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Case Studies Defense Products
Minuteman Missile

Testing the Minuteman Missile

Precision in progress, defending tomorrow with today's best

U.S. Air Force systems date back many years, even decades. The flying branch operates thousands of aircraft, holds the keys to the United States’ Minuteman missile strategic deterrence, and deters, detects and defeats threats to the United States. 

Every tool in the toolkit is the difference between success and failure. 

The U.S. Air Force regularly needs replacements for its parts. In truth — keeping up with the pace of technology to ensure reliability is a constant challenge. Reverse engineering such machines for the next generation is one of our specialties, and one of the best parts of working at MTSI. Perhaps there’s no better example of this than two testing systems we reverse engineered and replaced, which the Air Force successfully deployed in missile programs.

Minuteman Missile tester
Figure 1 -- USAF Minuteman missile test equipment. At top -- A Minuteman missile launch. USAF photo

This older, obsolete counter used Nixie tubes — or cold cathode displays. It was controlled using binary-coded decimal (BCD) at diode-transistor logic levels (DTL) by a mainframe computer.

An HP 5334 BCD counter was chosen to replace the old counter.  The machine used the very common HP General Purpose Interface Bus (GPIB) technology to interface to computers.   

Minuteman Missile tester
Figure 2 -- Replacement system developed by MTSI

MTSI built a Counter BCD Interface Unit (a rack mount computer system) using PC-104 boards and a custom I/O board to replace the entire system.  

The software was developed from scratch — rather than reverse engineered — to perform the same functions as the original counter, drawing on the firm’s expertise and volume of experience with the U.S. defense community.

Minuteman Missile tester
Figure 3 -- Internal view

The PC-104 computer uses small, stackable circuit boards.

MTSI has a rich history developing configurable solutions for the most complex national security technologies, powering deterrence and ensuring success for DoD decision makers. For more than 30 years, MTSI has been proud to offer mission-critical performance and reliability to achieve real-world outcomes — outpacing the adversary.

“Building the hardware and applications for the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who harness them is one of the most important — and fulfilling — parts of our company,” MTSI founder Fred Beckhusen said. 

“We continue to do it.” 

Figure 4 -- PC-104 CPU. Photo via Wikimedia