Unarmed ICBM test comes during week of space news at base
A sudden burst of light struck the night as an unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile was launched at 12:21 a.m. Tuesday from Vandenberg Air Force Base.
The missile reportedly traveled more than 4,200 miles to the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands.
The ICBM test program is designed to validate and verify the safety, security, effectiveness and readiness of the weapon system, according to Air Force Global Strike Command.
“This launch demonstrates that we are able to provide the range support needed to facilitate this test during peacetime operations in the midst of COVID-19 operations,” Col. Anthony Mastalir, the 30th Space Wing commander, said in a statement. “Signifying that our nuclear enterprise is safe, secure, reliable, effective and ready to defend the United States and our allies.”
The launch came during a packed week of news for Vandenberg, including online news conferences scheduled for this morning on the base’s space program.
The conferences will cover an agreement among the 30th Space Wing, Cal Poly, the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development, Deloitte and REACH on a master plan for a thriving spaceport at Vandenberg.
In addition, the base has announced the name of the first Space Force member to be assigned to Vandenberg: 2nd Lt. Olivia Gillingham, 2d Space Launch Squadron acquisitions manager.
All of that news follows Sunday’s successful splashdown of the SpaceX Dragon capsule. It was the first splashdown by astronauts since 1975.
SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, which was used to launch the Dragon capsule, was tested during launches from Vandenberg.
As the momentum in news builds, more attention is turning toward Vandenberg and its future role in outer space.
This week, U.S. Rep. Salud Carbajal, D-Santa Barbara, and U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris, both D-California, supported naming Vandenberg the permanent location for the U.S. Space Command headquarters. A final selection is expected later this year.
The three lawmakers backed Vandenberg in a letter, dated Monday, to Barbara Barrett, the secretary of the U.S. Air Force.
“Our Central Coast community is eager to welcome the U.S. Space Command to Vandenberg Air Force Base,” Rep. Carbajal said in a news release Tuesday. “Vandenberg has garnered support for the U.S. Space Command nomination from a variety of local and state stakeholders, boasts an unparalleled talent pool and is a prime location to host the U.S. Space Command.
“Nowhere is better suited for U.S. Space Command than Vandenberg Air Force Base,” Rep. Carbajal said.
The congressman is among the speakers at today’s news conferences, which also include Col. Mastalir, the 30th Space Wing commander.
Sen. Feinstein noted that Vandenberg already serves as a launch site for the Defense Department and NASA, and houses the Missile Defense Agency.
“Additionally, the Central Coast’s long history as a leader in the aerospace industry means the community has a deep pool of talent ready to work with Space Command,” she said in the news release.
Meanwhile, Tuesday’s unarmed missile launch at Vandenberg was criticized by the Nuclear Peace Age Foundation, a Santa Barbara nonprofit that is working toward the abolition of nuclear weapons.
“This week, the majority of the world is solemnly remembering the 75th anniversaries of the U.S. atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and vowing that such a thing will never happen again,” said Rick Wayman, the foundation’s CEO, in a news release.
The U.S. bombed Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945, and Nagasaki on Aug. 9, 1945, during the final month of World War II. Japan surrendered on Sept. 2, 1945.
“Hundreds of thousands of our fellow human beings were indiscriminately slaughtered by two primitive U.S. atomic bombs in August 1945,” Mr. Wayman said. He added that Tuesday’s ICBM is “designed for far greater damage” and serves as a reminder that the “nuclear threat remains very real.”