The unarmed missile is set to pop out of an underground silo on the north end of the base between 12:01 and 6:01 a.m. Typically, missile tests are targeted for the opening of the six-hour launch window, although technical troubles or unfavorable weather can cause delays.
“Team V is positioned to work with Air Force Global Strike Command to test launch the Minuteman III missile,” said Col. Michael Hough, 30th Space Wingcommander and the launch decision authority for the mission.
Upon liftoff, the military will track the weapon’s lone warhead as it travels some 4,200 miles, typically to a predetermined target in the Kwajalein Atoll in the western Pacific Ocean.
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Missile tests are conducted several times a year “to validate and verify the effectiveness, readiness and accuracy of the weapon system,” according to the Global Strike Command. The Louisiana-based organization oversees the Air Force’s land-based and bomber-based nuclear weapon systems.
Members of the 576th Flight Test Squadron, which is located at Vandenberg, installed tracking, telemetry and command destruct systems on the missile for the test.
The United States has about 450 Minuteman III missiles sitting on alert near Malmstrom Air Force Base in Great Falls, Mont.; Minot Air Force Base near Minot, N.D.; and F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wyo.
The test will come days after North Korea conducted another ballistic missile test, demonstrating the capability to conduct a 45-minute flight and one that defense experts say puts the continental United States in range of a strike from the increasingly unstable regime.
Vandenberg’s missile tests are scheduled months in advance and are not a response to an immediate global situation.