At approximately 12:03 am PST, the U.S. Air Force launched an unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile from Vandenberg Air Force Base. The missile has a range of over 6,000 miles and can travel at 15,000 miles per hour, delivering up to three nuclear warheads to three different locations.
“Tonight’s launch was an important demonstration of our nation’s nuclear deterrent capability,” said Colonel John Moss, the 30th Space Wing commander as well as the launch decision authority for todays early morning test. “Test launches like this one are vital to validating the effectiveness and readiness of our operational nuclear systems, so it is critical that they are successful. The men and women of the 30th Space Wing and Air Force Global Strike Command’s 576th Flight Test Squadron did a fantastic job working together to make tonight’s launch possible and successful.”
Despite the fact that these tests occur regularly, this one in particular comes at a time when the United States is openly ramping up military efforts in the Pacific Ocean and Korean peninsula in preparation for possible conflict with North Korea. In the most recent moves, the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system was moved closer to the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea, and new sanctions are being implemented against the North.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, in a recent joint statement alongside Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, said, “The United States seeks stability and the peaceful denuclearization of the Korean peninsula,” Tillerson went on to clarify that the United States is not taking any options off the table though: “However, we remain prepared to defend ourselves and our allies.”
The Minuteman III missile, which has been in service for over sixty years, is the only land based ICBM system currently in inventory. The missiles carry a warhead with an estimated 300-kiloton yield, while the whole system weighs in at nearly 80,000 pounds, and costs approximately seven million dollars. There are currently for than 450 of the missiles in the United States’ inventory.