An unarmed Minuteman 3 intercontinental ballistic missile has been launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California in a test of the intercontinental ballistic missile system. A team of airmen from the 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana conducted the launch. The test flight sent the missile and a test reentry vehicle 4,200 miles across the Pacific Ocean to the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands.
The launch by the U.S. Air Force came a day after North Korea fired a ballistic missile from the sea. According to South Korean officials, the missile was launched from a site about 10.5 miles from the coast of Wonsan, east of the North Korean capital of Pyongyang and reached a maximum altitude of 565 miles after liftoff. The missile flew for about 280 miles before reportedly landing in the Sea of Japan.
According to the reports, North Korea may have tested an underwater-launched missile for the first time in three years. Some are saying that the launch was its way of increasing pressure on the U.S. ahead of the resumption of nuclear talks between the countries. Those talks are scheduled to resume this weekend.
Even though the launches were only about 12 hours apart, the Air Force said that the timing with North Korea’s launch was merely a coincidence and that it was not a response to world events or regional tensions. According to the Air Force, its missile launches are planned six months to a year in advance.
The Air Force has an impressive arsenal of nuclear weapons at hand. It keeps 400 nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles on bases in Montana, North Dakota, and Wyoming. It also has dozens of Air Force B-2 and B-52 bombers capable of delivering nuclear warheads.