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Minuteman Missile Marks Fifth Launch of 2016 From Vandenberg AFB

Unarmed weapon was tracked as it traveled 4,200 miles to a predetermined target in the Kwajalein Atoll in the central Pacific Ocean

An unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile launches during an operational test at 11:01 p.m. Thursday.
An unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile launches during an operational test at 11:01 p.m. Thursday. (U.S. Air Force photo)

A second Minuteman III missile carrying a mock warhead rumbled away from Vandenberg Air Force Base late Thursday night, marking the second in less than a week.

The three-stage weapon blasted out of an underground silo on North Base at 11:01 p.m., with crackling motors audible around the Santa Maria Valley. 

The purpose of the ICBM test launch program is to validate and verify the effectiveness, readiness and accuracy of the weapon system, according to officials with Lousiana-based Air Force Global Strike Command, which oversees the land- and air-based nuclear fleet.

Upon blastoff, the military tracked the lone re-entry vehicle as it traveled some 4,200 miles to a predetermined target in the Kwajalein Atoll in the central Pacific Ocean.

Members of the 576th Flight Test Squadron at Vandenberg directed the launch team which included crew members and maintainers from the 91st Missile Wing, Minot AFB, North Dakota.

“These ICBM professionals always make this look so simple, when it's anything but easy,” Col. Craig Ramsey, 576th Flight Test Squadron commander, said.

“This culminates months of effort that began in the missile fields of North Dakota where they removed this hardware from its alert mission, cataloged every piece and part, and shipped it to California for this event.” 

Thursday night’s flight came five days after another Minuteman III operational test at Vandenberg.

An unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile launches during an operational test at 11:01 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 25, 2016, Vandenberg Air Force Base. Click to view larger
An unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile launches during an operational test at 11:01 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 25, 2016, Vandenberg Air Force Base. (Senior Airman Kyla Gifford / U.S. Air Force photo)

The month’s second Minuteman III test had a special audience that included Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work, who posted about this presence on Twitter including a brief video where a spectator notes the weapon's signature smoke ring as it climbed away from Vandenberg.

Coincidentally, this year’s first Minuteman tests fell near the anniversary of another pair ICBM tests from the base. 

Vandenberg officials noted that the launches occurred near the anniversary of the Feb. 21,1967, visit of a contingent of dignitaries led by hen-Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey to witness launch of two Minuteman IB missiles 12-seconds apart.

The Minuteman launch marked the fifth blastoff from Vandenberg for 2016.

The flurry of flights in the first two months of the year comes Vandenberg prepares to go six months without launches while crews relocate equipment vital for monitoring just-launched rockets and missiles. 

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

A timed exposure taken from the Winchester Canyon area shows the Minuteman III launch late Thursday night. Click to view larger
A timed exposure taken from the Winchester Canyon area shows the Minuteman III launch late Thursday night. (Anthony Galván III photo)

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