Air Force Global Strike Command conducted its first intercontinental ballistic missile test of 2023 on Feb. 9, launching an unarmed Minuteman III from Vandenberg Space Force Base, Calif.
The 11:01 p.m. launch, supported by Airmen from the 91st Missile Wing at Minot Air Force Base, N.D., included a test reentry vehicle that landed some 4,200 miles away in the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands, according to an Air Force release.
The test was part of routine missile testing and and “not the result of current world events,” the release said.
“These test launches verify the accuracy and reliability of the ICBM weapon system and provide valuable data to ensure a continued safe, secure, and effective nuclear deterrent,” the release continued.
It was the first launch since the Air Force a pair of ICBM tests were conducted over three weeks in August and September, the only two test launches of 2022. The 91st Missile Wing supported both of those tests as well.
The launch also followed by less than a week the Feb. 8 display by North Korea of up to a dozen ICBMs during a military parade, adding to a tense peirod in which:
- which prompted South Korean leaders to publicly suggest conducting nuclear drills with the United States, or even developing the south’s own nuclear weapons program.
- U.S. Strategic Command informed lawmakers Jan. 26 that China officially surpassed the U.S. in total land-based nuclear missile launchers—though the American nuclear triad still comprises greater stockpiles of missiles and warheads.
- Russia started deploying tactical nuclear weapon-armed ships in the Baltic Sea for the first time in 30 years, according to a Norwegian intelligence report.
The Minuteman III entered service in 1970, and will remain in use until the next-generation LGM-35 Sentinel, formerly called the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent, is mission capable. Sentinel is scheduled to reach initial operational capability in 2029, with full operational capability following in the 2030s. Realistically, that means the Air Force will likely operate the Minuteman for at least another decade.