U.S. Air Force tests another nuclear-capable long-range missile

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An unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile launches during an operational test on Wednesday, May 3, 2017. (Photo: U.S. Air Force)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. — The U.S. Air Force fired another unarmed long-range ballistic missile on Wednesday, according to the Air Force Global Strike Command, the service’s second test launch of a nuclear capable Minuteman III rocket in the last seven days.

Launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, the intercontinental ballistic missile traveled 4,200 miles to a test range near the Marshall Islands.

The U.S. regularly tests its intercontinental weapon system to verify its accuracy and reliability — with launches scheduled long in advance, according to defense officials.

Though considered by military officials to be fairly routine, the missile tests that took place Wednesday and on April 26 are notable in that they occurred amid rising tensions and military flexing over North Korea’s own nuclear program.

In the face of contradictory statements by President Donald Trump on North Korea and growing tensions in the region, several U.S. military officials said there is a quiet effort underway to tone down any military rhetoric that could lead to North Korea viewing the Pentagon as warmongering.

The officials declined to be identified to the sensitivity of the matter.

Tuesday’s announcement that U.S. B-1 bombers have flown two separate missions near the Korean Peninsula in the last two weeks was also intentionally downplayed by officials.

The flights were long planned and there was a decision to keep a relatively low public profile on the flyovers to avoid increasing the regional temperature, an official said.

But Pyongyang called the bombers’ presence a “military provocation.”

“The B-1Bs from Guam sneakily flew over sky above the East Sea (on Monday) and joined cooperative operations with strategic striking means, including the aircraft carrier and nuclear-powered submarine,” according to North Korea’s state news network.

The Minuteman III is traditionally known as the only land-based leg to the U.S. nuclear triad.

The other two parts of the triad are the Trident submarine-launched ballistic missile and nuclear weapons carried by long-range strategic bombers.

First deployed in the 1960s as part of the U.S. nuclear deterrent program, the Minuteman system is supposed to ensure that missiles can be launched quickly and at any time.

Missiles are dispersed in silos and connected to an underground launch control where crews are on standby around the clock.

The United States has 450 Minutemen III missiles in silos at Warren AFB, Malmstrom AFB in Montana and Minot AFB in North Dakota, according to the Air Force.

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