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Tuesday, December 11 , 2018, 9:51 pm | Fair 53º


Vandenberg AFB Back In Launch Business As Minuteman Flies

Unarmed missle blasts out of silo just after 2 a.m. Monday following one-day delay due to hurricane weather near Hawaii

An unarmed Minuteman III missile blasts off early Monday from Vandenberg Air Force Base during a test launch of the weapon system Click to view larger
An unarmed Minuteman III missile blasts off early Monday from Vandenberg Air Force Base during a test launch of the weapon system (U.S. Air Force photo)

With the early morning departure of a Minuteman 3 missile on Monday, the Western Range at Vandenberg Air Force Base is back in the launch business.

The three-stage weapon popped out of it underground silo at 2:10 a.m., one day later than initially planned due to hurricane weather near Hawaii. 

The ICBM's mock warhead, which contained a telemetry package used for testing the weapon system, traveled approximately 4,200 miles to a target in the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands. 

“I can’t say enough great things about the partners I share this mission set with,” Col. Craig Ramsey, 576th Flight Test Squadron commander, said in a written statement.

The 341st Missile Wing Task Force airmen from Montana, in addition to members of the 576th Flight Test Squadron and 30th Space Wing at Vandenberg, "made this look easy, but it was anything but that," Ramsey added.

“To put all of this together for an on-time launch following an enormous reconfiguration of range assets that took six months to complete...it’s simply a testament to the dedication and professionalism of these proud organizations," Ramsey said. "I’m proud to play a small part in it.”

Monday’s launch marked the third Minuteman test of 2016 from Vandenberg, with the previous one occurring before a 6-month break in blastoffs from the Central Coast.

The lull in launches allowed Vandenberg to complete relocation of Western Range equipment used to monitor just-launched rockets and missiles from Vandenberg.

Air Force Global Strike Command regularly conducts test launches to verify the accuracy and reliability of the ICBM weapon system.

Test launches of the Minuteman fleet provide what officials say is “valuable data to ensure a continued safe, secure and effective nuclear deterrent” about the system on alert in and around Montana, North Dakota and Wyoming. 

Preparations for Vandenberg’s test launch were led by the 576th Flight Test Squadron, based at Vandenberg, while a task force from the 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Montana, also participated in the mission.

“An effort on this scale, and the enormous insights it gives to force readiness, continue to showcase the Minuteman III as the world's premier deterrence and assurance capability,” Lt. Col. Ron Clough, Task Force commander, said.

The Santa Barbara-based Nuclear Age Peace Foundation called the test provocative, noting it came days after the United Nations-designated International Day against Nuclear Tests.

"Test-firing these missiles while expressing criticism when other countries conduct missile tests is a clear example of U.S. double standards. Such double standards encourage nuclear proliferation and nuclear arms races and make the world a more dangerous place," said David Krieger, president of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.

Monday's mission marked the sixth launch from Vandenberg in 2016, with an Atlas 5 rocket flight to carry the WorldView-4 Earth imaging satellite scheduled for mid-September.

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.

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