45 years on alert: Minot conducts Minuteman III test launch

BARKSDALE AIR FORCE BASE, La.  — The 91st Missile Wing completed an operational test launch of an unarmed LGM-30G Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, Aug. 19, continuing its mission of providing strategic deterrence for the U.S. and their allies. The launch fell on the 45th anniversary of the day the 91st MW at Minot AFB, North Dakota, put the Air Force’s first Minuteman III missiles on alert.

Working with members of the 576th Flight Test Squadron and 30th Space Wing at Vandenberg AFB, the Minot AFB team launched the ICBM at 3:03 a.m. PDT. The test re-entry vehicle landed in a pre-established test area roughly 4,200 miles away in the Pacific Ocean near the Kwajalein Atoll.

“Launching an ICBM under operational conditions is a whole team effort, and that’s what we bring out here to replicate the scenarios in the field as close as possible,” said Lt. Col. Eric Thompson, the 91st MW Task Force commander. “The operations and maintenance crews who come out here with us know the job they’re doing back home is important, and actually coming out here to launch an unarmed missile really solidifies the job we do every day with nuclear deterrence.”

Prior to each operational test launch, operations and maintenance crews from the supporting missile wing reassemble the missile, pull alert duties and finally launch the Minuteman III.

“It’s very exciting getting the opportunity to do (the launch), but it’s definitely going to be a team effort with our Minot crews, the space wing and 576th (FLTS) all working together,” said 1st Lt. Benjamin Shea, the 741st Missile Squadron assistant flight commander. “The launch itself is going to ensure that the missile is going to do what it was designed to do, and it’s good to see that, because we don’t get this every day.”

All test launches verify the accuracy and reliability of the ICBM weapon system and provide valuable data to ensure the platform remains a safe, secure and effective nuclear deterrent. However, this launch in particular offered a sense of longevity and persistence the mission the Minuteman III community has experienced over the past 45 years.

The former 741st Strategic Missile Squadron at Minot AFB originally brought the first Minuteman III missiles on alert in 1970, just one day after another ICBM anniversary — the first test launch of an operationally configured Minuteman II missile in 1965. That Minuteman II launch also took place at Vandenberg AFB, stressing the role the base holds in the strategic deterrence testing and evaluation mission.

“Vandenberg has hosted the operational test launch program for over five decades, and it’s here that we really have a chance to demonstrate the effectiveness and operational capabilities of our weapon systems,” said Col. Craig Ramsey, the 576th FLTS commander. “Putting all the pieces together, to make a launch happen, seems simple after the fact, but we have teams from Minot working with personnel from our test and evaluation squadron and the 30th Space Wing. It truly is a complex mission to get an asset from the operational unit, add test and safety packages to it, and ensure all facets of the mission are test-ready — but it’s handled by professionals who are the best in the world at their job.”

Air Force Global Strike Command’s new commander, Gen. Robin Rand, was also on hand to see the Airmen in action for the test.

“I’m truly impressed by the knowledge, the skills and the teamwork that our Airmen demonstrated during this test launch,” Rand said. “When I think of the value of these types of tests have played over the years, I think of the messages we send to our allies who seek protection from aggression and to adversaries who threaten peace. I also think about the American people we’ve sworn an oath to protect; people like my grandchildren who count on us to get this right. We can’t let them down.”

Currently, Air Force Global Strike Command oversees the nation’s more than 400 ICBMs across Minot AFB; F. E. Warren AFB, Wyoming; and Malmstrom AFB, Montana, all of which randomly select ICBMs from their missile fields to perform operational test launches like this one.

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