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Minuteman III ICBM Destroyed During Test Launch

by John Reed on July 27, 2011

So, the Air Force just lost a decades-old Minuteman III ICBM during a test launch this morning out of Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.

The missile was destroyed northeast of the pacific Island of Roi Namur by officials with Vandenberg’s western test range after they detected a “flight anomaly,” according to an Air Force announcement.

While the announcement didn’t elaborate on the “anomaly” the missile most likely showed signs of diverting from its planned flight path. It’s far too early to tell what went wrong with the aging ICBM.

The service periodically fires off a Minuteman (without its nuclear payload) to prove that the missiles still work.

The missiles, which entered service in 1970, have been receiving a massive overhaul to keep them operational for the coming decades until a replacement can be developed. Everything from their launch silos and control facilities to their propulsion and guidance systems have been or are in the midst of being upgraded. Some 200 of the 450 Minuteman IIIs are having their older W78 nuclear warheads replaced with the newer, safer W87 warheads pulled from deactivated Peacekeeper ICBMs.

Interestingly, the Roi Namur island is home to several military radar sites and is part of the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Site (which has several rocket launch facilities) based on the Kwajalein Atoll.

Here’s the text of the Air Force announcment:

An unarmed operational test Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile was destroyed by Vandenberg’s Western Range officials July 27 after launching from here.

Air Force controllers detected a flight anomaly and terminated the flight for safety reasons. When terminated, the vehicle was in the broad ocean area, northeast of Roi-Namur.

“At all times public safety is paramount. We plan for situations like this and everything was executed according to the plan,” said Col. Matthew Carroll, the 30th Space Wing chief of safety. “Established parameters were exceeded, and controllers sent destruct commands.”

The launch was an operational test to determine the weapon system’s reliability and accuracy.

An Air Force team will investigate the cause of the anomaly.

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