WASHINGTON — The U.S. Air Force early on Tuesday carried out a test of an unarmed intercontinental ballistic missile, which was already delayed 12 days to avoid inflaming tension with China.
Air Force Global Strike Command said in a release that the Minuteman III missile was launched from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California by the 576th Flight Test Squadron a little before 1 a.m. Pacific Standard Time.
The ICBM was equipped with a test reentry vehicle, the release said, which splashed down about 4,200 miles from its original launch point in the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands, the command said. The command added the test verified the Minuteman III is accurate and reliable, and produced data that will help ensure the nation’s nuclear deterrent is safe, secure and effective.
Squadron commander Col. Chris Cruise said in the release that the test shows the nuclear triad — which also includes the ability to launch nuclear weapons from submarines and drop them from nuclear-capable bombers such as the B-2 Spirit stealth bomber — is the “cornerstone” of national security for the U.S. and its allies.
“This scheduled test launch is demonstrative of how our nation’s ICBM fleet illustrates our readiness and reliability of the weapon system,” Cruise said. “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.”
The test launch was originally intended to take place Aug. 4. But on that day, the White House announced the delay amid a controversial visit to Taiwan by U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. China objected to Pelosi’s visit, and on Aug. 4 had launched roughly 11 missile strikes near the coast of Taiwan, which China considers a rogue province and has threatened to take back control by force if necessary.
White House national security spokesman John Kirby said at the time that delaying the test launch was “the responsible thing to do” and condemned China’s missile launches as irresponsible and provocative.
“A strong, confident, capable nuclear power can afford to wait a couple of weeks for a test to make it clear — not just in word but in deed — how serious we are when we say we have no interest in escalating the tensions,” Kirby said in an Aug. 4 press briefing at the White House.
It was the second time this year a Minuteman III test had been delayed. The first came in March, when Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin postponed another test to avoid further ratcheting up tension with Russia in the early days of its invasion of Ukraine.
The most recent delay drew objections from some Republicans, such as Rep. Mike Rogers of Alabama, the ranking GOP member on the House Armed Services Committee.
“These weak-kneed pearl-clutching attempts at appeasement hurt our readiness and will only invite further aggression by our adversaries,” Rogers said in a statement at the time.
Global Strike Command said the test launch involved months of preparation. Airmen from the 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana, the 90th Missile Wing at F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming and the 91st Missile Wing at Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota also assisted with the launch as part of a task force.
The 576th typically tests four Minuteman III ICBMs from Vandenberg each year, and Global Strike Command said more than 300 of these tests were previously carried out.
Maj. Armand Wong, commander of the task force, said test launches are scheduled well in advance and are not carried out in response to recent world events.
Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter for Defense News. He previously covered leadership and personnel issues at Air Force Times, and the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare at Military.com. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover U.S. Air Force operations.