The U.S. Air Force Global Strike Command (AFGSC) test-launched an unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) equipped with a test reentry vehicle.
The ballistic missile lifted-off from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California at 12:33 a.m. Pacific Time on Feb. 5. The ICBM’s reentry vehicle traveled approximately 4,200 miles to the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands.
The launch was performed by a team of AFGSC Airmen from the 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Montana, the 90th Missile Wing at F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyoming, and the 91st Missile Wing at Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota.
“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. Test launches are not a response or reaction to world events or regional tensions”, said an AFGSC statement.
This test was a Developmental Test Launch, which differs from routine Operational Test Launches (Glory Trips). Rather than randomly selecting a fielded ICBM to verify fleet-wide reliability, a Developmental Test Launch uses a spare missile from storage to validate flight worthiness of new or replacement components in an as-near-to operational environment as possible.
Flight Test Unit 2 (FTU 2) is the second of four FTUs scheduled over the next several years to validate replacement components that will ensure continued Minuteman III viability. FTU 1 occurred in February of 2019.
The test launch is a culmination of months of preparation that involve multiple government partners. The Airmen who perform this vital mission are some of the most skillfully trained and educated the Air Force has to offer.
Airmen from the 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom AFB, 90th Missile Wing at F.E. Warren AFB, and 91st Missile Wing at Minot, were selected for the task force to support the test launch. The three missile bases have crew members standing alert 24 hours a day, year-round, overseeing the nation’s ICBM alert forces.
The ICBM community, including the Department of Defense, the Department of Energy, and U.S. Strategic Command uses data collected from test launches for continuing force development evaluation. The ICBM test launch program “demonstrates the operational capability of the Minuteman III and ensures 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 launch calendars are built three to five years in advance, and planning for each individual launch begins six months to a year prior to launch.