US launches ICBM from California in overnight test
The Air Force said the launch was a test of its aging Minuteman III fleet.
The U.S. Air Force launched a Minuteman III ICBM from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California early Wednesday as part of its regular testing of the missile fleet.
"A team of Air Force Global Strike Command Airmen from the 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Montana, the 90th Missile Wing at F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyoming, and the 91st Missile Wing at Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota, launched an unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile equipped with a test reentry vehicle at 12:33 a.m. Pacific Time Feb. 5 from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California," the Air Force's Global Strike Command said in a statement.
"The ICBM's reentry vehicle traveled approximately 4,200 miles to the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands," it added, with it landing in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
"These test launches verify the accuracy and reliability of the ICBM weapon system, providing valuable data to ensure a continued safe, secure and effective nuclear deterrent. Test launches are not a response or reaction to world events or regional tensions" the statement continued.
The U.S. regularly tests its ICBM fleet of Air Force Minuteman III's and Navy sub-launched Trident II missiles.
Planned months to a year in advance the missile tests in California will sometimes catch residents by surprise since the tests are not publicized in advance.
Unlike operational tests where a missile is pulled randomly from the existing fleet of 400 ICBM's, the test overnight was described as a "Developmental Test Launch" where a spare missile is pulled from storage to test the flight worthiness of new or replacement components.
Two more of these flight tests are planned over the next few years.
“Developmental testing provides valuable data to Air Force Global Strike Command and Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center for both modernization and sustainment of the ICBM weapon system,” said Col. Omar Colbert, 576th Flight Test Squadron Commander. “The Minuteman III is aging, and modernization programs such as this are essential in ensuring that our Nation has a reliable nuclear deterrent through the rest of its lifespan and beyond. Most importantly, this visible indicator of our National security capabilities serves to assure our partners and dissuade potential aggressors.”