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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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{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

Maxtrue July 27, 2011 at 11:26 am

Well, that would be another problem in the great debate of how much to decrease military spending. Another pressure point would be this: http://www.newsdaily.com/stories/tre76q1x1-us-chi…

Russia is said to be increasing its military budget by a half and the threats keep on growing with Chinese sub sales to Pakistan, problems with F-22s, and tension increasing in the usual hotspots.

One would think cooler heads better prevail here right about NOW…


mike December 31, 2011 at 2:03 pm

if this anomoly affects one random missile test I wonder how many others are affected by the same problem????????


wtcvet July 27, 2011 at 12:51 pm

The real story as to why it was destroyed in flight is, the MM3 had diverted from it's flight path and was headed towards Washington D.C. (sarcasm on my part of course)


hybrid July 27, 2011 at 1:18 pm

Could it of been intercepted by the Roi-Namur defense base? As a ICBM shoot down test.


Liv July 27, 2011 at 2:41 pm

Here's hoping that it was a test of a classified BMD system.


m167a1 July 28, 2011 at 1:10 pm

fun idea but almost certainly fantasy.


BuzzMega July 27, 2011 at 8:09 pm

Older "W78" and much safer "W87" model nuclear warheads. Not much chance of those two ever becoming confused, eh?

Let's hope every single person on the team has no instances of lysdexia.


Stratege July 28, 2011 at 3:09 am

Meanwhile in mother Russia:

MOSCOW, July 27 (Xinhua) — Russia successfully fired an inter-continental ballistic Sineva missile Sineva in the Barents Sea on Wednesday, the Defense Ministry said.
  The ICBM launch was carried out on the Northern Fleet's Yekaterinburg nuclear submarine in an underwater position and hit a target in the northeastern Kamchatka Peninsula as planned, the ministry said.
  This was the third test of the three-stage Sineva ICBM this year after two previous successful launches in the spring.
  The Sineva, which is a liquid-propellant missile with a maximum range of over 10,000 km and can carry four to 10 nuclear warheads, has been in Russian Navy service since July 2007. Every Yekaterinburg submarine carries 16 Sineva missiles. The Sineva will remain Russia's principal ICBM for sea deployment until 2030.


Jay July 28, 2011 at 10:54 am

Still, our missiles work more often and more accurately than their missiles.

The soviets knew this and designed their ICBM silos to be reloaded quickly to make up for the higher fail rate of their missiles. Our silos need a rebuild after 1 shot, theirs eject the missile before firing the engines, as submarines do.


Stratege July 29, 2011 at 3:15 am

According to media reports, all Russian military test launсhes were succesful in recent years. Their ICBMs/SLBMs in active inventory (ICBMs: SS-18, SS-19, SS-25, SS-27, RS-24; SLBMs: SS-N-8, SS-N-23 ) has a great launch history.
Their brand-new SLBM "Bulava" which is intended for their brand-new SSBN sub had some serious troubles (half of launches failed), but missile is not in an active inventory yet .


blight July 28, 2011 at 8:37 pm

Waiting on the Bulavas to get fixed.


Stratege July 29, 2011 at 3:15 am

It should be fixed.
Recent Bulava launches were succesful.


Mastro July 28, 2011 at 9:45 am

Never got the logic of retiring the MX's while keeping MM3's as old as me.

I guess there was some throw weight formula or something in the arms treaty?

Deterrence doesn't work if a few more of these test launches come up lame.


Jay July 28, 2011 at 10:49 am

It was largely political.

The left doesn't want the US developing new weapons or missile defenses. It deters our enemies and improves our technical expertise. They don't mind when China or Russia do so, because that just balances us and makes us think twice before being aggressive to defend out national interests. Don't question their patriotism, they can't handle that.

The vast majority of our test launches are successful, thankfully - but without substantial investment in keeping our missiles in good shape or building new ones this will not last.


Petrock July 28, 2011 at 1:12 pm

Sadly I have concluded that McCarthy was right.


blight July 28, 2011 at 8:36 pm

Peacekeeper has less range, but superior CEP.

So when the Soviets disappeared, how accurate do you need your ICBMs to be? Accuracy's most important when it comes to hardened missile silos, and when you don't have to worry about them; then what?

It also boiled down to the size of the missile "fleet". Fifty Peacekeepers plus a few hundred Minutemen. When you want to consolidate inventory, you pick a platform to dump.

I wonder how many Minutemen remain in inventory, such that they can keep doing test launches.


HazeGrey88 July 28, 2011 at 10:23 am

Don't forget all of our Trident SSBN's are due for retirement within the next few years…the Navy needs to appropriate BILLIONS now to design and build 10-12 new SSBNs. Can't see how we can possibly reduce the defense budget now. Unless we take the Brit approach of completely gutting its surface fleet AND eliminating the Fleet Air Arm, in order to build their new Trident sub replacements.

Since personnel costs (pay, benefits, housing, dependent schools, day care, etc) are 60% or more of the entire DOD budget and expected to climb much higher, there won't be much cash left over for operational expenses (training, fuel, spares…) and buying new stuff. We might have no choice but to seriously consider bringing back conscription.


blight July 28, 2011 at 8:41 pm

I sense a SLEP in the future of our SSBNs.

Wait a minute, personnel costs are high and because of that you want to draft and make half the country eligible for Tricare and VA benefits? Maybe it's time to tier our military benefits system, especially as costs begin to spiral out of control. If we have to triage our military dollars, they need to go to the widows, the maimed (physically and emotionally) before spending them on military bases in northern Europe, or Japan and South Korea. Bases are expensive too; and the military needs to see if they can move things to civilian DoD where possible, since soldiers benefits are expensive, and private contractors tack on profit margins to boot.


Mastro July 29, 2011 at 11:58 am

Last I heard the next boomer was going to be a Virginia with a big plug.

Probably OK if we actually want to keep our budget sane.


theo July 28, 2011 at 11:24 am

So our missiles are malfunctioning, our subs are rotting, and our strategic adversaries continue to advance their technology, but at least we overturned DADT… I guess we all know what "fundamental transformation of America" now means…


Petrock July 28, 2011 at 1:14 pm

Yeah… we were worried about nukes, should have been worried about the fifth column. better learn the words to "March of the Volunteers"


bobbymike July 28, 2011 at 10:50 pm

When the Carnegie Endowment for Peace is saying "replace the MMIII" it must really be time to replace the MMIII.

My choice a new Peacekeeper + sized missile


s.w.i.n.e. July 29, 2011 at 9:05 am

you guys are so cocky its disgusting…


s.w.i.n.e. July 29, 2011 at 9:07 am

stick your missiles somewhre and rather start fixing what your govt scrwd up!


Smyth50 December 31, 2011 at 12:53 pm

They have had over 200+ test of the MM3 since it was deployed in 1970. Boeing has
upgraded the guidance system, but the overall ICBM design is very old. Now Boeing
has a new Air Force contract to design and deploy an Anti Ballistic Missile shield worth
3.48 Billion USD. I hope they will be more proffesional with this program, than with the
Minuteman III.


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