base-lined. This database, or baseline,
was called the GLCM INF Treaty Tracking System (GITTS). Every step in the elimination of ‘critical
assets or treaty limited assets’ was done under the careful scrutiny of the
Soviet Inspectors; and, U.S.
Inspectors of Soviet same items. At treaty
set scheduled intervals over the three year draw-down, these treaty limited
assets were flown out of Europe on Air Force C-5s / C-141s to transports to
Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona’s
Aircraft Maintenance and Regeneration Center (AMARC). Each MOB's electronically GITTS maintained
inventory automatically was updated with each departure. The Weapons System Logistics Officer (WSLO)
initiated action for the GITTS system to report by asset and serial number (SN)
those items departing. This system
produced an Official Message (for Wing Commander signature) and automatically
updated the database. Each departure’s
Official Message triggered the informational movement through a network to the
State Department. MOB departures and
AMARC arrivals each had only 48 hours the reach Soviet Officials. If exceeded, a treaty infraction would occur
that could negate the INF Treaty.
In brief, GLCM was designed, built, and deployed (some would
say… field tested while deployed for mission) with one primary purpose. It was intended to show the Soviets that the U.S. and NATO
were committed to force modernization and also to arms reductions. By committing hundreds of millions in dollars
on hardware and base facilities, this alliance made it clear that GLCM was not
a ‘short-term’ fix that the weapons would be in place for and extended period
of time. It can again be said that GLCM
was a ‘political pawn’ a bargaining chip to force the Soviets into arm
discussions. Based upon the Carter ‘two
track’ proposal of 1979, the viewpoint is an accurate one; but does not
entirely tell the story. I believe that
two examples of Soviet anxiety can be put forth for consideration. One would be that Soviet leader-ship had a
deep appreciation of GLCM’s capabilities and were forced to commit exceedingly
more monies for defense that led to their ultimate bankruptcy. The second would be, that upon ‘Treaty Entry
Into Force’ ( 1 Jun 88) the U.S. and Soviets agreed to destroy their missiles
over a period of time (3 yrs.) subject to ‘on-site’ inspections by the other
side. The Soviets sought and received an
additional ten years of these on-site inspections by their teams in order to
negate any possibility of the U.S. and NATO to use recently completed GLCM
facilities to support any future use for any other weapon system. Can it be said that they feared the bases
equal to or more than the hardware? It
should also be noted here, that the Soviets attempted to get the British and
French intermediate range missiles included in the INF treaty; even though the
treaty was between the Soviets and the U.S. However, when the treaty was ratified there
was no mention of these missiles.
1, 1991 an historic milestone was reached by the INF Treaty, The
United States Air Force destroyed the 445th and final BGM109G
‘GRYPHON’ missile. His milestone
occurred a full thirty days in advance of treaty requirements… and on the
Soviet’s May Day Parade. By May 31, 1991,
and Soviet missiles would be destroyed!
On May 31,
2001 a small two to two and one half paragraph article appeared in
the back pages of the Daily Oklahoman stating some insignificant treaty between
the U.S. and, no longer, Soviet Union had expired.
Is this a fitting end to an historic event? I THINK NOT!!!