By Jack Phillips
The U.S. Air Force confirmed it launched an unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile from a California base into the Pacific Ocean to show “readiness” of the United States’ nuclear capabilities, about a week after the U.S. military shot down a Chinese surveillance balloon.
An unarmed Minuteman missile was launched at 11:01 p.m. PT from California’s Vandenberg Space Force Base, according to a military news release.
While tensions between the United States and China are elevated after a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon transited over the country, the military described the test as routine. Meanwhile, North Korea paraded its own nuclear attack capability by showcasing about a dozen intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) in downtown Pyongyang this week, according to reports and video footage published online.
The U.S. ICBM, which was equipped with a test reentry vehicle, was tested as part of “routine and periodic activities intended to demonstrate that the United States’ nuclear deterrent is safe, secure, reliable and effective to deter twenty-first century threats and reassure our allies,” the release said.
“Such tests have occurred over 300 times before, and this test is not the result of current world events,” it said.
“A test launch displays the heart of our deterrence mission on the world’s stage, assuring our nation and its allies that our weapons are capable and our Airmen are ready and willing to defend peace across the globe at a moment’s notice,” Gen. Thomas A. Bussiere, Air Force Global Strike Command commander, said in a news release.
The ICBM’s reentry vehicle traveled about 4,200 miles to the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands, located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Such test launches, according to the military, are designed to test the reliability and accuracy of the Minutemen system.
Col. Christopher Cruise, commander of the 377th Test and Evaluation Group, noted that the missile launch “showcases the redundancy and reliability of our strategic deterrence systems while sending a visible message of assurance to allies” and that it also “reflects the precision and professionalism of our command, and our joint partners.”
Maj. Martin Escarzaga, task force commander, stated that the test was the “culmination of months of preparation and collaboration across multiple Air Forces agencies.”
Minutemen III is part of the U.S. “nuclear triad” and is the lone land-based ICBM system that is being used by the U.S. military. The other nuclear-delivery systems include Trident submarine-launched ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons carried by long-range strategic and stealth bombers.
Spy Balloon Traveled Near Military Bases
Notably, the Chinese surveillance balloon traveled near at least one military base that houses Minutemen missiles, while Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin confirmed earlier this week that it got near bases holding B-2 stealth bombers capable of deploying nuclear weapons.
Authorities have said the balloon entered U.S. airspace over Alaska on Jan. 28 and flew over Canada before re-entering the United States on Jan. 31. President Joe Biden ordered the balloon be taken down and it was shot from the sky on Feb. 4, Pentagon officials said.
Other U.S. officials, meanwhile, confirmed that the balloon had the capacity to monitor communications signals. Based on U-2 plane flybys, “the high-altitude balloon was capable of conducting signals intelligence collection operations,” an official with the State Department told The Epoch Times.
“All of our strategic assets—we were, made sure that we were buttoned down and movement was limited and communications were limited so that we didn’t expose any capability unnecessarily,” Austin told CBS News on Wednesday.
U.S. fighter jets shot down the balloon off the coast of the Carolinas last Saturday, days after some lawmakers and former officials called on the military to shoot it down. Now, U.S. Defense officials are under fire for how they responded to the apparent surveillance craft.
“Make no mistake about it: What China did last week was completely unacceptable and a real threat to American sovereignty,” said Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.). “It deserves a real response from a united America.”
“I am prepared to hold anyone accountable, including the people seated before this committee today, to get real answers,” Tester added. “This administration owes Americans answers not only on what happened this week but on what steps they’re going to take to ensure that this never happens again.”