An unarmed Minuteman III missile is scheduled to pop out of an underground silo early Tuesday at Vandenberg Air Force Base, some 50 years after first joining the military’s nuclear weapon arsenal.

Liftoff of the three-stage weapon, carrying a mock warhead, is targeted for 12:21 a.m., with the six-hour launch window remaining open until 6:21 a.m. 

Underground silos housing missiles at Vandenberg sit on the northern end of the nearly 100,000-acre base. 

For missile tests, the team typically shoots for a liftoff near the beginning of the launch window, but technical troubles or unfavorable weather at Vandenberg or downrange can delay departure.

The military will track the missile as it travels to a predetermined target approximately 4,200 miles away at the Kwajalein Atoll in the central Pacific Ocean.

“The purpose of the ICBM test launch program is to verify the safety, security, effectiveness and readiness of the weapon system,” according to Air Force Global Strike Command.

The Louisiana-based organization oversees the Air Force’s land- and air-launched nuclear weapons fleet.

Minuteman III missiles joined the nation’s arsenal in summer 1970, and have remained on alert since then with some components being modernized to expand targeting options, improve accuracy and increase survivability.

“We’re honored to have partnered with the @USAirForce for 50 years and counting to ensure ready, safe, secure and effective #strategicdeterrence for the U.S. and its allies,” Boeing said Monday on Twitter.

The current ICBM force consists of 400 Minuteman III missiles located at the 90th Missile Wing at F.E. Warren AFB, Wyo.; the 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom AFB, Mont.; and the 91st Missile Wing at Minot AFB, N.D.

The military conducts Minuteman III test launches a few times a year to gather information on accuracy and reliability, using a weapon randomly selected from the field. 

In addition to a task force from the base where the weapon sat on alert, the test involves members of the 576th Flight Test Squadron at Vandenberg. 

Members of Vandenberg’s 30th Space Wing also will monitor the missile to ensure it remains safely on its flight path while traveling away from the Central Coast.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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Janene Scully | Noozhawk North County Editor

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at