The United States nuclear forces have conducted simultaneous operations this month demonstrating its global strike capabilities.
The U.S. Air Force Global Strike Command (AFGSC) has conducted a Bomber Task Force (BTF) mission to the Indo-Pacific Theater, and a developmental test launch of an unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, both taking place within days of one another. Airmen demonstrated that bomber and ICBM capabilities are ready to respond by displaying two-thirds of the U.S. nuclear triad, spanning two ends of the Pacific.
Yesterday, the U.S. Navy conducted a test flight of an unarmed life-extended Trident II (D5LE) submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) from Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine USS Maine (SSBN 741). The SLBMs form the remaining one-third of the U.S. nuclear triad.
Bomber Task Force Integration
A B-52H from the 69th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron from Minot AFB, North Dakota, currently deployed to Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, as part of Continuous Bomber Presence operations, joined with a B-52H from another squadron assigned to the 5th Bomb Wing at Minot, on a BTF mission Feb. 3 to conduct bilateral and theater familiarization training. The B-52s joined with 13 Koku Jieitai (Japan Air Self Defense Force, or JASDF) F-2s, four F-4s and 28 F-15s, and six U.S. Air Force F-16s.
Bomber aircrews taking part in these operations are consistent with a long-standing and well-known U.S. freedom of navigation policies that are applied to our military operations around the world.
“Bomber Task Force missions build proficiency and confidence by familiarizing aircrews with air bases, airspace and operations in various Geographic Combatant Commands’ areas of responsibility,” said Maj. Gen. James Dawkins, Jr., Eighth Air Force and Joint-Global Strike Operations Center commander. “Additionally, these missions offer our Airmen the opportunities to train in a joint environment with partner and allied counterparts that will greatly enhance their readiness to respond to any potential crisis or challenge worldwide.”
Minuteman III Developmental Test Launch
Immediately following the BTF mission, members of AFGSC’s missile community participated in an unarmed Minuteman III ICBM developmental test launch Feb. 5, validating the safety, security and reliability of the Minuteman III ICBM force.
Airmen from the 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom AFB, Montana, the 90th Missile Wing at F.E. Warren AFB, Wyoming, and the 91st Missile Wing at Minot AFB, North Dakota, were selected for the task force to support the test launch.
Developmental test launches use 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 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 Ground Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD) program will replace the Minuteman III ICBM in future.
“Developmental testing is vital for both modernization and sustainment of the ICBM weapon system,” said Col. Matthew Dillow, 20th Air Force vice commander. “Continued unarmed ICBM test launches are essential to ensure reliability of the weapons system until it is replaced by the Ground Base Strategic Deterrent in the mid-2030s. In addition, we are testing new components that will also be used on the GBSD once it is fielded.”
Trident II (D5LE) SLBM Test Launch
On Feb. 12, the U.S. Navy conducted a test flight of an unarmed life-extended Trident II (D5LE) SLBM from USS Maine (SSBN 741). The scheduled, one-missile test flight was conducted on the Western Test Range off the coast of San Diego, California.
The test was part of a Demonstration and Shakedown Operation (DASO), designated DASO-30. The primary objective of a DASO is to evaluate and demonstrate the readiness of the SSBN’s strategic weapon system and crew before operational deployment following the submarine’s engineered refueling overhaul. This launch marked the 177 successful missile launches of the Trident II (D5 & D5LE) strategic weapon system (SWS).
The Trident II (D5) missiles recently underwent a life extension program to address potential impacts from aging and obsolescence. The life-extended missiles – Trident II (D5LE) – are now being deployed to the Fleet and will serve for the remaining service life of the U.S Ohio-class and the United Kingdom Vanguard-class SSBNs, and as the initial loadout for the future U.S. Columbia-class and U.K. Dreadnought-class SSBNs.
U.S. Nuclear Triad
The U.S. Air Force’s ICBMs, its nuclear-capable bombers armed with nuclear gravity bombs, and the SLBMs deployed onboard the U.S. Navy Ohio-class SSBNs forms the U.S. strategic nuclear deterrent triad.
The sea-based leg of the nuclear triad makes up the majority – approximately 70 percent – of the U.S.’s deployed nuclear deterrent triad. Each part of the Triad provides unique capabilities and advantages. The SLBM is the most survivable leg of the triad, provides a persistent presence, and allows for flexible concepts of operations.