CASPER, Wyo. — Air Force Global Strike Command Public Affairs said on Wednesday, Feb. 24 that an unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile “equipped with a test reentry vehicle” was launched on Tuesday night from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
“The test demonstrates that the United States’ nuclear deterrent is safe, secure, reliable and effective to deter twenty-first century threats and reassure our allies,” the Air Force’s press release states.
There are 400 Minuteman III missiles operational between F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming, Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana and Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota.
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The aging ICBMs will be replaced beginning at F.E. Warren “as early as 2023,” the Air Force Global Strike Command announced in Aug. 2020. The replacement project is expected to continue at Malstrom in 2026 and Minot in 2029.
The Pentagon has raised the estimated cost of the project to replace the Minuteman III to $95.8 billion, the Associated Press reported in Oct. 2020. The Air Force says that the ICBMs will be replaced with “ground based strategic deterrent” (GBSD). The replacement of the Minuteman III is part of plans for “near-total replacement of the American nuclear force over the next few decades at a total cost of more than $1.2 trillion,” the AP reported.
When the Air Force announced that the Minuteman III replacement project would begin at F.E. Warren, Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon expressed excitement.
“This is a multi-billion dollar project that will benefit the entire state’s economy, while fortifying the nation’s defense,” Gordon said a press release in Aug. 2020.
While the Minuteman III arsenal is 50 years old, the Air Force said that Tuesday’s test launch demonstrates that the ICBM fleet is still reliable.
“Our nation’s ICBM fleet stands ready 24/7,” said Lt. Gen. Anthony Cotton, deputy commander of Air Force Global Strike Command. “Operational tests validate our Minuteman III readiness and reliability. It further demonstrates to our citizens, our allies and our partners that men and women across three missile wings provide credible overwatch with a strategic deterrent that is safe, secure and effective.”
The unarmed Minuteman III’s rentry vehicle traveled 4,200 miles to the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands during the test. The Air Force says the test launches help verify the missile’s accuracy and provide data “to ensure a continued safe, secure and effective nuclear deterrent.”
Months of planning went into the test launch, according to the Air Force.
“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,” the Air Force said. “Test launches are not a response or reaction to world events or regional tensions.”
“The missile came from the 341st Missile Wing, with men and women supporting the launch from all three AFGSC missile wings as well as the 576th Flight Test Squadron.”
Maj. Jesse Haskett, Task Force commander, added: “The operators delivered an on-time on-target sortie and provided yet another reminder of the readiness and reliability of the Minuteman III weapon system. We’re all truly honored to conduct this mission in conjunction with the 576th Flight Test Squadron and proud to represent the numerous men and women that support the nuclear deterrence mission.”