Wednesday, May 23 , 2018, 1:57 pm | Overcast 63º


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Vandenberg AFB to Test Launch Unarmed Minuteman Missile Weapon

Six-hour launch window opens at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday; missile will take off from underground silo on northern tip of base

In this file photo, members of the 576th Test Squadron sit in a control center while overseeing the launch of an unarmed Minuteman III missile in early 2015. Another Minuteman III test is planned from Vadnenberg Air Force Base early Wednesday. Click to view larger
In this file photo, members of the 576th Test Squadron sit in a control center while overseeing the launch of an unarmed Minuteman III missile in early 2015. Another Minuteman III test is planned from Vadnenberg Air Force Base early Wednesday.  (Michael Peterson / U.S. Air Force photo)

An unarmed Minuteman III missile test launch is planned for early Wednesday morning from an underground silo on the northern tip of Vandenberg Air Force Base, military officials said. 

The test launch of the three-stage weapon system, equipped with a mock warhead, is planned for 12:01 a.m. Wednesday. However, the military has penciled in a six-hour window, until 6:01 a.m., for the test to occur.

Countdowns for test launches of intercontinental ballistic missiles can encounter delays due to technical troubles or unfavorable weather at Vandenberg or downrange.  

Upon blastoff, the missile will fly some 4,200 miles to a predetermined target, typically near the Kwajalein Atoll in the central Pacific Ocean.

While the test is planned amid heightened tensions between the United States and North Korea, the Minuteman missions from Vandenberg typically are scheduled months and years beforehand.

Air Force Global Strike Command routinely conducts ICBM test launches from Vandenberg to validate and verify the effectiveness, readiness and accuracy of the weapon system.

“Team V is once again ready to work with Air Force Global Strike Command to successfully launch another Minuteman III missile,” said Col. Chris Moss, 30th Space Wing commander and the launch decision authority.

“These Minuteman launches are essential to verify the status of our national nuclear force and to demonstrate our national nuclear capabilities,” Moss added. “We are proud of our long history in partnering with the men and women of the 576th Flight Test Squadron to execute these missions for the nation." 

Vandenberg officials said on-base viewing for those with regular access is at the Ronald Reagan Memorial Observation Site. For those without base access, a viewing site is located on Corral Road. 

The 576th Flight Test Squadron, based at Vandenberg, installed test-unique tracking, telemetry, and command destruct systems on the missile.

In readying for the test launch, members of the 576th have been assisted by missile maintenance and operations crews from bases where ICBMs sit on alert.

The Air Force has some 450 Minuteman III ICBMs on alert in and around F.E. Warren AFB in Wyoming; Malmstrom AFB in Montana; and Minot AFB in North Dakota. 

The Minuteman test comes weeks after Gen. John Hyten, leader of U.S. Strategic Command, spoke about the United States nuclear arsenal — it includes sea-launched and air-launched components — to the Senate Armed Services Committee.

In his speech, Hyten noted the Minuteman system remains operational “far beyond its intended lifespan.”

 Meanwhile, the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation has lobbied for a world free of nuclear weapons, saying the $1 trillion price of modernizing the nuclear arsenal should be spent in other ways.

In conjunction with Earth Day, David Krieger, founder and president of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, said on his Twitter page, “#Peace, not war. #Music, not missiles, #Beauty, not bombs.”

Along with testing ICBM weapons and launching rockets carrying satellites, Vandenberg is home to four missile-defense interceptors sitting on alert.

Additionally, the Missile Defense Agency plans to conduct an intercept test in late May from the base. 

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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