Crews at Vandenberg Space Force Base safely terminated an unarmed Minuteman III missile test early Wednesday morning after something went awry during the flight.
Space Launch Delta 30 personnel at Vandenberg issued the destruct command after spotting an anomaly as the intercontinental ballistic missile flew over the Pacific Ocean at 12:06 a.m.
The three-stage weapon reportedly launched around midnight, popping out of an underground silo on North Base.
Typically, the military confirms a mission’s success with a post-launch press release along with photos and video sent a couple of hours after liftoff.
However, both Vandenberg and Louisiana-based Air Force Global Strike Command personnel remained mostly mum about the mission’s outcome on Wednesday morning, suggesting something went awry.
More than 14 hours later, AFGSC representatives confirmed the test launch had ended prematurely due an anomaly.
“An anomaly is any unexpected event during the test. Since anomalies may arise from many factors relating to the operational platform itself, or the test equipment, careful analysis is needed to identify the cause,” AFGSC officials said in a written statement.
A Launch Analysis Group is forming to investigate the cause, with members including representatives from Air Force Global Strike Command, the 377th Test and Evaluation Group, the 576th Flight Test Squadron, Space Launch Delta 30 Safety Office and Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center, among other organizations.
Military officials said the test provided vital data before the flight’s termination.
“The test launch program helps the command evaluate the Minuteman III and gather data to keep the system effective,” the AFGSC statement said.
“The command learns lessons from every test launch. Gathering data from the launch allows AFGSC to identify and correct any issues with the weapon system to ensure the Minuteman III’s continued reliability and accuracy.”
Launch spectators had noted some unusual activity as the weapon traveled away from California.
“Interesting change of trajectory on the 3rd stage burn, and it wasn’t a camera bump,” Jonathan Murphy said on the website formerly known as Twitter.
This was the fourth Minuteman III missile test of 2023 from Vandenberg, with weapons typically traveling to a predetermined target in the central Pacific Ocean.
Some 400 Minuteman missiles remain on alert near F.E. Warren AFB, Wyoming; Minot AFB, North Dakota and Malmstrom AFB, Montana.
The Air Force is working on developing and fielding a next-generation intercontinental ballistic missile to replace the Minuteman fleet with plans for an initial capability of 2029.
Until Sentinel achieves full capability in the mid-2030s, Air Force officials say they are committed to ensuring Minuteman III remains a viable deterrent.