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Unarmed Minuteman III ICBM launched from Airborne Navy aircraft

BARKSDALE AIR FORCE BASE, La. – A joint team of Air Force Global Strike Command airmen and Navy sailors launched an unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile equipped with three test reentry vehicles from aboard the Airborne Launch Control System at 12:21 a.m. Pacific Time on Tuesday from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.

The test on Tuesday demonstrates that the United States’ nuclear deterrent is safe, secure, reliable and effective to deter 21st century threats and reassure allies, according to Air Force Global Strike Command information. Test launches are not a response or reaction to world events or regional tensions.

Airmen from the 625th Strategic Operations Squadron out of Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska, were aboard the U.S. Navy E-6 aircraft to demonstrate the reliability and effectiveness of the Airborne Laumch Control System.

The ICBM’s three reentry vehicles 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 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.

Airmen from the 90th Missile Wing at Francis E. Warren AFB, Wyo., were selected to support the test launch. However, due to current COVID-19 travel restrictions, crew members from the 576 FLTS supported the launch with alert crews and an operational crew for the night of the launch. This demonstrates that even during the pandemic, Air Force Global Strike Command maintains various levels of redundant capability to assure a national deterrent.

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, Air Force Global Strike Command officials said.

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. This launch is not related to any events in the world at this time.

91st Missile Wing

Minot Air Force Base’s 91st Missile Wing is one of the Air Force’s three ICBM wings. The other bases are F.E. Warren AFB, Wyo., and Malmstrom AFB, Mont. The Minot AFB missiles are located in underground launch facilities scattered across the northwest part of the state. The wing’s missile complex stretches over 8,500 square miles or about 12% of North Dakota.

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