Air Force conducts ICBM test launch

The U.S. Air Force conducted a test launch of an unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile on Feb. 9 in California.

Air Force Global Strike Command airmen launched the unarmed missile equipped with a test reentry vehicle at 11:01 p.m. Pacific Time on Feb. 9 from Vandenberg Space Force Base.

The test launch is part of the Air Force’s regular test cycle to “demonstrate that the United States’ nuclear deterrent is safe, secure, reliable and effective to deter twenty-first century threats and reassure our allies. Such tests have occurred over 300 times before, and this test is not the result of current world events,” according to a AFGSC release.

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The ICBM’s reentry vehicle traveled about 4,200 miles to the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands.

Test launches verify the accuracy and reliability of the ICBM weapon system and provide data to ensure a continued safe, secure and effective nuclear deterrent, according to AFGSC.

Launch calendars are built three to five years in advance, and planning for each individual launch begins six months to a year prior to launch. Test launches are not a response or reaction to world events or regional tensions.

The last launch was in September 2022.

“This launch showcases the redundancy and reliability of our strategic deterrence systems while sending a visible message of assurance to allies,” Col. Christopher Cruise, 377th Test Evaluation Group commander, said in a release.

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Airmen from the 91st Missile Wing at Minot AFB, N.D., were selected for the task force to support the test launch. The missile bases within Air Fore Global Strike Command have crew members standing alert 24 hours a day, year-round, overseeing the nation’s ICBM alert forces.

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The ICBM community, including the Department of Defense, the Department of Energy, and U.S. Strategic Command, uses data collected from test launches for continuing force development evaluation. The ICBM test launch program demonstrates the operational capability of the Minuteman III and ensures the United States’ ability to maintain a strong, credible nuclear deterrent as a key element of U.S. national security and the security of U.S. allies and partners.

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The LG-35A Sentinel will replace the Minuteman III ICBM with an initial capability of 2029. Until full capability is achieved in the mid-2030s, the Air Force is committed to ensuring Minuteman III remains a viable deterrent.

Malmstrom Air Force Base is set to be the second missile base to get the new system, according to the Air Force. F.E. Warren AFB is scheduled as the first base and Minot is scheduled third.