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Friday, March 22 , 2019, 2:56 pm | A Few Clouds 61º


Vandenberg Conducts Test Launch of Minuteman III Missile

The Air Force's base's 576th Flight Test Squadron is rolled into a new nuclear command structure

Vandenberg Air Force Base announced early Wednesday morning that it had conducted a successful test launch of an unarmed Minuteman III Intercontinental Ballistic Missile.

Traveling 4,190 miles across the Pacific Ocean to a target in the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands, the missile was made up of parts from the Department of Defense’s three nuclear missile bases — F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming, Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota and Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montanta.

The test was conducted by the Vandenberg-based 576th Flight Test Squadron, which although it had been under the command of Vandenberg’s 30th Space Wing, is now part of the Air Force Global Strike Command.

Two years after Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne and Chief of Staff T. Michael Moseley were forced to resign, the Air Force has acted upon recommendations given by a congressional commission addressing U.S. strategic posture to reorganize units with responsibility over strategic nuclear weapons, placing three missile wings and three bomber wings under the AFGSC.

A number of mishaps had preceeded the ouster, including the accidental delivery of six nuclear cruise missiles from the nuclear facility at Minot to Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana. A B-52 bomber crew had been instructed to transfer several conventional missiles to Barksdale, but the aircraft’s loading crew accidentally placed live nuclear weapons aboard. The missiles sat unattended at Barksdale for a short time until the mistake was realized, but the repercussions of the slip up were far reaching.

The event was apparently only the tip of the iceberg, as criticism had been levied at senior Air Force officers for other problems, including a failed safety inspection by a nuclear capable unit as well an incident in which classified missile parts were accidentally sent to Taiwan after being mislabeled.

While none of these incidents was directly related to Vandenberg, the base’s past two commanders have faced pressure from the new secretary of the Air Force — Michael Donley — to ensure absolutely flawless operations throughout the service.

The bomber and missile wings assigned to the AFGSC — made up of a number of B-2 and B-52 bomber airplanes and about 450 Minuteman III ICBMs, respectively — were under the authority of separate commands before AFGSC’s creation in August 2009.

With 23,000 airmen and officers, the AFGSC maintains the missile wings’ mission of providing around-the-clock alert status, but now moves that mission more closely in concert with that of the Air Force’s bomber assets. Six additional officer positions were attached to the 576th Flight Test Squadron at Vandenberg, which an AFGSC spokesman said will ensure continued reliability and improvements for the national ICBM fleet.

Noozhawk staff writer Ben Preston can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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