As previewed last night, at 2:10am PT, the U.S. military successfully test-launched an unarmed Intercontinental Ballistic Missile from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, about 130 miles northwest of Los Angeles, and just days after North Korea’s second test of an ICBM. An Air Force statement said that the test was not a response to recent North Korean actions, but shows that America's nuclear enterprise is "safe, secure, effective and ready to be able to deter, detect and defend against attacks on the United States and its allies."
The launch is said to “validate and verify the effectiveness, readiness, and accuracy of the weapon system,” according to Colonel Michael Hough, commander of Air Force Global Strike Command’s 30th Air Wing.
“Team V is postured to work with Air Force Global Strike Command to test launch the Minuteman III missile,” Hough said in a statement. “Our long history in partnering with the men and women of the 576th Flight Test Squadron shows that the Western Range stands ready and able to create a safe launch environment.”
The ICBM was equipped with a test reentry vehicle - just like the previous three launches in 2017 - which officials said showed it traveled about 4,200 miles to the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands. The operation was conducted by a team of Air Force Global Strike Command Airmen from the 90th Missile Wing, along with the 576th Flight Test Squadron and the 30th Space Wing stationed at Vandenberg.
This is the fourth Minuteman ICBM launched from the Vandenberg base this year. The first 2017 test took place in February, involving a Minuteman III that traveled to the Marshall Islands, carrying a non-explosive warhead. Another test was conducted by the Air Force on April 26. Days later, a third test missile launched from Vandenberg base.
Air Force Global Strike Command has tested 299 Minuteman III ICBMs over the program's history. The Minuteman IIIs are the U.S. military's only land-based ICBMs. And while some have suggested that the launches are in direct retaliation to the recent NKorea ICBM launch, the U.S. military schedules four test-launches each fiscal year, with the actual schedule plotted out several years in advance, so it's unrelated to recent events, Air Force Capt. Michele Rollins, a spokesperson for the strike command, told NBC.
Last week, North Korea tested an ICBM for the second time. The missile flew for 45 minutes and traveled more than 1,000 kilometers laterally, defense officials and analysts said. U.S. officials believe the missile broke up upon re-entering the atmosphere.
The Minuteman III ICBM launches during an operational test at 2:10 a.m. PT
on Aug. 2, 2017, at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California
Analysts said that the North's test Friday demonstrated that a broader part of the mainland United States, including Los Angeles and Chicago, is now in range of Pyongyang's weapons. Asked about possible U.S. military action against North Korea, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders reiterated on Tuesday that "all options are on the table" but the administration would not "broadcast what we're going to do."
The focus for the administration remains on stopping North Korea's nuclear program and halting their aggression, Sanders said.
As we reported yesterday, Sen. Lindsey Graham said Tuesday that President Donald Trump has told him he's willing to go to war over North Korea's missile program if the rogue nation continues to aim ICBMs at America.
Meanwhile, Japanese Foreign Ministry spokesman Norio Maruyama said he was unaware of the remarks, but that his country was in favor of the Trump administration's posture "using both words and action to show that all choices are on the table."
Separately, another longstanding ally in the region, the Philippines, is set to host an international regional security meeting on Monday, when leaders could pressure Pyongyang to halt its intermediate-range missile tests. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is expected to attend the meeting in Manila. On Wednesday, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte went on the attack against North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, whom he referred to in a speech as a "fool" and a "son of a bitch" according to Reuters.
"That chubby face that looks kind ... If he commits a mistake, the Far East will become an arid land," Duterte said. "It must be stopped, this nuclear war."
"A limited confrontation and it blows up here, I will tell you, the fallout can deplete the soil, the resources and I don't know what will happen to us," he added. Duterte has previously called for the U.S. to show restraint in dealing with Kim's totalitarian regime.