The U.S. Air Force Global Strike Command (AFGSC) launched an unarmed Boeing [BA] LGM-30 Minuteman III ICBM with a test re-entry vehicle on Aug. 16 from Vandenberg Space Force Base, Calif., “to demonstrate the readiness of U.S. nuclear forces and provide confidence in the lethality and effectiveness of the nation’s nuclear deterrent,” AFGSC said.
The Department of the Air Force has had more than 300 such previous test launches, and the Aug. 16 test “is not the result of current world events,” the command said. AFGSC has said that it sets launch dates five years in advance.
The last Minuteman III test was on Aug. 11 last year, and DoD scrapped two launch dates in March and earlier this month–the first postponement to avoid Russia misconstruing the test after that country’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine and nuclear threats toward Ukraine by Russian dictator Vladimir Putin and the second delay to tamp down tensions with China after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) visit to Taiwan and the Chinese military exercises off Taiwan that followed her arrival on the island.
On Aug. 16, the unarmed Minuteman III’s reentry vehicle “traveled approximately 4,200 miles to the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands,” AFGSC said. “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.”
Personnel from the 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom AFB, Montana, 90th Missile Wing at F.E. Warren AFB, Wyo., and 91st Missile Wing at Minot AFB, N.D., made up a task force that conducted the latest test.
Also participating were personnel from the 625th Strategic Operations Squadron at Offutt AFB, Neb. and the U.S. Navy aboard the E-6B Mercury Take Charge and Move Out aircraft who operated the Airborne Launch Control System.
Maj. Armand Wong, the commander of the task force, said in the AFGSC statement that the planning process for each unarmed Minuteman III test begins six months before the launch date.
The command said that it had transmitted a pre-launch notification pursuant to the Hague Code of Conduct and had notified the Russian government beforehand as required by New START.
The Northrop Grumman [NOC] LGM-35A Sentinel is to begin replacing the Minuteman III in 2029.
In January, Barksdale AFB, La.–the headquarters of AFGSC–became the first command base to receive the Raytheon Technologies [RTX] Global Aircrew Strategic Network Terminal (ASNT), which is to represent what AFGSC said is the largest upgrade to nuclear command, control and communications (NC3) in more than three decades.
Global ASNT, which may cost $1.3 billion in development and acquisition, is “a new, innovative NC3 system that provides assured, survivable, fixed and transportable communications to wing command posts, munitions support squadrons and mobile support teams,” AFGSC said. “Global ASNT provides the nuclear enterprise a new two-way reliable, redundant and robust communication path capable of connecting forces anytime, anywhere.”
In April, Raytheon said that four AFGSC bases, including Barksdale, make up Global ASNT initial operating capability under the Air Force’s nearly $600 million contract with Raytheon for the system. Raytheon is to field 90 terminals, spares, and support equipment by the end of next year under the contract.
“Global ASNT ensures robust communications to provide protected communications to nuclear bomber, missile and support aircraft crews in austere environments,” Raytheon said.
The system operates on the Lockheed Martin [LMT] Milstar and Advanced Extremely High Frequency satellites.