SMDC History: Construction to begin on RSLs

By Sharon Watkins Lang (SMDC/ARSTRAT Command Historian)September 6, 2018

Remote Sprint Launch site
(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

In the 1970s, the predecessor to the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command, the U.S. Army Safeguard Systems Command, deployed the nation's first missile defense system -- Safeguard.

The scope of this endeavor is reflected in the name assigned to the facility. It was not simply the Stanley R. Mickelsen Safeguard site, rather it was the Safeguard Complex. In addition to two radar sites, which included small communities, there were five missile fields. One was co-located with the Missile Site Radar. Four others - remote sprint launch sites, or RSLs - were distributed across northeastern North Dakota

By 1971, construction was well on the way for the Safeguard complex. On Aug. 30, 1971, the Huntsville Division of the Corps of Engineers awarded the final Safeguard construction contract, this one for the facilities at RSL 1 and RSL 4.

The work to be performed under this contract included site work such as clearing, grading bituminous roads, fencing, turfing, drainage as well as creating waste stabilization ponds. In addition, the contract addressed the actual construction of the reinforced concrete Remote Launch Operations Buildings; bituminous surfaced missile fields consisting of underground steel silos; limited area sentry stations; and various other structures. On the interior, the contractor was to install the necessary heating, air conditioning, plumbing, piping and other mechanical systems in addition to electric wiring and control systems.

The bid packages were opened in Grand Forks, North Dakota, on Aug. 26, 1971. Eight bid packages were received from construction firms across the nation. The government estimate for the job was $9,481,229.50.

Once the bids were reviewed and confirmed, the construction bids ranged from $7.8 to 10.3 million. The apparent low bidder was a joint venture group from Milwaukee, Wisconsin - Woerfel Corporation and Towne Realty, Inc. which had submitted a bid for $7,870,853.

The other bidders were General Construction Company, Fargo, North Dakota at $10,344,990; Hensel Phelps Construction Company, Greeley, Colorado, with a bid of $8,998,990; and Morrison-Knudson Company and Associates of Boise, Idaho, which were responsible for constructing many of the Safeguard facilities. submitted a bid of $9,955,920. This was closely followed by a bid of $9,092,965 from the Pittsburgh-based Swindell-Dressler Company; and western United States contractors H.C. Smith Construction Co and Boeing of Compton, California, which bid $8,843,541; Burgess Construction Company from Fairbanks, Alaska, with a bid of $8,38,990; and, Chris Berg, Inc., Seattle, Washington, with their bid of $8,495,598.

Woerfel Corporation, which had also won the contract in May 1971 for RSL 2 and RSL 3, began construction almost immediately. With a local headquarters established in the auditorium of the Masonic Temple in downtown Langdon, a central location to oversee the efforts, work began near Hampden (RSL 1) and Fairdale (RSL 4), North Dakota. The expected completion date for both sites was May 1973. Inclement weather during the winter of 1971-72, however, delayed the construction season and neither RSL 1 nor 4 was completed until November 1973.

The four RSLs ranged in size from 35.76 acres (RSL 2) to 49.48 acres (RSL 4) and were all located within 20 miles of the Missile Site Radar. RSLs 2 and 3 were located nearer the Perimeter Acquisition Radar, while RSL 1 and 4 were located near the MSR complex in Nekoma. Equipped with 12-16 missile silos, each RSL was located near the Minuteman missiles they were to defend. The RSL 1 missile field held 12 Sprint interceptors, while RSL 4 was equipped with 14 interceptors.

Operated by personnel garrisoned at the MSR, the primary structure for the RSLs was the Remote Launch Operations Building, a single-story, nuclear-hardened structure constructed of reinforced concrete and buried underground. Accessed via tunnel, the structure, which included a small living quarters, monitored the missile site receiving signals from the Missile Site Control Building of the Missile Site Radar.

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