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Vandenberg AFB Conducts Test Launch of Minuteman III Missile

Three-stage weapon with mock warhead blasts out of underground silo to verify accuracy and reliability of system

A Minuteman III missile heads skyward early Wednesday from Vandenberg Air Force Base during a test launch of the weapon system. Click to view larger
A Minuteman III missile heads skyward early Wednesday from Vandenberg Air Force Base during a test launch of the weapon system. (U.S. Air Force photo)

This year’s second unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile test occurred at Vandenberg Air Force Base early Wednesday.

The three-stage weapon blasted out of its underground silo on North Base at 12:03 a.m., near the opening of the six-hour window for the mission.

The launch served as an”important demonstration of our nation's nuclear deterrent capability," according to Col. Chris Moss, 30th Space Wing commander and launch decision authority for Wednesday mission.

"Test launches like this one are vital to validating the effectiveness and readiness of our operational nuclear systems, so it is critical that they are successful,” Moss said. “The men and women of the 30th Space Wing and Air Force Global Strike Command's 576th Flight Test Squadron did a fantastic job working together to make tonight's launch possible and successful."

 Typically, crews in an underground launch control center at Vandenberg provide the key turns necessary to send the missile on its way. However, the missile tested Wednesday used a launch command delivered from the Air Launch Control System on a Navy E-6 Mercury jet.

The ICBM’s single re-entry vehicle, equipped with a telemetry package to gather data during operational testing, traveled to the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands, approximately 4,200 miles away from Vandenberg. 

The military contends test launches verify the accuracy and reliability of the Minuteman III ICBM weapon system, providing valuable data to ensure a continued safe, secure and effective nuclear deterrent.

The Minuteman system has been in service for 60 years. Through upgrades, the Air Force says, today's Minuteman system remains state-of-the art and is capable of meeting modern challenges.

The Air Force's 450 Minuteman weapons are on alert near bases in Montana, Wyoming and North Dakota.

Wednesday’s test occurred amid tension between the U.S. and North Korea, “with each side flexing its military muscle and making implicit and explicit threats,” according to a statement from the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.

“When it comes to missile testing, the U.S. is operating with a clear double standard: It views its own tests as justified and useful, while it views the tests of North Korea as threatening and destabilizing,” said David Krieger, president of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.

 “What is needed is diplomacy rather than military provocations. Threats, whether in the form of tweets, nuclear-capable aircraft carrier groups, or nuclear-capable missile launches, only increase the dangers to us all,” he added.

Another Minuteman III test will be conducted from Vandenberg next week, Global Strike Command officials said. 

This week's test had been delayed from last fall due to the Canyon Fire and technical troubles, military representatives said.

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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