Air Force Launches First ICBM Test Since Russia ‘Suspended’ New START

Air Force Global Strike Command test-launched a Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile April 19 from Vandenberg Space Force Base, Calif. The launch, at 5:11 a.m. Pacific time, had been planned for months in advance. 

It was the first such test since Russia’s Vladimir Putin said he was “suspending” his country’s participation in the New START treaty and since Russia and the U.S. said they stopped sharing data on their nuclear arsenals.

The U.S. has canceled or postponed ICBM tests in the past to avoid the risk of escalation or miscommunication at times of heightened tensions. A March 2022 test was canceled after Russia invaded Ukraine and Putin raised to high the alert status of Russian nuclear forces. Another test was postponed in August, as China conducted military exercises around Taiwan in response to then-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s visit there. 

The Biden’s administration said it would no longer share “high-level” details on its deployed nuclear weapons with Russia in March, a response to Russia Putin’s “suspension” of New START in February. 

The U.S. continues to share notifications of the movement of strategic bombers, missiles, and submarines with Russia, however, along with operational status, as required under New START, officials said. Under the Ballistic Missile Launch Notification Agreement signed in 1988, the U.S. and Russia agreed to give each other 24 hours notice before testing ICBMs.

The April 19 launch also tested the Airborne Launch Control System, used to control ICBM launches from the air. Airmen from the 625th Strategic Operations Squadron at Offutt Air Force Base, Neb., launched the unarmed missile from aboard an airborne Navy E-6 Mercury, supported by Airmen from the 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont. 

The last prior Air Force ICBM test came in February, shortly before Russia’s announcement regarding New START. Air Force Global Strike Command last tested the Airborne Launch Control System in August 2022. 

The April 19 test concluded when the re-entry vehicle splashed down at Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands after traveling some 4,200 miles.