The “scheduled” Minuteman III launch comes amid tensions with China and the DPRK
The Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) launch on Thursday evening was a test of nuclear deterrent readiness and a message to the world, the US Air Force said on Friday.
The ground-based missile was fired at 11pm Pacific Time from the Vandenberg Space Force Base in California, in a “routine” activity “intended to demonstrate that the US nuclear deterrent is safe, secure, reliable and effective,” according to the military.
The unarmed missile carried a test reentry vehicle, which splashed down in the vicinity of the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands, some 6,800 kilometers away.
“A test launch displays the heart of our deterrence mission on the world’s stage, assuring our nation and its allies that our weapons are capable and our airmen are ready and willing to defend peace across the globe at a moment’s notice,” General Thomas Bussiere, the head of the USAF Global Strike Command, said in a statement.
Colonel Christopher Cruise of the 377th Test and Evaluation Group called the test “a visible message of assurance to allies,” and a demonstration of the “redundancy and reliability” of the US strategic deterrent.
Multiple US media outlets pointed out that the launch came just days after North Korea showcased its Hwasong-17 ICBM launchers and the US Air Force shot down a Chinese “spy balloon” that flew across North America. Beijing has protested Washington’s reaction, insisting that the aerostat was a weather device pushed off-course by the atmospheric winds.
The Minuteman III entered into service in the 1970s and makes up the ground-based leg of the US “nuclear triad.” The Pentagon has clamored for funding to upgrade the arsenal for years, but Congress has balked at the price tag, estimated to be in the trillions of dollars.
A random missile is chosen for a test-firing every few months, in what the US military calls a “Glory Trip.” On several occasions, however, the tests have been rescheduled to reduce tensions – such as in August 2022, after China reacted to the “provocative” visit by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan.
At other times, the US carries out missile tests to send a message. Last November, the Air Force used a cargo plane to deploy a cruise missile in northern Norway, intended as a signal to nearby Russia.