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US launches ICBM into Pacific Ocean

Unarmed Minuteman III Intercontinental Ballistic Missile launches Sept. 7, 2022 during an operational test. (U.S. Space Force/Released)
February 10, 2023

The U.S. launched an intercontinental ballistic missile into the Pacific Ocean Thursday night, less than a week after a Chinese surveillance balloon flew over the country and brought tensions between the superpowers to a new high.

An unarmed Minuteman III ICBM equipped with a test reentry vehicle launched from California’s Vandenberg Space Force Base at 11:01 p.m., according to a press release. Its reentry vehicle traveled about 4,200 miles, landing somewhere near the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands.

The “routine” ICBM launch was not a response to any current world events, according to the release. The aim was to showcase “the redundancy and reliability of our strategic deterrence systems while sending a visible message of assurance to our allies,” said Col. Christopher Cruise, 377th Test and Evaluation Group commander for Air Force Global Strike Command.

It comes less than a week after the Chinese spy balloon was shot down over the Atlantic Ocean, following a days-long voyage across the U.S. that brought it near nuclear missile silos in Montana. China claims it was a weather balloon blown off course, but the incident resulted in high-level diplomatic talks being postponed amid intensifying competition between the countries.

The press release noted that similar U.S. tests have previously occurred more than 300 times. Test missiles flew to the Kwajalein Atoll in both August and September of last year.

The U.S. military has had a presence on Kwajalein Atoll since the end of World War II. Currently, the U.S. Army garrison there supports missile testing, space surveillance and other operations with a variety of radar, optical and telemetry sensors, according to U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command.

Footage released after a previous test showed a Minuteman III ICBM launching for another trip to the Kwajalein Atoll in 2019.

Minuteman III missiles date to the early 1970s. The entirety of the U.S.’ ICBM force consists of 400 Minuteman III missiles, some of which are located at the Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana that the spy balloon flew near, according to the Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center.

Minuteman III missiles are set to be replaced by LG-35A Sentinel missiles now in early development. Those missiles are expected to be fully capable by the mid-2030s, but the Air Force is “committed to ensuring Minuteman III remains a viable deterrent” in the meantime, according to the release.

This was a breaking news story. The details were periodically updated as more information became available.