The US Air Force tested an unarmed nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) early Wednesday off the West Coast, the Air Force Global Strike Command announced. 

Equipped with three test reentry vehicles, the unarmed Minuteman III ICBM was launched at 1:26 a.m. PDT from Vandenberg Space Force Base, California, traveling 4,200 miles to Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands, according to a statement from the service.

“These test launches verify the accuracy and reliability of the ICBM weapon system, providing valuable data to ensure a continued, safe and effective nuclear deterrent,” the statement said.

Pentagon press secretary Brigadier General Pat Ryder announced the launch hours earlier Tuesday, which he said was routine and “scheduled years in advance.” 

He added that “in accordance with normal procedures,” the United States notified the Russian Government of the event in advance.

The Air Force, for its part, said the test was intended to demonstrate that the United States nuclear deterrent is “effective in deterring 21st century threats and reassuring our allies,” and that it “is not the result of recent events.” current world events.

Washington routinely tests intercontinental weapons systems to verify that its missiles are working properly, and the US military has conducted similar tests more than 300 times, according to the Air Force.

However, in the past 18 months, the US government has suspended several tests to avoid aggravating tensions with Russia and China. 

In April 2022, the Pentagon officially scrapped a test launch of the Minuteman III to prevent “misrepresentation” by Russia after Moscow had launched an invasion of Ukraine two months earlier.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin ordered the Pentagon to delay that launch in March.

Additionally, the Department of Defense suspended a planned test of intercontinental ballistic missiles in August 2022 amid rising tensions with China over Taiwan.

The Minuteman III system, the only land leg of the US nuclear triad, consists of missiles located in underground silos in five Western states. The Air Force typically conducts four test launches a year from Vandenberg Space Base.

Ellen Mitchell