On Tuesday at 12:03am Pacific Time, a team of U.S. Air Force Global Strike Command (AFGSC) Airmen launched an unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) equipped with a test reentry vehicle the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
The Air Force said the test demonstrates that the United States’ nuclear deterrent is safe, secure, reliable and effective in deterring, twenty-first century threats while reassuring our allies. These test launches were not a response or reaction to any current world events or regional tensions.
These tests are done to verify the accuracy and reliability of the ICBM weapon system. They provide valuable data to ensure a continued safe, secure and effective nuclear deterrent. The ICBM’s reentry vehicle traveled approximately 4,200 miles to the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands.
Planning for each individual launch begins six months to a year prior to launch. The launch calendars are planned three to five years in advance of the actual launch. This vital testing mission is performed by the most skillfully trained Airmen that our nation has to offer and represents months of hard work.
“This operational test launch is the culmination of months of hard work and preparation that involve multiple partners. I couldn’t be more impressed with the team that we partner with to successfully execute this mission. The men and women from the 90th, 91st and 341st Missile Wings, 576th FLTS, Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center, and the 30th Space Wing here at Vandenberg, among other mission partners, made this look easy, but it was far from that. Our phenomenal results are a testament to the dedication and professionalism of these proud organizations, and their hard work sends a visible message of deterrence to the world,” said Col. Omar Colbert, 576th Flight Test Squadron Commander.
The ICBM test launch program is what demonstrates the operational capability of the Minuteman III. It also showcases the United States’ ability to maintain a strong, credible nuclear deterrent, which is a key element of U.S. national security and the security of U.S. allies and partners.
The data collected from the test launches is is used for continuing force development evaluation. The ICBM community, including the Department of Defense, the Department of Energy, and U.S. Strategic Command all use this data.
Although the missile came from the 91st Missile Wing, due to COVID restrictions, maintenance actions were performed by technicians from the 91st and 90th Maintenance Groups. Missile combat crews were supplied by all three Missile Wings and the 576th Flight Test Squadron. Even during a pandemic this demonstrates that the Air Force Global Strike Command has various levels of redundant capability to assure a national deterrent.
“This operational test launch was especially challenging considering the effects of the pandemic, but the Task Force from all three Missile Wings did an outstanding job coming together to accomplish this important mission. From the deposture at Minot to reposture, alert and launch at Vandenberg, this team exhibited the professionalism they bring every day to our nation’s nuclear deterrent force,” said Maj. Patrick McAfee, Task Force Commander.
The Air Force Global Strike Command oversees all bomber and Intercontinental Ballistic Missile operations for the U.S. Department of Defense. The command is made up of more than 33,700 Airmen and civilians assigned to two numbered air forces. They have 11 wings, two geographically-separated squadrons and one detachment in the continental United States that are deployed to locations around the globe.