The Secretary of the Air Force, Michael Donley, visited Vandenberg Air Force Base on Wednesday, June 16, to witness the test flight of a Minuteman III, an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) designed for nuclear capabilities. There are estimated to be about 500 Minuteman IIIs in the United States, mostly located in the Midwest. On Wednesday, one such missile was brought into Santa Barbara County and aimed at a test site more than 4,000 miles away on the Marshall Islands. The launch demoralized peace constituents, who saw the testing of nuclear-capable weapons as a provocative gesture.
Coming three weeks after the Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference, the launch rankled the Nuclear Peace Foundation. U.S. missile testing, the foundation maintained, “[undermines] the progress on preventing nuclear proliferation that was achieved at the conference.” The foundation also decried the outlay of tax dollars on unusable weapons systems. Wednesday’s launch, it said, reportedly cost around $100 million dollars, though an Air Force official contends that a typical launch costs about $21 million.
The Minuteman III missile, manufactured by Boeing, measures about 60 feet high and weighs in at about 80,000 pounds. The missiles are part of the recently outlined Air Force Global Strike Command, whose goal is to develop and provide weapons for nuclear deterrence and global strike operations.
Wednesday’s flight test demonstrated the first launch of the missile since the Air Force Global Strike Command acquired the 576th Test Flight Squadron. For a given fiscal year, there are scheduled to be three Minuteman III flight tests.
Meanwhile, the Air Force is developing a plan to extend the current ICBM force from 2020 out to 2030, a plan supported by its ongoing program designed to continually test, improve, and update Minuteman III technology.