An unarmed Minuteman III missile blasts off.

An unarmed Minuteman III missile is expected to blast off late Tuesday night or early Wednesday morning from north Vandenberg Air Force Base. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Three months after the last test launch, an unarmed Minuteman III missile is expected to blast off late Tuesday night or early Wednesday morning from north Vandenberg Air Force Base.

The three-stage weapon is set to pop out of its underground silo between 11:01 p.m. Tuesday and 5:01 a.m. Wednesday.

Upon blastoff, the military will track the lone mock warhead as it travels some 4,200 miles to a predetermined target in the central Pacific Ocean’s Kwajalein Atoll. 

Missile tests can be delayed by technical troubles or unfavorable weather either at Vandenberg or downrange.

The Air Force routinely conducts intercontinental ballistic missile tests several times a year from Vandenberg to collect information about the weapon system’s accuracy and reliability.

“Developmental testing provides valuable data to Air Force Global Strike Command, and holistically tests the systems, procedures and airmen from the initial mission planning to the final weapons employment phases,” Vandenberg representatives said.

However, missile tests are scheduled months or years in advance, and are not in reaction to any real-world incident, according to Global Strike Command representatives.

While members of the 576th Flight Test Squadron handled test-unique chores, a task force from Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota, traveled to Vandenberg to handle other launch-related tasks. 

Most launches involved “key turns” from crews in an underground launch control facility, but this one will feature the Airborne Launch Control System aboard a U.S. Navy E6-B Mercury. 

The Air Force has a total of 400 Minuteman III weapons on alert near Minot and at F.E. Warren AFB, Wyoming and Malmstrom AFB, Montana.

The test will be third launch of 2019 from Vandenberg but the first for the Global Strike Command ICBM program. 

This week’s test will occur days after the Trump administration suspended  the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, considered one of the most important arms control treaties ever achieved between the United States and Russia, according to Rick Wayman, deputy director of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. 

“The very same week, both of these countries now appear set to test-launch intercontinental ballistic missiles. While ICBMs would not have violated the INF Treaty, it is alarming that this extraordinary tension is coming to a head with major nuclear-capable missile tests just hours or days apart,” Wayman told Noozhawk. 

The U.S. and Russia together possess more than 90 percent of the approximately 14,500 nuclear weapons in the world, he added. 

“The Air Force always seeks to explain away ICBM tests as routine and disconnected from current geopolitical events. But there is nothing routine about rehearsing the annihilation of millions of people,” Wayman said.

“President Trump’s reckless decision to torch the INF Treaty has put us all at even higher risk of nuclear catastrophe, and the United States’ ongoing testing of ICBMs must be viewed in this light.” 

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