Air Force solicits proposals for nuclear missile subway

The Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center recently released a broad agency announcement seeking research proposals related to a network of underground subway tunnels to modernize the ground-based leg of the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

The system of tunnels would shuttle the weapons around on rails or a trackless system to keep the arms secure through 2075. The proposed system would be the most bold and potentially the most expensive of five potential alternatives recently proposed to the current payload delivery system, reports.

"The tunnel concept mode operates similar to a subway system but with only a single transporter/launcher and missile dedicated to a given tunnel," the notice said, according to "The tunnel is long enough to improve survivability but leaving enough room to permit adequate 'rattle space' in the event of an enemy attack."

Since late 2011, the Air Force sought out potential approaches to close gaps identified during a ground-based strategic deterrence capabilities-based assessment. The gaps require some type of remediation that will either maintain the current Minuteman III missile or replace it with a new intercontinental ballistic missile.

In April, the Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center will award multiple study contracts, each worth as much as $3 million, to expand on multiple ways of extending the operational life of the Minuteman III fleet from 2025 to 2075.

Hans Kristensen, a nuclear analyst with the Federation of American Scientists, said the Air Force likely will not move forward with the nuclear subway idea, reports.

"The nuclear subway ICBM is, I think, a pie in the sky and more included to have a review process entertain a range of options so it can land on the most sensible," Kristensen said, according to "The costs associated with developing and operating such a system would be enormous and completely out of sync with the fiscal realities of this nation. Even a mobile system is probably unrealistic. I think the most likely, and probably only realistic option short of scrapping the land-based leg of the deterrent, is to simply extend the life of the existing Minuteman III ICBM."