US Air Force Test Launches Minuteman III Intercontinental Ballistic Missile

The US Air Force Global Strike Command (AFGSC) test launched an unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) from Vandenberg Space Force Base, California this week.

The ICBM was equipped with a test re-entry vehicle that detonated “conventional (non-nuclear) explosives prior to hitting the surface of the water approximately 4,200 miles [6,759 kilometers] downrange [distance away from the point of launch] near Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands,” the service revealed in a statement.

This was the second successful launch of the ICBM this year. The first test launch was conducted in February.

Previous Launch Aborted 

The launch this week comes over three months after the US Air Force aborted a Minuteman test before its launch on May 5. The weapon reportedly shut down automatically during the final countdown. 

“The Air Force adheres to strict protocols when performing operational test launches, only launching when all safety parameters with the test range and missile are met,” the air force said at the time.

“During terminal countdown, the missile computer detected a fault in the sequence of checks it does prior to launching. Upon detection of this fault, it shut itself down,” Air Force Global Strike Command spokesperson Carla Pampe told Air Force Times. “There has not been an incident like this in recent memory.”

Minuteman III

Introduced in 1970, Minuteman III was designed to carry three smaller warheads instead of one large one. A total of 550 of the ICBMs were deployed throughout the country. By 2017, the number of missiles was reduced to 400.

The missile is part of the United States Strategic Command. As the only land-based ICBM in service, the weapon represents the ground-based leg of the US nuclear triad, which includes the Trident submarine-launched ballistic missile and nuclear weapons carried by long-range strategic bombers.

The three-stage, solid-propellant nuclear weapon has a range of over 6,000 miles (9,656 kilometers) and a top speed of over 15,000 miles (24,140 kilometers) per hour.

In 2020, the US Air Force awarded Northrop Grumman a $13.3 billion contract to develop a new nuclear missile, the US Air Force Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent, to replace the Minuteman III starting in 2029.

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