Into cold starry skies, a Minuteman 3 intercontinental ballistic missile blasted out of its underground silo late Tuesday night on its way to a missile range thousands of miles from Vandenberg Air Force Base.
Carrying an inert warhead, the ICBM launched at 11:01 p.m. from a silo on the north coast of the military complex, providing viewers with the vision of a comet-like orange streak ascending skyward. With skies clear of rainclouds, the Minuteman’s journey through the starry sky was visible for several minutes — and the rumbling roar in its aftermath caused dogs to bark and car alarms to sound. As the missile flew, observers could clearly see its glowing first-stage motor falling back toward Earth, emitting small pulses of light as it dropped.
Linda Frost, Deputy of Media Operations for Air Force Global Strike Command, confirmed that the developmental test launch occurred, but no other details were provided. The military has said during previous launches that they are conducted to test the accuracy and reliability of the weapon system.
Typically, the missiles from Vandenberg fly 4,200 miles to a range in the central Pacific Ocean, where they are designed to hit a predetermined target near the Marshall Islands.
The flight to the Kwajalein Atoll takes the missile about 30 minutes. The military did not disclose whether Tuesday’s Minuteman had successfully reached the target.
The Santa Barbara-based Nuclear Age Peace Foundation expressed dismay at the launch, which came four days after the Trump administration suspended U.S. involvement in the Cold War-era Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. The Foundation called it one of the “most important arms control treaties ever achieved” between the U.S. and Russia.
Rick Wayman, Deputy Director at the Foundation, noted that between them, the U.S. and Russia own more than 90 percent of the estimated 14,500 nuclear weapons in the world’s arsenal.
“The Air Force always seeks to explain away ICBM tests as routine and disconnected from current geopolitical events,” Mr. Wayman said. “But there is nothing routine about rehearsing the annihilation of millions of people. President Trump’s reckless decision to torch the INF Treaty has put us all at even higher risk of nuclear catastrophe, and the United States’ ongoing testing of ICBMs must be viewed in this light.”
NAPF President David Krieger noted that instead of continuing to test nuclear-capable weapons, the U.S. should be “leading negotiations to rid the world of these weapons of indiscriminate mass annihilation.”