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US tests nuclear missiles

Two Minuteman III ICBMs were launched as part of a “routine” exercise

The American military has announced it carried out two tests of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) over the past three days, describing the launches as routine and unrelated to world events.

Two Minuteman III missiles were launched from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California on Tuesday and Thursday, the Pentagon said. They were armed with dummy re-entry vehicles instead of the nuclear warheads they would normally carry.

“This test launch is part of routine and periodic activities intended to demonstrate that the US nuclear deterrent is safe, secure, reliable and effective to deter 21st century threats and reassure our allies,” the Air Force Global Strike Command said about Tuesday’s launch.

There have been “over 300” tests of this kind so far, the Pentagon noted. It said that this week’s launches were “not the result of current world events.”

Russia began a series of tactical nuclear exercises in one of its military districts last month, in what the Kremlin called a response to “unprecedented” Western escalation of the Ukraine conflict. Since then, Ukraine has allegedly targeted two of Russia’s early-warning radars, raising the possibility of a nuclear exchange.

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The US Air Force and Space Force worked together on the Vandenberg tests, which saw the dummy warheads fly approximately 4,200 miles (over 6,700km) before splashing down at a site on Kwajalein Atoll, in the Marshall Islands. There was no official statement on whether the tests were successful.

While the US military has insisted that its atomic deterrent is “safe, secure, reliable and effective,” there have been growing concerns in Washington about the ground-based leg of the nuclear triad. A November 2023 test failed because the missile had developed “an anomaly” and had to be destroyed after launch.

Minuteman III missiles first became operational in the 1970s. There are still around 400 of them in silos across five US states 50 years later, because Washington has yet to replace them. The Sentinel program is behind schedule and over budget, with the first test flight not expected until February 2026, according to the Air Force. 

In 2021, the head of the US Strategic Command lamented that the service life of the Minuteman III cannot be extended for much longer.

“That thing is so old that, in some cases, the drawings don’t exist anymore,” Admiral Charles Richard said at the time. The drawings that do exist are “like six generations behind the industry standard,” while the technicians who can fully understand them “are not alive anymore.”

Earlier this year, the Pentagon awarded a $405 million contract for the maintenance and service of Minuteman III missiles to Boeing.

 

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