US AFGSC launches unarmed Minuteman III ICBM with test re-entry vehicle

August 12, 2021 (Last Updated August 12th, 2021 16:27)

The test launch proved the lethality and effectiveness of the nation’s nuclear deterrent.

US AFGSC launches unarmed Minuteman III ICBM with test re-entry vehicle
An Air Force Global Strike Command unarmed Minuteman III ICBM launches during an operational test conducted on 11 August. Credit: US Space Force / Michael Peterson.

Airmen of US Air Force Global Strike Command (AFGSC) have conducted an operational test launch of an unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) equipped with a test re-entry vehicle.

The launch took place from Vandenberg Air Force Base (AFB) in California, US, on 11 August.

It involved a Hi Fidelity Joint Test Assembly re-entry vehicle that exploded non-nuclear explosives before crashing into water near Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands.

The test launch proved the safety and effectiveness of the nation’s nuclear deterrent.

According to AFGSC, these test launches evaluate the reliability of the ICBM weapon system, providing valuable data to ensure a continued safe and effective nuclear deterrent.

US Air Force 576th Flight Test Squadron commander colonel Omar Colbert said: “The US nuclear enterprise is the cornerstone of the security structure of the free world.

“Today’s test launch is just one example of how our nation’s ICBM fleet demonstrates operational readiness and reliability of the weapon system.

“It also allows us to showcase the amazing level of competence and capability of our airmen.”

The test launch comes after months of preparation involving several government partners.

Last month, the USAF selected Northrop Grumman to continue as ground subsystems support contractor (GSSC) of Minuteman III ICBM.

The Minuteman III long-range, solid-fuel, three-stage ICBM can carry single or multiple nuclear warheads. It is being used by the USAF Combat Command.

The missile weighs 36,030kg, has a range of more than 5,218nm and a speed of 24,000km/h at burnout. It is powered by three solid-fuel rocket engines.

To support the test launch, airmen from the three missile bases, namely 90th Missile Wing at FE Warren AFB in Wyoming, 91st Missile Wing at Minot AFB in North Dakota and 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom AFB in Montana, were selected.

In September last year, the USAF awarded Northrop Grumman a $13.3bn nuclear missile contract to modernise the ICBM system.