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Air Force test launches missile from Vandenberg to show ‘nuclear deterrent capability’

A Minuteman III missile heads skyward from Vandenberg Air Force Base in northern Santa Barbara County during a test launch of the weapon system early Wednesday, April 26, 2017.
A Minuteman III missile heads skyward from Vandenberg Air Force Base in northern Santa Barbara County during a test launch of the weapon system early Wednesday, April 26, 2017.

This year’s second unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile test occurred at Vandenberg Air Force Base in northern Santa Barbara County early Wednesday.

The three-stage weapon blasted out of its underground silo on North Base at 12:03 a.m., near the opening of the six-hour window for the mission.

The launch served as an “important demonstration of our nation’s nuclear deterrent capability,” said Col. Chris Moss, 30th Space Wing commander and launch decision authority for the Wednesday mission.

Typically, crews in an underground launch control center at Vandenberg provide the key turns necessary to send the missile on its way. However, the missile tested Wednesday used a launch command delivered from the Air Launch Control System on a Navy E-6 Mercury jet.

The ICBM’s single re-entry vehicle, equipped with a telemetry package to gather data during operational testing, traveled to the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands, about 4,200 miles away from Vandenberg.

Another Minuteman III test will be conducted from Vandenberg next week, Global Strike Command officials said.

The Minuteman system has been in service for 60 years. Through upgrades, the Air Force says, today’s Minuteman system remains state-of-the art and is capable of meeting modern challenges.

The Air Force’s 450 Minuteman weapons are on alert near bases in Montana, Wyoming and North Dakota.

The military contends test launches verify the accuracy and reliability of the Minuteman III ICBM weapon system, providing valuable data to ensure a continued safe, secure and effective nuclear deterrent.

Wednesday’s test occurred amid tension between the United States and North Korea, “with each side flexing its military muscle and making implicit and explicit threats,” according to a statement from the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.

“When it comes to missile testing, the U.S. is operating with a clear double standard: It views its own tests as justified and useful, while it views the tests of North Korea as threatening and destabilizing,” said David Krieger, the foundation’s president.

“What is needed is diplomacy rather than military provocations. Threats, whether in the form of tweets, nuclear-capable aircraft carrier groups, or nuclear-capable missile launches, only increase the dangers to us all,” he added.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at jscully@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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