Minuteman III missile sporting a mock warhead launches early Thursday from Vandenberg Air Force Base.
Minuteman III missile sporting a mock warhead launches early Thursday from Vandenberg Air Force Base. (Airman 1st Class Hanah Abercrombie / U.S. Air Force photo)

A Minuteman III missile sporting a mock warhead blasted off early Thursday from Vandenberg Air Force Base for the second test launch of the month.

The unarmed three-stage intercontinental ballistic missile roared out of its underground silo on North Base at 12:40 a.m., the opening of a six-hour window. 

Tests like the one that occurred Thursday involve tracking the re-entry vehicle as it travels more than 4,200 miles to a predetermined target, typically near the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands. 

“It is our mission at the 30th Space Wing to provide robust and efficient range capabilities for the nation, and to do so safely and effectively,” said Col. Kris Barcomb, the 30th Operations Group commander who also gave the final OK for launch.

“The Western Range plays an integral role in national security, and our ICBM test launch program helps maintain the credibility of our nuclear deterrent,” Barcomb said. “Launching two Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles one week apart is a true testament to the capabilities of Team Vandenberg.”

Thursday’s test came after another successfully occurred May 1 at Vandenberg, home to the Western Range which monitors just-launched rockets and missiles for safety reasons.

“The test demonstrates the United States’ nuclear deterrent is modern, robust, flexible, ready and appropriately tailored to deter 20st century threats and reassure our allies,” Air Force Global Strike Command representatives said.

The Air Force has 400 nuclear-tipped Minuteman III missiles sitting on alert.

In addition to a task force from the F.E. Warren AFB, Wyoming base, where the missile was randomly selected, members of the 576th Flight Test Squadron, which is located at Vandenberg, also participated in the mission by installing test-unique equipment. 

That includes sensors to track the weapon during the flight and ordnance to destroy the missile if it veers off course and toward populated areas.

“These ICBM professionals always make the difficult look easy,” said Col. Dave Kelley, 576th Flight Test Squadron commander. “This culminates months of effort that began in the missile fields where they removed this hardware from its alert mission, cataloged every piece and part, and shipped it to California for this test.” 

Launch manifests for ICBM tests are scheduled years in advance with preparations occurring months ahead of time.

The Air Force also said the scheduling of test launches is not related to real world events, such as those involving North Korea or Iran.

“The opportunity for a task force to execute multiple launches in a week doesn’t happen very often, and this has been a tremendous experience for our team,” said Maj. Travis Hilliard, task force commander. “Ultimately, these launches demonstrate America’s capability to deter our adversaries and assure our allies through a safe, secure and effective ICBM force.”

Vandenberg’s testing of the weapons designed to carry nuclear warheads regularly draws opposition.

“At a time when the U.S. has been busy withdrawing from and destroying arms-control treaties and are threatening war with Iran, the Air Force has announced yet another ICBM test to be launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base under the cover of darkness,” David Krieger, president of the Santa Barbara-based Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, said Wednesday.

“This is the second ICBM missile test in less than a month,” he added. “If we choose to have a world in which our citizens are safe and secure from nuclear attack, the proper path to do this would be leadership toward nuclear disarmament rather than nuclear muscle-flexing.”

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at jscully@noozhawk.com. 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 jscully@noozhawk.com.