The U.S. Space Force — America’s newest military branch — has test-fired a Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) on Wednesday at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, according to U.S. Strategic Command.
A team of Air Force Global Strike Command Airmen from the 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Montana; the 90th MW at F.E. Warren AFB, Wyoming; and the 91st MW at Minot AFB, North Dakota, launched an unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile equipped with a test reentry vehicle, Feb. 5 from Vandenberg AFB, California.
According to Popular Mechanics, the test, known as FTU-2, was conducted by Air Force Global Strike Command and took place at Vandenberg, the home of the 30th Space Wing, which oversees launches at the southern California base and is a part of the new U.S. Space Force. Although a separate service, the Space Force is technically part of the Air Force, in the same way the Marine Corps is technically part of the Navy.
The ICBM’s reentry vehicle 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. Test launches are not a response or reaction to world events or regional tensions.
This test was a developmental test launch, which differs from routine operational test launches. Rather than randomly selecting a fielded ICBM to verify fleet-wide reliability, a developmental test launch uses a spare missile from storage to validate flight worthiness of new or replacement components in an as-near-to operational environment as possible. Flight Test Unit 2 is the second of four FTUs scheduled over the next several years to validate replacement components that will ensure continued Minuteman III viability. FTU 1 occurred in February 2019.
“Developmental testing provides valuable data to Air Force Global Strike Command and Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center for both modernization and sustainment of the ICBM weapon system,” said Col. Omar Colbert, 576th Flight Test Squadron commander. “The Minuteman III is aging, and modernization programs such as this are essential in ensuring that our nation has a reliable nuclear deterrent through the rest of its lifespan and beyond. Most importantly, this visible indicator of our national security capabilities serves to assure our partners and dissuade potential aggressors.”
The test launch is a culmination of months of preparation that involved multiple government partners. The Airmen who perform this vital mission are some of the most skillfully trained and educated the Air Force has to offer.
Airmen from the 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom AFB, 90th Missile Wing at F.E. Warren AFB and 91st Missile Wing at Minot, were selected for the task force to support the test launch. The three missile bases have crew members standing alert 24/7, overseeing the nation’s ICBM alert forces.
“It’s been an incredible opportunity for the combined task force of combat crew and maintenance members from F.E. Warren, Minot and Malmstrom AFB to partner with the professionals from the 576th Flight Test Squadron and 30th Space Wing,” said Maj. Christopher Crommie, task force commander. “I am extremely proud of the team’s hard work, professionalism and dedication to accomplish a unique and important mission to prepare the ICBM for test and monitor the sortie up until test execution. The attention given to every task accomplished here reflects the precision and professionalism they – and our fellow Airmen up north – bring every day to ensure the success of our mission out in the missile fields,” he said.
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.
The United States Space Force (USSF) is the space operations service branch of the United States Armed Forces, and is one of the eight U.S. uniformed services. The sixth and youngest branch of the U.S. Armed Forces, it was the first branch of the military established since the formation of the independent U.S. Air Force in 1947. The National Defense Authorization Act for 2020 redesignated Air Force Space Command as the U.S. Space Force, and established it as an independent branch of the U.S. Armed Forces on 20 December 2019.