An unarmed Minuteman III missile blasted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base early Wednesday morning, proof the pandemic did not deter the mission despite forcing different plans, defense officials said.
The three-stage weapon popped out of its underground silo on North Base at 12:03 a.m., the opening of the six-hour window for the test launch.
The military tracked the weapon’s lone re-entry vehicle as it traveled approximately 4,200 miles to a predetermined target in the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands.
“This test launch represents another successful demonstration of our nation’s capability, and underscores the fact that our nuclear enterprise is safe, secure, reliable, effective and ready to defend the United States and our allies,” said Col. Kris Barcomb, Vandenberg’s 30th Operations Group commander who also gave the final permission for the launch to occur.
Launch manifests for missile tests are developed years in advance so tests are not related to any real-world incidents, Air Force officials said.
“This operational test launch is the culmination of months of hard work and preparation that involve multiple partners,” said Col. Omar Colbert, 576th Flight Test Squadron commander.
“Our phenomenal results are a testament to the dedication and professionalism of these proud organizations, and their hard work sends a visible message of deterrence to the world,” Colbert added.
This test, like another last month, required some changes due to the COVID-19 concerns.
Traditionally, a missile is randomly selected from the arsenal of 400 weapons on alert at Minot AFB, North Dakota; F.E. Warren AFB, Wyoming or Malmstrom AFB, Montana.
A task force from the missile’s home base travels to Vandenberg to perform pre-launch chores in readying the weapon for the test.
This missile came from the Minot’s 91st Missile Wing, but due to COVID restrictions, maintenance actions were performed by technicians from the Minot and the Wyoming base.
Missile combat crews were supplied by all three missile wings as well as the 576th Flight Test Squadron which is based at Vandenberg.
The tweaked plans demonstrate that even during the pandemic, Air Force Global Strike Command maintains redundant capability to assure a national deterrent, officials said.
“This operational test launch was especially challenging considering the effects of the pandemic, but the task force from all three missile wings did an outstanding job coming together to accomplish this important mission,” said Maj. Patrick McAfee, task force commander. “From the deposture at Minot to reposture, alert and launch at Vandenberg, this team exhibited the professionalism they bring every day to our nation’s nuclear deterrent force.”
Wednesday’s test launch occurred weeks after the Air Force marked the 50th anniversary of the Minuteman III fleet being on alert and makes plans for a replacement weapons
Retirement of the Minuteman missile fleet could come in the 2030s when Ground Based Strategic Deterrent is set to debut, according to the Air Force.
.“Until GBSD comes online fully, we must continue to take the actions necessary to ensure Minuteman III remains a viable deterrent for the nation,” said Gen. Tim Ray, AFGSC commander. “24/7/365 our missiles remain on alert, lethal and ready, providing the deterrence necessary to allow the rest of the nation to sleep peacefully at night.
“We all owe a large debt of gratitude to the missileers, maintainers, security forces and countless others, who held the watch over the past generation. However, the Minuteman III is 50-years-old. It’s time to modernize and bring on GBSD,” Ray added.
— Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at email@example.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.