Air Force and Space Force Conduct Test of Unarmed Minuteman III

The Air Force’s Global Strike Command and U.S. Space Force on June 4 launched an unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile, equipped with one re-entry vehicle.

The test is part of a series of over 300 tests of the missile and is meant to showcase the strength of the deterrent, according to a press release.

The launch took place at 12:56 A.M. Pacific Time at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. The re-entry vehicle traveled around 4,200 miles to the Marshall Islands, where the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command’s Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site is located. The Air Force launched a similar test with Minuteman III in September 2023.

“Today’s test launch is just one example of how our nation’s ICBMs, and the professional Airmen who maintain and operate them, demonstrate the readiness and reliability of the weapon system,” Col. Chris Cruise, 377th Test and Evaluation Group Commander, said in an Air Force press release.

The Department of Defense and the Department of Energy will aim to use the data collected at this test launch, and the over 300 tests that happened before the launch, to continue to develop Minuteman III and the nation’s intercontinental ballistic missiles.

The Northrop Grumman [NOC] LGM-35A Sentinel, a nuclear-tipped missile, is set to replace the Minuteman III in 2029. Until the mid-2030s, when Sentinel’s full capability should be achieved, the Air Force aims to ensure Minuteman III is a valuable deterrent.

The missile will carry W87-0 warheads. Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, recently requested additional warheads for currently-deployed Minuteman III missiles in his 52-page proposal for a larger defense budget (Defense Daily, June 4).