When they were first introduced, they represented a threat to humanity. Today, the first phase of their quiet death was completed, without them ever having fulfilled what so many said would be their destiny as weapons that would ignite the first sparks of WWIII.
MIRVs, or multiple independent reentry vehicles, revolutionized nuclear missile technology. Rockets which could only carry a single nuclear warhead all of the sudden became atomic buses that could carry multiple warheads, each targeting specific and distant sites. It was a force multiplication innovation which revolutionized the Cold War landscape.
And this, like virtually every innovation in military technology pioneered by the West, was protested aggressively by the Soviet Union. These weapons, they claimed, would upset the fragile balance of power, overwhelm anti-ballistic missile systems, and potentially facilitate an American first strike. This, they added, would make the Soviet trigger finger that much itchier.
Those same arguments would be made by the Soviets and their Western allies when the Reagan administration began toying with the unworkable notion of space-based anti-missile lasers.
The United States issued the same theatrical warnings to the Soviets, which developed even larger MIRVs in the mid-1970s. De-MIRVing became a focus of Western protest movements through the 1970s and 80s, and eventually became the focus a variety of nuclear arms agreements – including the SALT II and START agreements.
The end of the Cold War meant the end of MIRV hysteria and, on Thursday, the United States completed the process of reverting of its ground-based nuclear missile forces back to a 1950s-era single warhead posture.
“This was the last Minuteman 3 in the Air Force to be ‘deMIRVed,’ and this is a major milestone in meeting the force structure numbers to comply with the New START requirements,” Steve Ray, a member of Air Force Global Strike Command’s missile maintenance division, said in a released comment.
“This is historic because we’ve had MIRVs in the field for more than 40 years, since 1970 when the first Minuteman 3 came on alert,” Ray’s statement read.
MIRV technology, like a hundred other innovations, never upset the Cold War balance like we were warned. Today, as apocalyptic weapons that the world largely forgot, their demise will pass by uncelebrated.