The U.S. Air Force launched an unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) from Vandenberg Space Force Base (SFB), California, during an operational test September 7, 2022. The ICBM was equipped with three test re-entry vehicles, which traveled approximately 4,200 miles to the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands.
This test launch verified the accuracy and reliability of the ICBM strategic weapon system, providing valuable data to ensure a continued safe, secure, and effective nuclear deterrent. A ready, credible, and effective nuclear deterrent is essential to U.S. national security and the security of U.S. allies.
“These test launches demonstrate the readiness of U.S. nuclear forces and provide confidence in the lethality and effectiveness of the nation’s nuclear deterrent,” said U.S. Space Force Colonel Bryan Titus, Space Launch Delta 30 vice commander at Vandenberg SFB. This was the second ICBM test launch in less than a month, the last occurred at Vandenberg SFB on August 16, 2022.
Airmen from the 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom Air Force Base (AFB), Montana, 90th Missile Wing at F.E. Warren AFB, Wyoming, and 91st Missile Wing at Minot AFB, North Dakota, supported the test launch. The three missile bases have crew members standing alert 24 hours a day, year-round, overseeing the nation’s ICBM alert forces.
This test launch was a culmination of months of preparation that involved multiple government partners. 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. Test launches are not a response or reaction to current world events or regional tensions.
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.
Minuteman III land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles are one leg of the nation’s nuclear triad that also includes the U.S. Air Force’s B-2 and B-52H nuclear-capable strategic bombers, and the U.S. Navy’s ballistic missile submarines. Each part of the triad provides unique complementary capabilities and advantages. ICBMs are the most responsive leg, because they can be launched and reach their targets within minutes, creating a nearly insurmountable targeting problem for adversaries.
The new Ground Based Strategic Deterrent, named “Sentinel,” will replace the Minuteman III ICBM with an initial operating capability of 2029. Until full capability is achieved in the mid-2030s, the U.S. Air Force is committed to ensuring Minuteman III remains a viable deterrent.