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Second Minuteman III missile test launch planned at Vandenberg AFB

Noozhawk.com

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. U.S. Air Force photo
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. U.S. Air Force photo

For the second time in seven days, a test launch of an unarmed Minuteman III missile is planned from Vandenberg Air Force Base.

The three-stage intercontinental ballistic missile with a mock warhead is set to blast out of an underground silo on North Base between 12:01 a.m. and 6:01 a.m. Wednesday, with the crew aiming for liftoff at the opening of the window.

However, unfavorable weather or technical troubles could delay the missile test until later in the planned launch window.

This week’s launch follows another test that occurred last week from the base.

Air Force Global Strike Command representatives said scheduling issues — not world tensions — put the pair Minuteman tests close together.

While this week’s launch has been planned for years, last week’s had been delayed from the fall due to Vandenberg's Canyon Fire and technical troubles.

The military will track the mock re-entry vehicle as it travels some 4,200 miles to a predetermined target in the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands.

"We have been working closely with the 576th Flight Test Squadron over the past 10 months to prepare for this mission. Team Vandenberg is poised and ready to execute this important launch," said Col. Chris Moss, 30th Space Wing commander and the launch decision authority.

The ICBM test launch program validates and verifies the effectiveness, readiness and accuracy of the weapon system, according to Global Strike Command.

Vandenberg’s 576th Flight Test Squadron members installed test-unique tracking, telemetry and command destruct systems on the missile, to collect data and ensure safety requirements are met.

The United States has approximately 450 Minuteman III missiles on alert near Malmstrom AFB, Montana; Minot AFB, North Dakota and F.E. Warren AFB, Wyoming.

Test launches spark harsh comments from critics, who contend the U.S. operates with a double standard while justifying the tests but dubbing North Korea’s as destabilizing.

The pair of tests comes amid heightened tensions between the U.S. and North Korea.

“We would argue that, even if the Minuteman tests had been planned months in advance, there must be some flexibility in order not to exacerbate international crises, said Rick Wayman, director of programs at the Santa Barbara-based Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.

Wednesday’s test also coincides with the second day of the Non-Proliferation Treaty conference in Vienna, Wayman added.

“The treaty requires parties to negotiate in good faith for an end to the nuclear arms race,” Wayman added. “Conducting a test-launch of a missile whose sole purpose is to deliver nuclear warheads anywhere around the world is a glaring example of bad faith. It violates the spirit of the NPT and undermines U.S. credibility in insisting that other nations not develop nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles.”

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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