Missile blasting off

A Minuteman III weapon equipped with a mock warhead blasted out of its underground silo at Vandenberg Air Force Base early Wednesday for a routine test (U.S. Air Force photo)

A Minuteman III weapon equipped with a mock warhead blasted out of its underground silo at Vandenberg Air Force Base early Wednesday for a routine test that still has the military remaining mum.

The three-stage weapon lifted off at 5:26 a.m. in the middle of the six-hour launch window that opened at 3:26 a.m.

Vandenberg Public Affairs officials refused to answer any questions, referring queries to Air Force Global Strike Command representatives in Louisiana.

Global Strike Command oversees Air Force’s air-launched and ground-based nuclear weapon systems.

“Test launches provide valuable data for U.S. Strategic Command and the U.S. Air Force,” Linda Frost, Global Strike Command representative, told Noozhawk. “A reliable test launch occurs when a test missile launches, completes its flight path within a designated safety corridor, the equipment functions properly, sensor data is collected, and the test reentry vehicle impacts where targeted. Though the reentry vehicle reached its intended target, the test and analysis data is not releasable to the public.”

Both before and after the test, Vandenberg and Global Strike Command Public Affairs representatives were unusually mum about the mission. The military social media and websites did not include the usual post-launch announcements of the test, although the Air Force released one photo and an edited video to the launch.

The silence apparently can be attributed to a service-wide timeout period that has prompted a freeze on public outreach until staff undergoes retraining amid concerns more secrecy is needed even about unclassified information, a story in Defense News said.

Vandenberg’s high-profile Mars InSight spacecraft, set to head to space aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket on May 5, is not affected by public affairs freeze since it’s a mission for NASA.

The military routinely conducts Minuteman III test launches from Vandenberg to gather data about the weapon system’s accuracy and reliability. In the past, Air Force officials has said the tests also serve as a deterrent to the nation’s foes.

The tests typically occur a few times a year from Vandenberg and include a task force from the weapon’s home base. 

Approximately 400 Minuteman weapons sit on alert around F.E. Warren AFB, Wyoming; Minot AFB, North Dakota, and Malmstrom AFB, Montana.

The last Minuteman test occurred in August, but another planned for February was mysteriously canceled after Vandenberg Public Affairs staff sent out a press release announcing the mission but never followed up to say it would not happen. It’s believed the test was canceled due to a truce declared for the Olympic Games held in South Korea.

Rick Wayman, director of programs for the Santa Barbara-based Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, said he was disappointed Wednesday’s test occurred hours before the start of a peace summit between South Korea and North Korea. 

“There’s certainly always an element, I think, with a lack of communication between the Air Force, the military at large and our diplomats,” Wayman said. “At such a sensitive time that we’re in right now in terms of peace negations with North Korea, I would have hoped for more sensitivity around this issue.”

Wayman is in Geneva for the United Nations for meetings on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

“I always remain hopeful that diplomacy will prevail and that was what I was hoping for in this case,” he said. “I was very disappointed that they did this. Of course, this doesn’t mean the end of diplomacy in the Korea issue, but I feel like it’s a blow, I feel like this situation would have been better off had we refrained.”

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.