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Keep an eye on the sky — Minuteman III missile set to launch from Vandenberg

Vandenberg Air Force Base is poised to resume Minuteman III test launches this week — slightly more than three months after the last one ended in failure.

The three-stage weapon equipped with a mock warhead to collect data is scheduled to blast out of an underground silo on North Base between 11:01 p.m. Tuesday and 5:01 a.m. Wednesday, Vandenberg officials said.

Missile tests typically have six-hour opportunities to get underway.

Upon launch, the military will track the missile and its mock re-entry vehicle during flight toward a predetermined target typically in the Kwajalein Atoll, some 4,200 miles southwest of Vandenberg.

“Operational test launches of the Minuteman III provide valuable data to planners and holistically test the system, procedures and airmen from the initial mission planning to the final weapons employment phases,” Vandenberg officials said in announcing the launch. “These tests are not related to any real world events.”

The Air Force builds its launch calendars three to five years in advance, with preparations getting started six months to a year before launch day.

The military typically schedules four tests per year, and the last test occurred July 31.

But that effort ended with Vandenberg personnel sending a self-destruct command to destroy the weapon after it launched due to some anomaly spotted shortly after the ICBM took flight.

Air Force Global Strike Command representatives in Louisiana said last week they could not answer questions about the mishap investigation’s findings because they were in the middle of an annual exercise. Previously, Air Force Public Affairs practices did not prevent handling real-world requests even during military exercises.

On Monday, officials supplied a different statement.

“At this time, the Launch Analysis Group is still conducting an investigation. However, those results are not releasable,” said Linda Frost from AFGSC Public Affairs.

The Air Force has some 450 Minuteman III missiles sitting on alert near F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyoming; Minot AFB, North Dakota and Malmstrom AFB, Montana.

A task force from one of those three bases typically travels to Vandenberg to prep the weapon for the test launch, while members of the 576th Flight Test Squadron, based at Vandenberg, handle test-unique equipment such as ordnance installed to destroy an errant weapon.

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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