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US Air Force to Test-Launch Future ICBM Reentry Vehicle

The US Air Force will test-launch a new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) reentry vehicle Thursday, media outlets reported, citing an official statement.

The Minotaur II rocket will take off from the Vandenberg Space Force Base in the morning carrying the Mk21A reentry vehicle, according to the statement. A precise time was not stated.

The inaugural launch of the Mk21A is the culmination of the vehicle’s joint development by the air force and Lockheed Martin, beginning in 2019. 

To Carry Future Warhead

The vehicle is intended to carry the future LGM-35A Sentinel ICBM (formerly Ground Based Strategic Deterrent) warhead, which will replace the ground-based Minuteman-III, starting in 2029.

The Minuteman reentry vehicle Mk 21 is armed with the W87 warhead, while the Mk 21A will carry the modified W87-1. 

Second Vehicle Test in 2023

Lockheed is developing two Mk21A prototypes, according to Inside Defense. The second prototype will be tested in the second quarter of 2023.

The launch will demonstrate the vehicle’s “preliminary design concepts and relevant payload technologies in operationally realistic environments,” Santa Maria Times wrote, quoting an Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center statement.

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