The rumble of an unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile could be heard from Vandenberg Air Force Base and environs at 9:00 a.m. on Sunday, August 23 as it was launched toward the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands. Assembled with components from the U.S. nuclear arsenal at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Montana, the $21 million launch tested the accuracy and reliability of the Minuteman III ICBM system. It is part of an ongoing process of evaluating the system’s viability as part of the U.S. military’s nuclear deterrence program. Traveling nearly 4,200 miles at speeds exceeding 15,000 miles per hour, the missile’s reentry vehicle splashed down at its target in the South Pacific. Despite “a post-launch anomaly,” Air Force officials said, no safety standards were breached. The operation was deemed a success by mission commanders, although the anomaly is currently under investigation.
Members of Malmstrom’s 341st Missile Wing teamed up with Vandenberg-based 576th Flight Test Squadron-responsible for ensuring safety on Vandenberg’s expansive missile test range-to accomplish the mission. Although specific data collected during the launch is classified, commanders said that it will be used by the Department of Energy, as well as by the Air Force Space Command, the new Air Force Global Strike Command, the 20th Air Force-which manages the Air Force’s nuclear arsenal-and by missile units at Malmstrom AFB, Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota, and FE Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming.
During the launch, a group of 15 anti-ballistic missile protesters showed up outside the main gates. Two of them were detained by base security forces when they crossed a green line painted on the sidewalk denoting the military property boundary. Security officers said they had asked the two to cross back over the line and leave, but they refused.