In a step expected to generate more than 1,000 jobs in Cheyenne over the next two decades, the U.S. Air Force announced Friday morning that F.E. Warren Air Force Base will be the first of three locations to have its land-based nuclear missiles replaced.
The large-scale project to replace the Cold War-era Minuteman III missiles, which is expected to take 15 years to complete, will now begin at F.E. Warren between 2023 and 2025. The other two bases included in the project – Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana and Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota – won’t begin replacing theirs until 2026 and 2029, respectively.
According to a news release from Air Force Global Strike Command at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, the construction start dates will be based on the completion of Environmental Impact Statements for each base.
Greater Cheyenne Chamber of Commerce CEO Dale Steenbergen said this is a “once-in-a-lifetime” project for the community.
“It has the potential to be the largest economic project in Wyoming’s history,” Steenbergen said.
In 2015, Congress designated $90 billion to bring Ground Based Strategic Deterrent weapon systems online at three Air Force bases in an effort to deter the use of nuclear weapons globally and prevent the use of those weapons on the United States.
After years of conversations, F.E. Warren will be the first to see those upgrades.
“Ensuring missile bases remain missile bases makes the most sense for the taxpayer and the mission,” Gen. Tim Ray, commander of Air Force Global Strike Command, said in the news release. “The Minuteman III is 50 years old; it’s past time to upgrade the missile systems. Our goal is ensure our systems remain fully safe, secure and effective in the defense of our nation and allies.”
And while the project will come along with a significant economic impact to Laramie County, Steenbergen made sure to note the importance of these upgrades for national security.
“We understand that strategic deterrence is extremely important to the future of this nation, and we support this project being completed at all three bases, and will continue to support it until it is absolutely finished,” Steenbergen said Friday. “We are extremely proud of the fact that the Air Force has confidence in our community to carry this mission forward.”
The news was quickly cheered by local and state leaders. Cheyenne Mayor Marian Orr said the project was an exceptional opportunity that was born out of years of work by the city, the Chamber and Wyoming’s congressional delegation, noting the strong support the community shows the service members at F.E. Warren.
“This could not have come at a better time when it comes to our local economy,” Orr said. “It’s going to spur new housing; it’s going to create high-level, high-paying jobs that just filter back into the economy tenfold. It’s going to really boost our revenues, and certainly our quality of life within Cheyenne.”
Gov. Mark Gordon also chimed in about what this project means for the state of Wyoming, voicing his appreciation for the Air Force’s decision.
“I am extremely excited about this announcement. This is a multi-billion dollar project that will benefit the entire state’s economy, while fortifying the nation’s defense,” Gordon said in a news release. “I want to pass on our gratitude to all of the men and women who serve at F.E. Warren, across the Air Force and the entire military.”
The project’s acceleration will also bring benefits to the wider community. Steenbergen said it’s uncertain what the total economic impact of the multi-billion project will be, but it offers a solid path forward in strengthening the local economy and providing jobs to Wyoming residents.
“With what we’ve gone through right now, it’s certainly an opportunity to help us rebuild the economy as we’ve gone through this COVID world. So as Wyoming looks to diversify, here’s an example of diversification right here in Cheyenne,” Steenbergen said.
Though the exact number of jobs that will be created is still unclear, Steenbergen said the project will bring at least 1,000 new positions that range from highly skilled engineering jobs to construction work.
“This is not just going to be a bunch of low-paying jobs coming into the community that we have to pay for; it is kind of a diverse mix of education and technical skills that we always try to encourage,” Steenbergen said.
The missile replacements won’t be the only new development coming to F.E. Warren. A plan to create additional housing for airmen on land south of the Air Force base is currently in the works, with the city of Cheyenne in the design phase.
Steenbergen said the lack of affordable housing always comes up in conversations with the military, but he said the Chamber’s main focus is making sure Laramie County’s infrastructure and workforce are ready to meet the needs of the developer, Northrop Grumman.
Previously, two companies – Northrop Grumman and Boeing – were competing to carry out the project, with both developing designs for consideration. However, Boeing dropped out of the bidding last summer, leaving Northrop Grumman as the only entity prepping a bid.
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