Air Force investigating Minuteman III test launch anomaly

By Shelley K. Mesch / November 2, 2023 at 1:48 PM

The Air Force is investigating an anomaly from a test launch of the Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile early yesterday morning.

The unarmed missile launched from Vandenberg Space Force Base, CA just after midnight and had to be terminated over the Pacific Ocean because of the unspecified anomaly, according to an announcement from Air Force Global Strike Command.

“Since anomalies may arise from many factors relating to the operational platform itself, or the test equipment, careful analysis is needed to identify the cause,” the announcement states.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-AL) noted in a written statement that the Minuteman system, which was fielded in the 1970s, has been in service well past its originally intended lifespan.

“It has served our country well and we will continue to depend on it to deter nuclear war until the 2030s,” he said, “but this week’s test is a stark reminder that nothing lasts forever,” he said.

A team of representatives from AFSGC, the 377th Test and Evaluation Group, the 576th Flight Test Squadron, Space Launch Delta 30 Safety Office and the Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center will investigate the cause of the problem.

AFGSC regularly runs test launches of unarmed Minuteman missiles to be able to “identify and correct” any problems that may arise with the aging nuclear system, it stated.

The Minuteman’s replacement, the LGM-35A Sentinel, is in development but won’t reach full operational capability until the mid-2030s, according to the Air Force. The service is committed to keeping Minuteman as a viable deterrent until that time.

Rogers criticized what he called “far-left disarmament community” moves to delay recapitalization efforts and extend the life of the Minuteman system.

“This debate has grown increasingly detached from reality; further life extension is simply infeasible, and 50-year-old missiles are not the answer to China and Russia’s expanding nuclear arsenals,” he said. “We must modernize our aging nuclear deterrent and replace the Minuteman III missile -- as well as the rest of our nuclear enterprise -- with modern systems.”

Some lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have criticized the $98 billion program’s cost and schedule risks, 217537 but the program has continued to receive funding each year from Congress.