The US launched a Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile equipped with a test re-entry vehicle to verify the accuracy of the nuclear-capable weapon system, the US Air Force said on Wednesday.
“This launch involved a Hi-Fidelity Joint Test Assembly re-entry vehicle that detonated conventional (i.e. non-nuclear) explosives prior to hitting the surface of the water approximately 4,200 miles downrange near Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands,” the Air Force said in a press release.
The launch from Vandenberg Space Force Base in the US state of California took place shortly after midnight on Wednesday, the release said.
Tests of US intercontinental ballistic missiles [ICBMs] demonstrate the readiness of US nuclear forces and provide confidence in the lethality and effectiveness of the nation’s nuclear deterrent, the release added.
The release emphasized that missile tests are not a response to world events, with testing calendars prepared five years in advance and preparations for each launch requiring six months.
Earlier, a US Air Force Propulsion Subsystem Support Contract (PSSC) with a $2.3 billion ceiling will provide engineering and maintenance services for Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), helping to extend the aging Cold War nuclear weapon system’s life for the next 18.5 years, Northrop Grumman had stated.
“The Northrop Grumman propulsion systems team is addressing sustainment challenges of the missile propulsion system such as material obsolescence, associated hardware and/or equipment repair, and propellant aging-surveillance testing and analysis,” a company press release said.
The award has a $287 million base contract, with options totaling $2.3 billion over 18.5 years, the release said.
Minuteman III was originally manufactured in 1970 and has undergone multiple refurbishments to ensure viability. The new contract is to keep the system “on alert and ready until its end-of-life later next decade,” the release said
US nuclear modernization plans call for the Minuteman III to be replaced with a newer ICBM known as the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD), which is in the early stages of development, according to the Defense Department. The transition is scheduled to begin when the GBSD achieves initial operating capability as early as 2029.