KIRLTAND AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. --
Air Force Global Strike Command tested an unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile from Vandenberg Space Force Base, California on Aug. 16 at 12:49 A.M. PDT. This launch comes on the 54th anniversary of the first test of the Minuteman III from Cape Kennedy, Florida on Aug. 16, 1968.
During that test flight more than fifty years ago, the Minuteman III missile completed its test run flying five-thousand-miles to successfully impact the target on a small volcanic island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. From 1968 until 1970, a total of 17 Minutemen III missiles would be tested from the U.S. Eastern Test Range before the program moved to Vandenberg.
Col. Jason Vattioni, commander of the 377th Air Base Wing, was surprised when he found out the most recent Minuteman III test occurred on the anniversary of the initial launch.
“This test was initially supposed to happen earlier in the month, so it’s truly a coincidence that it was rescheduled for the 16th,” said Vattioni. “It came down to range availability.”
The development of the Minuteman ICBM program all started with the launch of Sputnik by the Soviet Union. The launch of the first man-made satellite proved to American defense strategists that ballistic missile capability had the potential to launch a nuclear payload anywhere in the world.
According to the Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center, the U.S. ICBM arsenal is the most responsive leg of the nuclear deterrence triad because they are always ready and can be launched within minutes. Currently, the Minuteman III is the only ICBM in the U.S. nuclear arsenal after the deactivation of the Peacekeeper ICBMs in 2005.
However, this will not remain true for long, as August also marks the end of the Sentinel’s environmental impact statement comment period, the largest EIS since World War II. This process, which encourages communication between the Air Force and public, is the beginning of the next chapter in ICBM history.
As a replacement to the legacy Minuteman III, the Sentinel system will modernize the ICBM arsenal and expand the capabilities of the land-based leg of the nuclear triad through 2075 with increased accuracy, extended range, enhanced security and improved reliability. The Sentinel will take over for the Minuteman and ensure the U.S. nuclear triad remains robust, flexible, resilient and ready.
“It’s important that we have the capability to put our missiles right where we say they are going to go,” said Vattioni. “It demonstrates to our adversaries that we have that capability.”
The 576th Flight Test Squadron out of Vandenberg, a subordinate unit to the 377 ABW at Kirtland Air Force Base, oversees the test launches that ensure the fielded combat-capable Minuteman III missiles continue to remain a viable deterrent until the Sentinel system reaches full capability in the mid-2030s.
Throughout the life-cycle of the Minuteman III program, more than 300 test launches have been conducted proving it’s reliability.
The Minuteman III is the longest-serving ICBM ever deployed in the world. The tests conducted by the 576 FTS are vital in keeping the weapon system on alert as the Air Force works to bring the Sentinel online.
Located at Vandenberg Space Force Base, California, the 576th Flight Test Squadron is America's only dedicated ICBM test squadron professionally executing tests that accurately measure the current and future capability of the ICBM force.
In executing the Intercontinental Ballistic Missile Initial Operational Test and Evaluation and Force Development Evaluation programs, the 576th Flight Test Squadron prepares for and conducts ground and flight tests to collect, analyze, and report performance, accuracy, and reliability data for the Joint Staff, USSTRATCOM, Air Staff and Air Force Global Strike Command. The 576th Flight Test Squadron identifies missile system requirements, demonstrates current and future war fighting capabilities and validates missile system improvements and upgrades.