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U.S. test launches intercontinental ballistic missile from Vandenberg Air Force Base

A Minuteman III missile test got off the ground despite potentially unfavorable weather early Wednesday for a long-planned test launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base.

The three-stage, solid-fueled weapon popped out of its underground silo on North Base at 2:10 a.m., with the military tracking the lone mock warhead as it traveled some 4,200 miles in less than 30 minutes to a predetermined target at the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands.

Wednesday’s test was not in response to North Korea’s demonstration of a long-range missile last week, Global Strike Command officials said.

Louisiana-based Air Force Global Strike Command, which oversees the intercontinental ballistic missile arsenal, routinely conducts test launches of Minuteman weapons to collect data about the system’s accuracy and reliability.

“The seamless partnership of Team V and our Air Force Global Strike Command mission partners has resulted in another safe Minuteman III operational test launch,” said Col. Michael Hough, 30th Space Wing commander, who also gave final permission for the mission as the launch decision authority.

“This combined team of the 90th Missile Wing, 576th Flight Test Squadron and 30th Space Wing is simply outstanding. Their efforts over the past few months show why they are among the most skilled operators in the Air Force.”

The quirky weather, which led to rain in Solvang and the South Coast on Tuesday night and reports of lightning, had threatened attempts to conduct the test before crews found a hole in the clouds.

This marked the fourth Minuteman test to occur at Vandenberg since the start of 2017.

Test launches involving Minuteman missiles are scheduled months in advance with the weapon randomly selected from among the 450 ICBMs on alert in Great Plains states.

Members of the 576th Flight Test Squadron, which is based at Vandenberg, installed test-unique equipment on the weapon to collect the data during the launch, while a task force from the 90th Missile Wing at F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming conducted other chores needed to prep the Minuteman for launch.

Operational test launches highlight the teamwork of airmen at F.E. Warren and Vandenberg, said Col. Dave Kelley, 576th Flight Test Squadron commander.

“These test launches require the highest degree of technical competence and commitment at every level and provide critical data necessary to validate the reliability, accuracy and performance of the ICBM force,” Kelley said.

In addition to F.E. Warren, the military also has crew members standing alert 24 hours a day, year-round, overseeing the nation’s ICBM alert forces at Malmstrom AFB in Montana and Minot AFB in North Dakota.

The launch drew opposition from a group a protestors who routinely gather at Vandenberg to call for an end to tests like the one conducted Wednesday.

The Nuclear Age Peace Foundation also objected to the test, which it said came weeks after 122 nations gathered at the United Nations and formally adopted the “Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.”

The treaty recognizes “the consequent need to completely eliminate such weapons, which remains the only way to guarantee that nuclear weapons are never used again under any circumstances,” the Santa Barbara-based organization said, adding the pact also notes “catastrophic humanitarian consequences” that would result from use of nuclear weapons.

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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