Air Force Working To Protect Nuclear Missiles From Wind Turbines

The US Air Force’s nuclear missile silos, discreetly tucked away beneath expansive private farmlands, face an unexpected adversary. It’s not a wandering bovine or a drifting surveillance balloon. Still, the towering wind turbines—symbols of renewable energy—increasingly dot the landscape and inch closer to these clandestine sites each year.

The agricultural landscapes that host these missile silos are equally welcoming to the wind turbines. The silos are almost invisible, hidden beneath small, unremarkable land patches, protected by antennae, chain-link fences, and enormous concrete silo blast doors. In stark contrast, the wind turbines loom hundreds of feet above the ground, their enormous blades creating a spectacle that overshadows even the most oversized vehicles.

With the expansion of nearby communities, energy needs have surged, leading to the growth of wind turbines in number and size. This development has been a financial windfall for farmers and landowners, who can lease their land to the military and renewable energy companies. This burgeoning growth, however, poses a threat to military helicopter crews, who must respond quickly and efficiently to alarms triggered at these sites.

“When you consider a wind turbine, or even an extensive wind turbine field, they stretch for miles,” explained Staff Sgt. Chase Rose, a UH-1 Huey flight engineer stationed at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana. “They’re colossal, with huge blades spinning at high speeds. They pose a physical challenge and create risky atmospheric conditions like turbulence. It’s a complex situation to navigate.”

In response to this emerging threat, the Air Force urges Congress to enact legislation for a two-nautical-mile protective zone surrounding each site. While the bill aligns with the interests of wind energy proponents, they caution against a blanket approach. Underground silos are scattered across several states, including Nebraska, Colorado, North Dakota, Montana, and Wyoming, each requiring a unique approach to ensure military readiness.

The 2024 National Defense Authorization Act’s Senate version includes language to establish a setback. However, this provision is not in the House version and would need to be negotiated during the conference.

Under the proposed legislation, existing towers would remain untouched unless a company decides to modify an existing tower to increase its height. This development could still pose a challenge for aircrews. Modern turbines can reach up to 650 feet—twice the size of the Statue of Liberty—with rotor diameters spanning 367 feet.

Among the 450 silo sites, 46 are considered “severely” infringed upon, with more than half of the routes to these launch sites obstructed. The farmers who have generously allowed their lands to be used for decades reap significant financial benefits from leasing their lands to wind turbine companies, and the service does not wish to discourage green energy initiatives.