A joint team of U.S. Air Force Global Strike Command (AFGSC) Airmen and Navy sailors test-launched an unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) equipped with three test reentry vehicles from aboard the Airborne Launch Control System (ALCS).
The missile lifted off at 12:21 a.m. Pacific Time, Aug. 4 from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.The ICBM’s three reentry vehicles traveled approximately 4,200 miles to the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands.
According to an AFGSC statement, 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.
Airmen from the USAF 625th Strategic Operations Squadron (STOS) out of Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska, were aboard the ALCS-equipped U.S. Navy E-6 Mercury aircraft to demonstrate the reliability and effectiveness of the ALCS system.
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, the statement said. The statement added that the test launch was not a response or reaction to world events or regional tensions.
“The flight test program demonstrates one part of the operational capability of the ICBM weapon system,” said Col. Omar Colbert, 576th Flight Test Squadron commander. “The Minuteman III is 50 years old, and continued test launches are essential in ensuring its reliability until the 2030s when the Ground Base Strategic Deterrent is fully in place. Most importantly, this visible message of national security serves to assure our allies and dissuade potential aggressors.”
The test launch is a culmination of months of preparation that involve multiple government 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.
Airmen from the 90th Missile Wing were selected to support the test launch. However, due to current COVID-19 travel restrictions, crewmembers from the 576 FLTS supported the launch with alert crews and an operational crew for the night of the launch. The AFGSC statement said that this demonstrates that even during the pandemic, Air Force Global Strike Command maintains various levels of redundant capability to assure a national deterrent.
“Our team of incredible 90th Maintenance Group professionals have done an amazing job,” said Lt. Col. Joseph Edington, Task Force commander. “However, this is a joint effort, I’m extremely impressed of Vandenberg Air Force Base, the 576th Flight Test Squadron and all associated partner’s hard work and dedication preparing our missile for the testing and monitoring needed prior to test execution. The attention given to every task accomplished here reflects the precision and professionalism we bring every day in our missile field to ensure our nation’s nuclear deterrence.”
The ICBM community, including the Department of Defense (DoD), the Department of Energy (DoE), and U.S. Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM) uses data collected from test launches for continuing force development evaluation.