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US Air Force test-fires ICBM from California, 2nd in one week

An unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile launches during an operational test on May 9, 2019, at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Hanah Abercrombie)
May 09, 2019

The United States has tested an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) from California.

This is the fourth test of its kind this year, and the second within one week.

While the Air Force Global Strike Command (AFGSC) says the tests are planned years in advance, this test came with 10 minutes of North Korea test-firing two short-range missiles, its second missile test in an uptick of activity for the second time in a week also.

“The ICBM’s re-entry vehicle, which contained a high-fidelity package used for operational testing, traveled approximately 4,200 miles to the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands,” according to AFGSC. “These test launches verify the accuracy and reliability of the ICBM weapon system, providing valuable data to ensure a continued safe, secure and effective nuclear deterrent.”

Airmen from the 90th Missile Wing at F.E. Warren Air Force Base, in Wyoming, launched the unarmed Minuteman III ICBM on Thursday at 12:40 a.m. Pacific Time, from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.

The ICBM was equipped with a re-entry vehicle.

“These ICBM professionals always make the difficult look easy! This culminates months of effort that began in the missile fields where they removed this hardware from its alert mission, cataloged every piece and part, and shipped it to California for this test,” said Col. Dave Kelley, 576th Flight Test Squadron commander. “This wouldn’t have happened without the tireless efforts of personnel from the 90th Missile Wing, the 576th Flight Test Squadron, the 30th Space Wing and the Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center.”

Crew members stand alert 24 hours a day, seven days a week, every day of the year and oversee the nation’s ICBM alert forces. Warren Air Force Base is one of three missile bases with such crews.

“The opportunity for a Task Force to execute multiple launches in a week doesn’t happen very often, and this has been a tremendous experience for our team,” said Maj. Travis Hilliard, 90th Missile Wing Task Force Commander. “Ultimately, these launches demonstrate America’s capability to deter our adversaries and assure our allies through a safe, secure and effective ICBM force.”

According to the press release, “The ICBM community, including the Department of Defense, the Department of Energy, and U.S. Strategic Command uses data collected from test launches for continuing force development evaluation. The ICBM test launch program demonstrates the operational capability of the Minuteman III and ensures the United States’ ability to maintain a strong, credible nuclear deterrent as a key element of U.S. national security and the security of U.S. allies and partners.”

The press release notes that “launch calendars are built three to five years in advance, and planning for each individual launch begins six months to a year prior to launch.”