5 February 2019
Minuteman III ICBM Tested with Late-Night Launch from Vandenberg AFB
By Janene Scully
Noozhawk North County Editor
A Minuteman III missile, sporting a mock warhead, blasted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base late Tuesday for a test of the land-based weapon system to carry nuclear weapons.
The unarmed three-stage missile capable of traveling more than 6,000 miles popped out of its underground silo at 11:01 p.m., the opening of a six-hour launch window.
Mostly clear skies served as the perfect background for spectators in the Santa Maria Valley to see the bright orange dot rise away from the Central Coast over several minutes as a long rumble followed.
Viewers who braved the brisk temperatures also could see the blinking dot, or used first-stage motor, as it fell away.
Missile tests occur from one of several underground silos that dot the landscape at the northern segment of the 99,000-acre base.
Beyond those staking out on-base viewing sites, Minuteman launch vehicles typically are not visible to Central Coast residents until they rise above the hills around north Vandenberg.
Upon liftoff, the weapon was set to travel some 4,200 miles in less than 30 minutes to a predetermined target in the central Pacific Ocean.
"We use the term reliable, and this was a reliable launch," Carla Pampe, Air Force Global Strike Command spokeswoman, said Wednesday.
"A reliable test launch occurs when a test missile launches, completes its flight path within a designated safety corridor, the equipment functions properly, sensor data is collected, and the reentry vehicle impacts where targeted," she added.
The test reportedly employed the Airborne Launch Control System aboard the Navy's E-6B Mercury.
Typically, missile crew members sit in a launch control center deep underground at Vandenberg to conduct key turns and send the missile on its way.
However, for this test, the crew sending the commands sat aboard the military aircraft flying nearby.
Vandenberg has been home to tests of the Air Forceís intercontinental ballistic missiles for nearly 60 years to gather information about the weapon systems' accuracy and reliability.
A task force of missile operators and maintainers from Minot traveled to Vandenberg for this test. However, members of the 576th Flight Test Squadron install test-unique equipment for tracking and telemetry along with ordnance to help destroy the weapon if it goes astray.
The developmental test launches at Vandenberg occur a few times a year in addition to other launches of military, NASA and commercial satellites aboard rockets.
Vandenberg also serves as the home for training future missileers through Air Education and Training Command programs.
Representatives of the Santa Barbara-based Nuclear Age Peace Foundation renewed their criticism of the test program and nuclear weapons.
ďItís time for Americans to wake up. These tests donít make us safer, they make the world more dangerous. Rather than continuing to test nuclear weapons, we should be leading negotiations to rid the world of these weapons of indiscriminate mass annihilation,Ē said David Krieger, president of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.
Representatives also noted the test occurred days after the Trump administration suspended the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, a landmark pact between the U.S. and Russia that eliminated entire categories of nuclear weapons.
The Air Force schedules missile
tests months and years ahead of time and are not related to any
real-world events. This week's test also had been set long before
the State of Union speech was rescheduled to Tuesday night.