An Air Force Global Strike Command unarmed Minuteman III Intercontinental Ballistic Missile launches during an operational test at 1:13 A.M. PDT, Sept. 7 at Vandenberg Space Force Base, California.
/ September 14, 2022
Amid a significant challenge to its nuclear deterrence from China and Russia, the United States continues to rely on the Minuteman III ICBM, a key element of U.S. strategic forces for more than 50 years as the land-based leg of the nuclear “triad” of missiles, bombers and missile submarines.
After twice delaying the exercise, the Air Force on Sept. 7 flight-tested a Minuteman III that practiced launching multiple nuclear warheads.
During the test, the Air Force said that three inert warheads separated from the missile’s last stage in space shortly after launch and traveled 4,200 miles to an impact site on Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands.
The Minuteman III is slated to be replaced by a new ICBM designated the LG-35A Sentinel, which is scheduled to be deployed in 2029.
“Until full capability [of the Sentinel] is achieved in the mid-2030s, the Air Force is committed to ensuring Minuteman III remains a viable deterrent,” the Air Force said in a statement.
The Minuteman III test had been planned for earlier this year, but was delayed twice by the Pentagon over fears the launch would prove too provocative to Moscow and Beijing, security correspondent Bill Gertz reported for the Washington Times.
Keith B. Payne, a nuclear weapons expert at the National Institute for Public Policy, said U.S. nuclear deterrence is being challenged by China and Russia and growing cooperation between the two.
“When deterrence is essential but also uncertain, we are in a rough place,” Payne said in a recent speech to the Hudson Institute.
Russia has modernized its nuclear forces with new heavy ICBMs, a nuclear-powered nuclear cruise missile, hypersonic missiles and a nuclear-tipped drone submarine, while the commander of the U.S. Strategic Command called China‘s recent nuclear arsenal expansion a “breathtaking” breakout of a small nuclear force into a major nuclear-armed force.
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