A team of U.S. Air Force Global Strike Command (AFGSC) Airmen launched an unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) equipped with a test reentry vehicle at 12:03 a.m. Pacific Time Sept. 2 from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.
The ICBM’s reentry vehicle traveled approximately 4,200 miles to 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 test demonstrates that the United States’ nuclear deterrent is safe, secure, reliable and effective to deter twenty-first century threats and reassure our allies. Test launches are not a response or reaction to world events or regional tensions.
“This operational test launch is the culmination of months of hard work and preparation that involve multiple partners,” said Col. Omar Colbert, 576th Flight Test Squadron Commander. “I couldn’t be more impressed with the team that we partner with to successfully execute this mission. The men and women from the 90th, 91st and 341st Missile Wings, 576th FLTS, Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center, and the 30th Space Wing here at Vandenberg, among other mission partners, made this look easy, but it was far from that. Our phenomenal results are a testament to the dedication and professionalism of these proud organizations, and their hard work sends a visible message of deterrence to the world.”
The test launch is a culmination of months of preparation that involve multiple government partners. The Airmen who perform this vital mission are the most skillfully trained the nation has to offer.
The missile came from the 91st Missile Wing, but due to COVID restrictions, maintenance actions were performed by technicians from the 91st and 90th Maintenance Groups and missile combat crews were supplied by all three Missile Wings as well as the 576th Flight Test Squadron. This demonstrates that even during the pandemic, Air Force Global Strike Command maintains various levels of redundant capability to assure a national deterrent.
“This operational test launch was especially challenging considering the effects of the pandemic, but the Task Force from all three Missile Wings did an outstanding job coming together to accomplish this important mission,” said Maj. Patrick McAfee, Task Force Commander. “From the deposture at Minot to reposture, alert and launch at Vandenberg, this team exhibited the professionalism they bring every day to our nation’s nuclear deterrent force.”
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.
Air Force Global Strike Command is comprised of more than 33,700 Airmen and civilians assigned to two numbered air forces, 11 wings, two geographically-separated squadrons and one detachment in the continental United States, and deployed to locations around the globe. The command oversees all bomber and Intercontinental Ballistic Missile operations for the U.S. Department of Defense.