Home Air US launches Minuteman III ICBM with test reentry vehicle

US launches Minuteman III ICBM with test reentry vehicle

An unarmed Minuteman III ICBM launches during a February 5 developmental test.
Illustration; Photo: US Air Force

A US Air Force team has performed a test launch of the Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile equipped with a test reentry vehicle from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.

Air Force Global Strike Command Airmen from the 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Montana, the 90th Missile Wing at F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyoming, and the 91st Missile Wing at Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota, performed the test on February 5.

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.

As explained, the test was a “developmental test launch”, which differs from routine operational test launches (Glory Trips). 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 (FTU 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 of 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.”

“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 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.