An intercontinental ballistic missile lit up the southern California sky before hurtling across the Pacific Ocean to an atoll 4,200 miles away. The test launch came at a time of rising tensions around nuclear missile treaties.
Footage showed the Minuteman III Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) blasting out of its silo at Vandenberg Air Force Base, spewing fire and smoke. The unarmed missile then split into three parts, with the final mock warhead flying toward its destination of the Kwajalein Atoll at over 15,000 miles per hour.
Tuesday’s test was a routine one, and the third such launch from Vandenberg this year. Test launches are carried out to collect information about the weapon’s accuracy and reliability, and are scheduled months or years in advance.
Nevertheless, the test flight took place at a time of increased missile competition on the global stage. The US withdrew from the Cold War-era Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty last week, citing alleged Russian noncompliance. Moscow rolled out a mirror response on Saturday, saying that it will also quit the treaty in six months, accusing Washington of “unfounded allegations.”
While long-range weapons like the Minuteman ICBM were not banned under the treaty, the US withdrawal ignited fears of a new global arms race, with Europe potentially the scene of the nuclear buildup.
Aside from the INF withdrawal, the Minuteman test came just hours before Russia test-fired its own RS-24 Yars ICBM. Late last year, the Russian military also tested its cutting-edge Avangard hypersonic glider. The glider flies at up to 27 times the speed of sound, and conventional missile-defense systems are said to be defenseless against such a weapon.
With both nations flexing their muscles, Trump announced plans for new ground-based missile-defense systems, as well as a “space-based missile-defense layer” last month.