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National Park Service, Associated Press
This file photo provided by the National Park Service shows the inside of the deactivated Delta Nine Launch Facility near Wall, S.D., that is now open to the public. The hundreds of nuclear missiles that have stood war-ready for decades in underground silos along remote stretches of America, silent and unseen, packed with almost unimaginable destructive power, are a force in distress, if not in decline.

WASHINGTON — Hundreds of nuclear missiles have stood war-ready for decades in underground silos along remote stretches of America.

They're silent and unseen, and packed with almost unimaginable destructive power.

They're also a force in distress, if not in decline.

The number of intercontinental ballistic missiles — or ICBMs — is dwindling.

Their future defense role is in doubt, and missteps and leadership lapses documented by The Associated Press have raised questions about how the force is managed.

Once called America's "ace in the hole," the ICBM is the card never played. None has ever been fired in anger.