Although North Korea’s missile tests tend to garner the most attention, every nation with an arsenal of ballistic missiles must occasionally conduct test launches to ensure their equipment remains functional and the personnel assigned to operating the missile platforms are well-trained in what it takes to execute a launch.  The United States, of course, is no exception.

In recent weeks, the United States conducted two long-range, nuclear capable, ballistic missile test launches intended to demonstrate America’s ability to launch a nuclear warhead and impact any target on the face of the earth.

The first test launch was executed on Wednesday, April 26th.  This test included a Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile that was launched using the Airborne Launch Control System, or ALCS, on-board a Navy E-6B Mercury jet.  In other words, the launch was executed via commands provided by airborne personnel, flying high above the launch facility.

“This test launch showcased a mission that touched almost every aspect of the 625th STOS (Strategic Operations Squadron),” said Maj. Gen. Thomas A. Bussiere, Eighth Air Force commander. “From the targeting package on the missile, to the systems that simulate the flight of the projectile, to the launch track and range safety coordinates, to the training that prepared the team and the ALCS operators that provided the key turn, this truly was a demonstration of a small squadron providing a monumental impact on testing the reliability of our system.”

The ICBM successfully traversed more than 4,200 miles from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California to a predetermined target location near the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands.

“I couldn’t be more proud of our team,” said Lt. Col. Deane Konowicz, 625th STOS commander. “But this is much bigger than our squadron. While the footprint expands beyond the missile wings, the 576th Flight Test Squadron and the Department of Energy national labs, we could not do our ALCS mission without our Navy brethren of Task Force-124. They are the ones who ensure we get to a location on time and that we have the appropriate voice and ultra-high-frequency communication capability.”

The second test was conducted one week later, this past Wednesday, and was launched via command provided by the Air Force Global Strike Command Airmen from the 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana.  This missile, also a Minuteman III, traveled the same distance to impact a target in the same island chain as the first.

“The men and women from the 341st Missile Wing Task Force, the Airmen from my squadron, and our host unit here at Vandenberg worked tirelessly to pull this launch off — it was awesome to see everyone’s hard work pay off!” said Col. Craig Ramsey, 576th Flight Test Squadron commander. “It’s efforts like these that make nuclear deterrence effective.”

Unlike North Korean tests, which draw a fair amount of attention due to a mix of concern over Kim Jong Un’s nuclear ambitions and a bit of morbid curiosity regarding whether or not the missile will actually manage to clear the launch pad without some sort of cataclysmic failure, the U.S. tests weren’t met with too much fanfare; likely because the United States has a track record of successful launches and doesn’t make a habit of threatening pre-emptive nuclear strikes against its political opponents.

In any event, the American armed forces put on a clinic in recent weeks regarding the professional execution of an ICBM launch, which may not have garnered much attention in the press, but likely did within Kim Jong Un’s circle.  After years of claiming they’ll one day attain the ability to strike at the heart of the United States with a nuclear capable missile, it can’t hurt to occasionally remind them that, here in the States, we’ve had the ability to strike North Korea from our own backyard all along.


Image courtesy of the U.S. Air Force