Malmstrom, Vandenberg Launch Unarmed ICBM in Test

An unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile launches during an operational test on Oct. 2, 2019, at Vandenberg AFB, Calif. Air Force photo by SSgt. J.T. Armstrong.

Air Force Global Strike Command early Oct. 2 launched an unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile from Vandenberg AFB, Calif., in a test the command says was planned long in advance.

The test launch, handled by a crew from the 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom AFB, Mont., took place at 1:13 a.m. local time. The missile traveled about 4,200 miles to the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands, according to an AFGSC release.

The missile was equipped with a test re-entry vehicle, to verify the accuracy and reliability of the system “providing valuable data to ensure a safe, secure, and effective deterrent,” AFGSC said.

The Air Force sets its launch calendars three to five years in advance, and officials spend six months to a year planning ahead for specific launches.

“The Minuteman III is nearly 50 years old, and continued test launches are essential in ensuring its reliability until the mid-2030s when the Ground-[Based] Strategic Deterrent is fully in place,” Col. Omar Colbert, commander of the 576th Flight Test Squadron, said in the release. “Most importantly, this visible message of national security serves to assure our partners and dissuade potential aggressors.”

Vandenberg regularly hosts test launches of Minuteman missiles, recently firing two within one month earlier this year.

While the Air Force said the launch was planned long in advance, it took place shortly after North Korea fired a sea-based ballistic missile off of its east coast. The South Korean military said the projectile flew 280 miles, reaching an altitude of 565 miles, according to Reuters. North Korea is known to be developing submarine-launched ballistic missiles.