An unarmed intercontinental ballistic missile was launched early Tuesday morning over 4,000 miles from a base in California into the Pacific Ocean, the US Air Force Global Strike Command announced.
The Minuteman III missile was fired from Vandenberg Air Force Base, located an hour from Santa Barbara, at 12:21 a.m. PST (3:21 a.m. EST), but airmen at the base didn't actually push the button to fire the missile.
The launch calendars are built three to five years in advance, and planning for each individual launch begins six months to a year prior to launch," the Air Force said in a statement announcing the launch Tuesday. "This launch is not related to any events in the world at this time."
The Air Force performs about four tests of its decades-old Minuteman III missiles each year, a USAF release said
“The flight test program demonstrates one part of the operational capability of the ICBM weapon system,” said Col. Omar Colbert, 576th Flight Test Squadron commander. “The Minuteman III is 50 years old, and continued test launches are essential in ensuring its reliability until the 2030s when the Ground Base Strategic Deterrent is fully in place. Most importantly, this visible message of national security serves to assure our allies and dissuade potential aggressors.”
The Air Force maintains 400 nuclear-tipped missiles at bases in North Dakota, Montana and Wyoming. About 70% of deployed nuclear warheads are aboard ballistic missile submarines. Other nuclear weapons can be delivered from B-2 and B-52 strategic bombers from bases in the United States.
The U.S. Air Force also stockpiles tactical nuclear weapons in Europe across six bases in five countries, including Turkey.