HomeNewsFeaturesDisplay

Minuteman III test launch validates reliability of ICBM force

Launch team members and visitors watch as an unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile launches from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, at 3:37 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time, May 20, 2015. The ICBM was randomly pulled from a silo on F.E. Warren, transported and reassembled at Vandenberg, and launched by crew members from the 625th Strategic Operations Squadron, aboard a U.S. Strategic Command E-6B Airborne Command Post aircraft. Every test launch verifies the accuracy and reliability of the ICBM weapon system, providing valuable data to ensure a safe, secure and effective deterrent for as long as nuclear weapons exist. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jim Araos/Released)

Launch team members and visitors watch as an unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile launches from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, at 3:37 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time, May 20, 2015. The ICBM was randomly pulled from a silo on F.E. Warren, transported and reassembled at Vandenberg, and launched by crew members from the 625th Strategic Operations Squadron, aboard a U.S. Strategic Command E-6B Airborne Command Post aircraft. Every test launch verifies the accuracy and reliability of the ICBM weapon system, providing valuable data to ensure a safe, secure and effective deterrent for as long as nuclear weapons exist. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jim Araos/Released)

BARKSDALE AIR FORCE BASE, La. -- Members of Air Force Global Strike Command's missile community participated in an intercontinental ballistic missile operational test launch May 20, validating the safety, security and reliability of the Minuteman III ICBM force.

This particular launch tested the Air Launch Control System, where the command to launch is given by an Air Force crew aboard the U.S. Strategic Command Airborne Command Post Navy E-6B aircraft. On average, the ALCS will participate in one launch per year to ensure that all methods of launch are available and working properly.

Capt. Peter Dobbins, Chief of ALCS test and evaluation with AFGSC's 625th Strategic Operations Squadron, served as the lead ALCS test coordinator for this launch.

"The number one mission as a missileer is nuclear deterrence by ensuring a safe, secure and effective ICBM force for as long as nuclear weapons exist," he said. "Launching an ICBM is something we practice for years in simulations..., but the only opportunity to launch an ICBM, is during the [test launch]. 

Dobbins added that because the ALCS is tested less often than ground-based launches, ALCS officers look forward to the opportunity to turn keys on a live ICBM.

"News of the test launch spread quickly through the ALCS Flight, with each member asking to get on board," he said. "I was personally excited to work with fellow missileers from various agencies across the 13N community, all coming together for a single mission. I am very fortunate to have participated in this test launch and lead a group of high class professionals from the Airborne Missileer community."

In order to ensure the most effective operational test launch, planning and preparation for each mission begins more than a year in advance, with a missile selected at random from either F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyoming, Malmstrom AFB, Montana, or Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota.

For this launch, the missile was selected and pulled from F.E. Warren AFB and shipped to Vandenberg months before the task force showed up on station.

Staff Sgt. Nicholas Kolja from the 90th Missile Wing served as missile maintenance team chief for the launch. In this role, he led his team through the process of building up the MMIII weapon system for the launch.

"Each test launch is studying something different and specific," he said. "Each mission is built around a goal, whether that is accuracy, integrity, power or distance it all comes back to helping improve the longevity of the system itself and showing the world that the Minuteman III is still capable of doing its job."

While there are many maintenance steps that must take place before the missile is put on alert, once everything is complete, Kolja said team is able to enjoy seeing the results of their hard work.

"The most rewarding thing from taking part in a test launch is to see the final product used," he said. "Every day, there are maintainers dispatching to the field to keep a sortie on alert but the select few here get to not only put a missile on alert but also launch it.

"These launches are important because it allows us to test the world's most dynamic weapon system in a real time theater," he continued. "It allows us to make the appropriate upgrades to keep the system current, and while doing all of that, we are also showing the world the capability of the Minuteman III and how it is used in everyday life through deterrence."

1st Lt. Kelly Dalrymple, an ICBM Combat Crew Commander with the 90th Missile Wing, was hand-selected by her leadership to work the launch.
"As a missile operator ... the main role we play in 'prepping the test missile' is by testing out commands sent to the missile and then test launching the missile at a specific time," she said. "We hope to learn what can be improved for future test launches, lessons learned, and the pros and cons from start to finish for a test launch."

Dalrymple added, "as a crew member, it is just the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play a part in the test launch process. We gain a completely different perspective being on the test launch side and we gain an ever better understanding/respect for our career field."

Lt. Col. Grayson Higby, 625th STOS commander, said everyone on the test launch team always looks forward to the end result.

"The most rewarding part of a test launch is the point at which a test is complete. Each test marks the culmination of dedicated individual effort as well as effective coordination between multiple DoD organizations," he said. "However, most importantly, each test validates the Air Force's capability to provide a flexible nuclear deterrent capability in support of the defense of our nation."