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US launches unarmed Minuteman III ICBM demonstrating nuclear readiness

Minuteman III GT 245 operational test launch from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California at 11:01 p.m. PST on February 9, 2023. | SOURCE: U.S. Air Force Global Strike Command

VANDENBERG SPACE FORCE BASE, Calif., February 11, 2023—The United States Space Force confirmed Friday the launch of an unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) as a demonstration that “the United States’ nuclear deterrent is safe, secure, reliable and effective to deter twenty-first century threats and reassure our allies.”

Thursday’s launch of the Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile at 11:01 p.m. Pacific Time from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California was carried out by airmen of the Air Force Global Strike Command’s 91st Missile Wing of Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota. The ICBM was equipped with a test reentry vehicle.

“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,” said Gen. Thomas A. Bussiere, Air Force Global Strike Command commander.

According to the announcement by the U.S. Space Force, the ICBM’s reentry vehicle traveled approximately 4,200 miles to the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands demonstrating the accuracy and reliability of the weapon system.

“This launch showcases the redundancy and reliability of our strategic deterrence systems while sending a visible message of assurance to allies,” said Col. Christopher Cruise, 377th Test and Evaluation Group commander.

Minuteman ICBM
A team of Air Force Global Strike Command Airmen launched an unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile equipped with a test reentry vehicle at 11:01 p.m. Pacific Time Feb. 9 from Vandenberg Space Force Base, Calif. This test launch is part of routine and periodic activities intended to demonstrate that the United States’ nuclear deterrent is safe, secure, reliable and effective to deter twenty-first century threats and rear allies. (U.S. Space Force photo by Senior Airman Rocio Romo)

Occurring just days after F-22 fighter jets from Langley Air Force Base shot down an alleged Chinese spy balloon off the coast of South Carolina last Saturday, the announcement claims the Minuteman III ICBM test launch was “routine” and “not the result of current world events.”

“This test launch is a culmination of months of preparation and collaboration across multiple Air Forces agencies,” said Maj. Martin Escarzaga, task force commander. “The Airmen who perform this mission of strategic deterrence are the best our nation has to offer. They work 365 days a year to maintain, support, operate, and secure this vital component of our nuclear triad.”

North Korea’s state-run Korean Central News Agency on Thursday reported the largest display of the county’s ICBMs rolling through the central square of Pyongyang during a military parade on Wednesday, February 8, 2023.

According to Associated Press, the military parade displayed the newest hardware in North Korea’s growing nuclear arsenal, including launchers to possibly accommodate solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missiles that can be launched more quickly than liquid-fueled missiles.

Minuteman ICBM
A team of Air Force Global Strike Command Airmen launched an unarmed Minuteman III ICBM equipped with a test reentry vehicle at 11:01 P.M. Pacific Time Feb. 9 from Vandenberg Space Force Base, Calif. This test launch is part of routine and periodic activities intended to demonstrate that the United States’ nuclear deterrent is safe, secure, reliable and effective to deter twenty-first century threats and reassure allies. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Airman 1st Class Ryan Quijas)

Air Force Global Strike Command overseas the nation’s three intercontinental ballistic missile wings, the Air Force’s entire bomber force, to include B-52, B-1 and B-2 wings, the Long Range Strike Bomber program, Air Force Nuclear Command, Control and Communications systems, and operational and maintenance support to organizations within the nuclear enterprise.

The LG-35A Sentinel will replace the Minuteman III ICBMs and is scheduled to be fully operational by the mid-2030s.

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