A previously unannounced launch of a ballistic missile was conducted Thursday morning at Vandenberg Air Force Base.
The 30th Space Wing provided “extensive and efficient range support to the test conducted by the Strategic Capabilities Office, part of the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering,” according to a statement issued by VAFB.
The successful launch made possible the collection of data that will inform the Defense Department’s development of future capabilities. The joint government-industry team began work after the U.S. suspended its Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty obligations in February. The launch was executed within nine months of contract award, a process that typically takes 24 months, officials said.
“The Western Range plays an integral role in testing new capabilities with our mission partners by providing the infrastructure, personnel and range assets needed to carry out efficient missile testing from conception to evaluation,” Col. Anthony Mastalir, 30th Space Wing commander, said in a statement. “The National Defense Strategy provides very clear direction to restore our competitive edge in the reemergence of great power competition, and we owe it to our nation to rapidly evolve and develop our capacity to defend. Our Airmen should be extremely proud of their contributions to their country today.”
Thursday’s test marked the second of a prototype ground-launched missile system since the United States withdrew from the INF Treaty in August. On Aug. 18, the Strategic Capabilities Office, in conjunction with the U.S. Navy, successfully demonstrated a prototype ground-launched cruise missile during a test at San Nicolas Island.
The 1987 INF Treaty banned land-based ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and missile launchers with ranges of 500 to 1,000 kilometers. Thursday’s missile terminated in the open ocean after more than 500 kilometers of flight, according to Pentagon officials.
“The men and women of Vandenberg work diligently to execute launches efficiently, and we remain committed to providing robust support to our mission partners,” Col. Bob Reeves, 30th Space Wing vice commander and launch decision authority for the test, said in a statement. “Overseeing today’s launch operations in the Western Range Operations Control Center reminded me of just how remarkable our Airmen and partnerships are. To every member of Team V that had a hand in ensuring this launch ran smoothly, from planning to execution, I am honored to have worked alongside every single one of you.”
Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, a nonprofit based out of Santa Barbara which supports worldwide efforts to abolish nuclear weapons, issued a statement when the Trump administration terminated the agreement over the summer, which stated that the termination “brings us to the brink of a new and dangerous arms race.”
Although Thursday’s launch did not include a nuclear-capable missile, the foundation made clear that the missile would have previously violated the treaty.
“Intermediate-range missiles were banned by the US and Soviet Union in 1987 for good reason: they were considered too risky, even by people who thought they could ‘win’ a nuclear war with only a few tens of millions of casualties on their side,” Rick Wayman, deputy director of the foundation, said in a statement to the News-Press. “It is difficult to believe that a treaty painstakingly negotiated by Reagan and Gorbachev during peak US-USSR tensions could be so carelessly discarded well into the 21st century. But here we are, in the new abnormal, where diplomacy has no seat at the table and threats to human civilization are presented as points of pride. As Americans, we must take a deep look in the mirror and ask ourselves if this is who we want to be as a nation.”