US Air Force tests unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile

The U.S. Air Force conducted an operational test launch of an unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile on Monday, May 14, images and video posted to the U.S. Defense Department media distribution website showed.

Update May 15 U.S. Air Force Global Strike Command spokesperson Major Anastasia Schmidt confirmed that the launch took place at 1:23 a.m. on May 14 at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.

“The 91st Missile Wing, from Minot AFB, North Dakota, conducted an operational test launch of an Air Force Global Strike Command unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile,” Schmidt told The Defense Post in a May 15 email.

Minuteman ICBMs are regularly tested with launches from Vandenberg that send unarmed re-entry vehicles to a target area in the middle of the Pacific to check the readiness, effectiveness and accuracy of the weapons system.

The launch was the second Minuteman test in recent weeks. A Minuteman test was carried out on April 25, after a February launch was postponed. Another test was carried out last August.

Decades after the Cold War, the United States still fields Minuteman III ICBMs, dotted in silos across rural America, its only land-based ICBM in service.

Minuteman III was introduced in 1970. It was designed to carry three smaller warheads instead of one large one, and was the first multiple independently targetable reentry vehicle (MIRV) to be deployed.

The current U.S. Minuteman III inventory consists of fewer than 400.

The U.S. Air Force plans to keep the Minuteman in service until at least 2030, eventually switching it for a new missile known currently known as the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent.

In its February nuclear posture review, the Trump administration called for the overhaul of the US nuclear arsenal and the development of new low-yield atomic bombs, in response to Russia’s actions in the past several years.

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