A joint team of U.S. Air Force and U.S Navy personnel launched an unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) from Vandenberg Space Force Base, California, during an operational test August 16, 2022. The ICBM was equipped with a test re-entry vehicle which traveled approximately 4,200 miles to the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands.
U.S. Air Force airmen from the 625th Strategic Operations Squadron out of Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska, were flying in a U.S. Navy E-6B Mercury Airborne Command Post command and control aircraft along with crew members from the Navy’s Strategic Communications Wing One when they launched the ICBM to demonstrate the reliability and effectiveness of the Airborne Launch Control System (ALCS).
This test launch demonstrates the readiness of U.S. nuclear forces and verifies the accuracy and reliability of the ICBM strategic weapon system, providing valuable data to ensure a continued safe, secure, and effective nuclear deterrent. A credible, effective nuclear deterrent is essential to U.S. national security and the security of U.S. allies.
“Make no mistake — our nuclear triad is the cornerstone of the national security of our country and of our allies around the globe,”said U.S. Air Force Colonel Chris Cruise, 576th Flight Test Squadron commander. “This scheduled test launch is demonstrative of how our nation’s ICBM fleet illustrates our readiness and reliability of the weapon system. It is also a great platform to show the skill sets and expertise of our strategic weapons maintenance personnel and of our missile crews who maintain an unwavering vigilance to defend the homeland.”
Airmen from the 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom AFB, Montana, 90th Missile Wing at F.E. Warren AFB, Wyoming, and 91st Missile Wing at Minot AFB, North Dakota, were selected for the task force to support 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 is a culmination of months of preparation that involve multiple government partners. 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 U.S. Department of Defense, 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 Air Force is committed to ensuring Minuteman III remains a viable deterrent.