U.S. Air Force to launch test missile off Central California coast

An unarmed intercontinental ballistic missile will be launched Wednesday from Vandenberg Air Force Base to test the weapon’s effectiveness, accuracy and readiness, according to the Air Force Global Strike Command.

The Minuteman III missile test launch will occur between 12:01 and 6:01 a.m. from the north end of the base near Lompoc, according to Vandenberg’s 30th Space Wing. The 576th Flight Test Squadron, which will help oversee the operational test launch, is responsible for telemetry, tracking and command destruct systems on the missile.

In a statement, Col. Chris Moss, Vandenberg’s 30th Space Wing commander, said missile launches are “essential to verify the status of our national nuclear force and to demonstrate our national nuclear capabilities.”

The Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, criticized the timing of the launch, citing heightened tension between the U.S. and North Korea. In recent weeks, North Korea has stepped up its testing of ballistic missiles.

“When it comes to missile testing, the U.S. is operating with a clear double standard: It views its own tests as justified and useful, while it views the tests of North Korea as threatening and destabilizing,” foundation president David Krieger said in a statement. “What is needed is diplomacy rather than military provocations. Threats, whether in the form of tweets, nuclear-capable aircraft carrier groups, or nuclear-capable missile launches, only increase the dangers to us all.”

On Tuesday, the U.S. 7th Fleet said it was conducting maritime exercises with naval ships from South Korea and Japan.

“Both exercises demonstrate a shared commitment to security and stability in Northeast Asia as well as the U.S. Navy's inherent flexibility to combine with allied naval forces in response to a broad range of situations,” the U.S. 7th Fleet said in a statement.

The Vandenberg test would be the second missile launched from the base this year.

The other launch was conducted by the strike command’s team from the 91st Missile wing at Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota in February. The missile was equipped with a nonexplosive payload that recorded flight data, according the strike command. The missile was launched at the base just north of Lompoc and traveled 4,200 miles to a test range in Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands.

Three Minuteman III missiles were launched in 2016, according to Lt. Col. Jason Turner, 2d Range Operations Squadron commander.

veronica.rocha@latimes.com

Twitter: VeronicaRochaLA

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