Air Force Launches ICBM Test for the First Time in Seven Months

Airmen and Guardians worked together to launch an unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile from Vandenberg Space Force Base, Calif., early June 4, marking both the first test launch since November and the first of two back-to-back tests.

The missile, equipped with one test reentry vehicle, launched at 12:56 a.m. Pacific Time. It flew about 4,200 miles at speeds exceeding 15,000 miles per hour to reach a test range near the Kwajalein Atoll of the Marshall Islands, in the central Pacific Ocean.

“These tests hold immense significance, not only for our nation’s defense, but also serve as a pivotal moment in showcasing the exceptional capabilities and expertise of our dedicated team,” said Col. Bryan Titus, Space Launch Delta 30 vice commander, who oversaw the launch decision.

The launch involved a randomly selected ICBM from F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming, which was reassembled at Vandenberg after being transported to California. There are about 400 Minuteman III missiles currently in service across Colorado, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Wyoming.

“A previous test launch slated for February 2024 had to be postponed due to some needed repairs at Reagan Test Site,” Col. Chris Cruise, 377th Test and Evaluation Group commander, said in a release. “This summer’s test launch was already scheduled so it made sense to do them both while all the necessary personnel were in place.”

The back-to-back tests will conclude June 6, with launch scheduled from 12:01 a.m. to 6:01 a.m.

The most recent test before this June ended with the Air Force having to terminate the ICBM during its flight over the Pacific Ocean on Nov. 1 due to an anomaly.

Consistent with previous test launches, the June 4 launch was carried out to “validate and verify the safety, security, effectiveness, and readiness of the weapon system,” according to the Air Force Global Strike Command. The service repeatedly underscored the pre-scheduled nature of these tests and that they are unrelated to ongoing world events.

“Vandenberg Guardians and Airmen are committed to supporting our mission partners and these vitally important test launches from the Western Range,” said Col. Mark Shoemaker, Space Launch Delta 30 commander, adding that these test launches are “critical in safeguarding the defense our nation.”

The test launches include a pre-launch notification submission under the Hague Code of Conduct. The Air Force said the Russian government also received a separate heads-up for the test launch on June 4.

Operational since 1970, the aging LGM-30 Minuteman III is set to be replaced by the LGM-35A Sentinel. Sentinel has a “no-fail” initial operational capability deadline of September 2030 set by U.S. Strategic Command, but earlier this year, the Air Force disclosed critical cost and schedule overruns to the new ICBM program, prompting a Nunn-McCurdy review that temporarily halted work and requires certification from the Secretary of Defense to continue.

In the meantime, experts have noted while the Minuteman III system remains reliable, vital upgrades are needed in certain aspects, such as the 50-year-old silos, electronics, and warheads.