VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. >> An unarmed Minuteman 3 intercontinental ballistic missile was launched from California early today in a test of the weapon system that is part of the U.S. nuclear force.
The missile blasted off from a silo at 12:03 a.m. (Pacific time) from Vandenberg Air Force Base and delivered a single re-entry vehicle to a target about 4,200 miles away at Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific Ocean, the Air Force Global Strike Command said. (Kwajalein, part of the Marshall Islands, is about 2,500 miles southwest of Hawaii.)
The launch command was issued via an air launch control system aboard a Navy E-6 Mercury jet.
“Tonight’s launch was an important demonstration of our nation’s nuclear deterrent capability,” Col. John Moss, commander of Vandenberg’s 30th Space Wing, said in a statement. “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.”
Operational tests of Minuteman 3 missiles are conducted regularly but the timing of today’s launch amid U.S. tensions with North Korea over its nuclear and missile programs drew criticism from the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, which has advocated against nuclear weapons for more than 30 years.
“When it comes to missile testing, the U.S. is operating with a clear double standard: It views its own tests as justified and useful, while it views the tests of North Korea as threatening and destabilizing,” David Krieger, president of the organization, said in a statement on its website Monday.
“What is needed is diplomacy rather than military provocations. Threats, whether in the form of tweets, nuclear-capable aircraft carrier groups, or nuclear-capable missile launches, only increase the dangers to us all,” he said.
President Donald Trump has in recent weeks sent an aircraft carrier and other Navy vessels into the region in a show of force to deter North Korea, which on Tuesday conducted large-scale, live-fire artillery drills.
The most recent previous Minuteman 3 launch was in early February.