Air Force Tests Long-Range, Nuclear-Capable Missile Amid Global Tensions

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An Air Force Global Strike Command unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile launches during an operational test at 12:49 a.m. PDT on Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2022, at Vandenberg Space Force Base, California.
An Air Force Global Strike Command unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile launches during an operational test at 12:49 a.m. PDT on Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2022, at Vandenberg Space Force Base, California. (Airman 1st Class Ryan Quijas/U.S. Air Force photo)

The Air Force successfully launched a long-range, nuclear-capable missile during a scheduled test out of California on Tuesday, a show of American force as geopolitical tensions rise across the globe. 

The unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile launched a little after midnight local time from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, according to the Air Force. The reentry vehicle, the part of the weapon that would carry the explosive, traveled 4,200 miles to the remote Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands.

"Make no mistake -- our nuclear triad is the cornerstone of the national security of our country and of our allies around the globe," Col. Chris Cruise, 576th Flight Test Squadron commander, said in a statement, referencing America's system of land, sea and air weapons that can deliver a nuclear payload. "This scheduled test launch is demonstrative of how our nation's ICBM fleet illustrates our readiness and reliability of the weapon system."

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Air Force officials said in a statement the launch was not conducted as a result of world events, adding that they happen periodically to make sure the system is reliable and accurate. 

But the demonstration of America's nuclear power comes amid notable global issues such as Russia's unprovoked invasion and war in Ukraine, as well as rising tensions between China and Taiwan. 

"Our test launches are scheduled well in advance and are not reactionary to world events," Maj. Armand Wong, commander of the test task force, said in a statement. "A meticulous planning process for each launch begins six months to a year prior to launch."

The LGM-35A Sentinel is set to replace the Minuteman III ICBM starting in 2029, according to the Air Force. The Minuteman III has been in service since the 1970s, and supporters of the LGM-35A program believe it's necessary to modernize and update America's cache of missiles. 

Critics, such as former Defense Secretary William Perry, argue that building up America's nuclear arsenal, especially ICBMs, welcomes attacks from other countries and could lead to miscalculations in firing them. 

The launch was originally scheduled for earlier this month, but it was delayed due to concerns over China's reaction to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's controversial visit to Taiwan earlier this month.

"On the recommendation of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the U.S. interagency, the Minuteman III ICBM test scheduled for Aug. 4 was rescheduled," a Pentagon spokesperson told Military.com in an email. "The decision was made in order to decouple the test from China's alarming response to Speaker Pelosi's Taiwan visit."

The delays of the Minuteman III launch drew the ire of some GOP lawmakers, such as U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers of Alabama. 

"This news comes after China conducted live-fire exercises following the Speaker of the House's visit to Taiwan," Rogers said in a statement Aug. 4. "These weak-kneed pearl-clutching attempts at appeasement hurt our readiness and will only invite further aggression by our adversaries."

Back in March, the Pentagon announced it was delaying a Minuteman III test launch as Russian President Vladimir Putin began his campaign in Ukraine and put his country's nuclear capabilities on alert. 

Then-Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said at the time that he would like to see Russia reciprocate by "taking the temperature down" in Ukraine. 

-- Thomas Novelly can be reached at thomas.novelly@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @TomNovelly.

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