News / USA

    Nuke Test: The Missile Is the Message - the Pentagon Hopes

    FILE - An unarmed Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missile streaks through the sky during a test launch, over Vandenberg Air Force Base in California Aug. 25, 2005.
    FILE - An unarmed Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missile streaks through the sky during a test launch, over Vandenberg Air Force Base in California Aug. 25, 2005.
    Associated Press

    Like a giant pen stroke in the sky, an unarmed Minuteman 3 nuclear missile roared out of its underground bunker on the California coastline Thursday and soared over the Pacific, inscribing the signature of American power amid growing worry about North Korea's pursuit of nuclear weapons capable of reaching U.S. soil.
     
    When it comes to deterring an attack by North Korea or other potential adversaries, the missile is the message.
     
    At 11:01 p.m. Pacific Standard Time Thursday, the Minuteman missile, toting a payload of test instruments rather than a nuclear warhead, leaped into the darkness in an explosion of flame. It arced toward its test range in the waters of the Kwajalein Atoll, an island chain about 2,500 miles southwest of Honolulu.
     
    About 30 minutes later the re-entry vehicle that carries the missile's payload reached its target, Col. Craig Ramsey, commander of the 576th Flight Test Squadron, told an assembled group of observers, including Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work and Adm. Cecil Haney, the top nuclear war-fighting commander.
     
    The missile test, dubbed “Glory Trip 218,” was the second this month and the latest in a series designed to confirm the reliability of the Cold War-era missile and all its components. The Minuteman 3, first deployed in 1970, has long exceeded its original 10-year lifespan. It is so old that vital parts are no longer in production.
     
    The Air Force operates 450 Minuteman missiles - 150 at each of three missile fields in Wyoming, Montana and North Dakota. A few times a year, one missile is pulled from its silo and trucked to Vandenberg, minus its nuclear warhead, for a test launch.
     
    Aside from confirming technical soundness, Minuteman test launches are the U.S. military's way of sharpening the message that forms the foundation of U.S. nuclear deterrence theory - that if potential attackers believe U.S. nuclear missiles and bombs are ready for war at all times, then no adversary would dare start a nuclear fight.
     
    The credibility of this message can be damaged by signs of weakness or instability in the nuclear weapons force. In 2013-14 the Associated Press documented morale, training, leadership and equipment problems in the Minuteman force, and in January the Air Force acknowledged to the AP that errors by a maintenance crew damaged an armed Minuteman in May 2014.
     
    Work said in an interview ahead of Thursday's launch that he sees good progress in fixing the problems in the nuclear missile corps. He also said the Vandenberg test launches are critically important.
     
    “It is a signal to anyone who has nuclear weapons that we are prepared to use nuclear weapons in defense of our country, if necessary,” he said, adding later, “We do it to demonstrate that these missiles - even though they're old - they still remain the most effective, or one of the most effective, missiles in the world.”
     
    Air Force officials say the test launches are a morale booster because they give launch crews and others a chance to leave their usual duties and participate in an actual launch. They otherwise do 24-hour shifts, year-round, in underground missile command posts, hoping the call to combat never comes.
     
    Constance Baroudos, a defense analyst at the Lexington Institute think tank, sees great deterrent value in the Minuteman test launches.
     
    “Deterrence basically doesn't work unless the threat is deemed credible,” she said. “So every time we test ICBMs, we demonstrate not only that the weapons work but also that they are ready to be launched. When those tests are conducted, the Russians, the Chinese and other international actors are watching, and they send a message to a potential aggressor that they not do anything they would regret.”
     
    Together, the United States and Russia control the vast majority of the world's nuclear weapons, and both countries regularly conduct ICBM test launches. The Russians generally do them more often, at least in part because they have new missiles in development whereas the Minuteman 3 is the only U.S. ICBM. The U.S. Air Force is planning a new-generation ICBM, but it is not scheduled to begin entering the force until about 2030.
     
    Pavel Podvig, an independent analyst of Russian nuclear forces and publisher of the RussianForces.org blog, said in an interview that Moscow puts less stock in the public messaging aspect of missile test launches than does Washington.
     
    “They (the Russians) do want to make sure the missiles are still functioning,” he said, “But the message is as much for themselves as for the outside world.”
     
    North Korea, on the other hand, aims for maximum political impact when it conducts missile test launches or detonates a nuclear device, as it did January 6. The potential for North Korea to field a nuclear warhead small enough to fit atop an intercontinental missile is among the worries American officials cite as justification for investing tens of billions of dollars in a new fleet of U.S. ICBMs and other types of nuclear weaponry.

    You May Like

    Chechen Suspected in Istanbul Attack, but Questions Remain

    Turkish sources say North Caucasus militants involved in bombing at Ataturk airport, but name of at least one alleged attacker raises doubts

    With Johnson Out, Can a New ‘Margaret Thatcher’ Save Britain?

    Contest to replace David Cameron as Britain’s prime minister started in earnest Thursday with top candidates outlining strategy to deal with Brexit fallout

    US Finds Progress Slow Against Human Trafficking in Africa

    Africa continues to be a major source and destination for human trafficking of all kinds -- from forced labor to sexual slavery, says State Department report

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Clinton Leads Trump, But Many Voters Don't Like Eitheri
    X
    Jim Malone
    June 29, 2016 6:16 PM
    In the U.S. presidential race, most recent polls show Democrat Hillary Clinton with a steady lead over Republican Donald Trump as both presumptive party nominees prepare for their party conventions next month. Trump’s disapproval ratings have risen in some recent surveys, but Clinton also suffers from high negative ratings, suggesting both candidates have a lot of work to do to improve their images before the November election. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Clinton Leads Trump, But Many Voters Don't Like Either

    In the U.S. presidential race, most recent polls show Democrat Hillary Clinton with a steady lead over Republican Donald Trump as both presumptive party nominees prepare for their party conventions next month. Trump’s disapproval ratings have risen in some recent surveys, but Clinton also suffers from high negative ratings, suggesting both candidates have a lot of work to do to improve their images before the November election. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Slow Rebuilding Amid Boko Haram Destruction in Nigeria’s Northeast

    Military operations have chased Boko Haram out of towns and cities in Nigeria’s northeast since early last year. But it is only recently that people have begun returning to their homes in Adamawa state, near the border with Cameroon, to try to rebuild their lives. For VOA, Chris Stein traveled to the area and has this report.
    Video

    Video New US Ambassador to Somalia Faces Heavy Challenges

    The new U.S. envoy to Somalia, who was sworn into office Monday, will be the first American ambassador to that nation in 25 years. He will take up his post as Somalia faces a number of crucial issues, including insecurity, an upcoming election, and the potential closure of the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya. VOA’s Jill Craig asked Somalis living in Kenya’s capital city Nairobi how they feel about the U.S. finally installing a new ambassador.
    Video

    Video At National Zoo, Captivating Animal Sculptures Illustrate Tragedy of Ocean Pollution

    The National Zoo in Washington, D.C., is home to about 1,800 animals, representing 300 species. But throughout the summer, visitors can also see other kinds of creatures there. They are larger-than-life animal sculptures that speak volumes about a global issue — the massive plastic pollution in our oceans. VOA's June Soh takes us to the zoo's special exhibit, called Washed Ashore: Art to Save the Sea.
    Video

    Video Baghdad Bikers Defy War with a Roar

    Baghdad is a city of contradictions. War is a constant. Explosions and kidnappings are part of daily life. But the Iraqi capital remains a thriving city, even if a little beat up. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on how some in Baghdad are defying the stereotype of a nation at war by pursuing a lifestyle known for its iconic symbols of rebellion: motorbikes, leather jackets and roaring engines.
    Video

    Video Melting Pot of Immigrants Working to Restore US Capitol Dome

    The American Iron Works company is one of the firms working to renovate the iconic U.S. Capitol Dome. The company employs immigrants of many different cultural and national backgrounds. VOA’s Arman Tarjimanyan has more.
    Video

    Video Testing Bamboo as Building Material

    For thousands of years various species of bamboo - one of the world's most versatile plants - have been used for diverse purposes ranging from food and medicine to textiles and construction. But its use on a large scale is hampered because it's not manufactured to specific standards but grown in the ground. A University of Pittsburgh professor is on track to changing that. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Orphanage in Iraqi City Houses Kids Who Lost their Parents to Attacks by IS

    An orphanage in Iraqi Kurdistan has become home to scores of Yazidi children who lost their parents after Islamic State militants took over Sinjar in Iraq’s Nineveh Province in 2014. Iraqi Kurdish forces backed by the U.S. airstrikes have since recaptured Sinjar but the need for the care provided by the orphanage continues. VOA’s Kawa Omar filed this report narrated by Rob Raffaele.
    Video

    Video Re-Opening Old Wounds in a Bullet-Riddled Cultural Landmark

    A cultural landmark before Lebanon’s civil war transformed it into a nest of snipers, Beirut’s ‘Yellow House’ is once again set to play a crucial role in the city.  Built in a neo-Ottoman style in the 1920s, in September it is set to be re-opened as a ‘memory museum’ - its bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking the city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Brexit Resounds in US Presidential Contest

    Britain’s decision to leave the European Union is resounding in America’s presidential race. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump sees Britain’s move as an affirmation of his campaign’s core messages, while Democrat Hillary Clinton sees the episode as further evidence that Trump is unfit to be president.
    Video

    Video NASA Juno Spacecraft, Nearing Jupiter, to Shed Light on Gas Giant

    After a five-year journey, the spacecraft Juno is nearing its destination, the giant planet Jupiter, where it will enter orbit and start sending data back July 4th. As Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, the craft will pierce the veil of Jupiter's dense cloud cover to reveal its mysteries.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora