The U.S. Air Force said Wednesday it had launched an unarmed Minuteman 3 intercontinental ballistic missile from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
The missile lifted off at 1:13 a.m. from the base northwest of Los Angeles and sent a test reentry vehicle on a 4,200-mile flight over the Pacific Ocean to the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands.
The launch was conducted by a team of airmen from the 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana.
“The flight test program demonstrates one part of the operational capability of the ICBM weapon system," Col. Omar Colbert, 576th Flight Test Squadron commander, said in a statement. “The Minuteman III is nearly 50 years old, and continued test launches are essential in ensuring its reliability until the mid-2030s when the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent is fully in place. Most importantly, this visible message of national security serves to assure our partners and dissuade potential aggressors.”
The Air Force said its missile launch was planned six months to a year in advance, calling the timing with North Korea's launch a coincidence. The launches were about 12 hours apart.
The Air Force also keeps 400 nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles on alert at bases in North Dakota, Montana and Wyoming. Dozens of Air Force B-2 and B-52 bombers are also capable of delivering nuclear warheads.
South Korea’s military said that North Korea fired a ballistic missile from the sea on Wednesday, suggesting that Pyongyang may have tested an underwater-launched missile for the first time in three years ahead of a planned resumption of nuclear talks with the United States this weekend.
South Korean military radars detected the North Korean missile flying about 280 miles at a maximum altitude of 565 miles after liftoff from a site about 10.5 miles off the North’s eastern coastal town of Wonsan, Defense Minister Jeong kyeong-doo told lawmakers.