The U.S. Air Force Global Strike Command (AFGSC) test launched an unarmed LGM-30G Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) equipped with a single test reentry vehicle on Oct. 29.
The Minuteman III missile lifted off at 12:27 a.m. Pacific time from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. The missile’s reentry vehicle contained test instruments and traveled approximately 4,200 miles to the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands.
“These operational test launches serve multiple purposes,” said Col. Erik Quigley, Minuteman III Systems director at Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center (AFNWC). “First, they are a demonstration of our nuclear launch capability to all potential adversaries. Second, they provide assurance of continued launch capability to any allies that rely on our nuclear forces to support their security. And third, they help validate our models of the Minuteman III fleet to ensure the ICBMs continue to meet stringent nuclear launch requirements.”
The Minuteman III flight tests are conducted under AFGSC’s Nuclear Weapon System Evaluation Program, as part of the Air Force’s ongoing effort to test weapon systems in training missions and prepare aircrews for future mission requirements. The program demonstrates the operational credibility of the Minuteman III, which is the ground-based leg of the U.S. nuclear triad and a key element of national security for both the United States and its allies.
The nuclear enterprise community, including components from the U.S. Air Force (USAF), U.S. Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM) and the Department of Energy (DOE), collects data from these test launches and evaluates the entire spectrum of the launches to determine capability, supportability and accuracy. Everything is included in the evaluation, including selection of the missile to be tested, launch facility used and personnel delivering, maintaining and launching the missile.
“Like previous test launches, this event demonstrated the Air Force’s commitment to the nation’s nuclear enterprise while ensuring the United States’ nuclear deterrent is safe, secure, and effective to deter our adversaries while reassuring our allies and partners,” said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown, Jr. “We must continue to invest in this viable deterrent, and the Airmen who support this mission, as part of the most responsive leg of our nuclear triad.”
AFGSC conducts an average of four Minuteman III test launches each year. 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.
The Minuteman III missile fleet was fielded in the 1970s, with an initial 10-year service life, and is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. The launch infrastructure system spreads across five states and includes 400 missiles (under the New START Treaty requirements) on alert 24/7, 450 launch facilities and 45 launch control centers, which in some cases date back to the early 1960s.
USAF’s Minuteman III ICBMs will be replaced by the new Ground Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD) program. In September, the AFNWC GBSD Systems directorate awarded an Engineering and Manufacturing Development (EMD) contract for the program to Northop Grumman.