An unarmed intercontinental ballistic missile was launched Wednesday from Vandenberg Air Force Base to test the weapon’s reliability and ensure an “effective nuclear deterrent,” according to the U.S. Air Force.
The Minuteman III missile test launch occurred at 12:02 a.m. from the base northwest of Santa Barbara, according to Air Force Global Strike Command. The missile, equipped with a single-test reentry vehicle, traveled 4,200 miles to a test range near the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands.
“These test launches verify the accuracy and reliability of the ICBM weapon system, providing valuable data to ensure a continued safe, secure and effective nuclear deterrent,” the strike command said in a statement.
The launch was conducted by the 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana, the 576th Flight Test Squadron and Vandenberg’s 30th Space Wing team, the Air Force said. The 341st Missile Wing is one of three missile bases overseeing the country’s intercontinental ballistic missile forces.
“It’s efforts like these that make nuclear deterrence effective,” Col. Craig Ramsey, commander of the 576th Flight Test Squadron, said in a statement.
Vandenberg Air Force Base and the 576th Flight Test Squadron have been preparing for the operational test launch for the last 10 months, Col. Chris Moss, Vandenberg’s 30th Space Wing commander, said in a statement.
Before its launch, the Minuteman III missile was pulled randomly from a silo at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana and transported to Vandenberg, where it was reassembled, according to the Air Force.
Air Force Global Strike Command said data collected from test launches are used for “continuing force development evaluation.” Test launches demonstrate the capability of the Minuteman missile system as well as ensure “the United States’ ability to maintain a strong, credible nuclear deterrent as a key element of U.S. national security and the security of U.S. allies and partners,” the strike command said.
The Minuteman III missile has been in service for 60 years, but it has been upgraded with improved targeting and enhanced accuracy systems, the Air Force said.
The test is the second missile launched from the base in a week.
Another test was conducted by the Air Force Global Strike Command’s team April 26. Air Force officials said that launch was an operational test to show the country’s nuclear deterrent capability.
The Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization based in San Barbara, has criticized the timing and the Air Force’s motives for both launches. The organization has said the launches come amid heightened tensions between the U.S. and North Korea.
On Friday, North Korea’s military launched a ballistic missile hours after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called on the U.N. Security Council to impose new economic sanctions against the country. The weapon apparently crashed nearby or in waters just offshore.
North Korea has stepped up its missile testing in recent weeks, having launched at least seven short- and mid-range projectiles this year.
Wednesday’s test is the third ICBM launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base this year.
The other test missile was launched in February. That missile, equipped with a nonexplosive payload, also traveled to a test range in Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands.