050317 VAFB launch

An unarmed Minuteman III missile takes off from Vandenberg Air Force Base early Wednesday morning as part of an operational test of the U.S. nuclear weapons system.

An unarmed Minuteman III missile was launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base early Wednesday morning, almost exactly one week after a similar operational test from the base.

The Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile, or ICBM, was fired from a silo at 12:02 a.m. The missile, which is capable of sending a nuclear bomb across the globe, delivered a single re-entry vehicle to a target about 4,200 miles away at the Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific Ocean, according to Air Force Global Strike Command.

The purpose of the test, which received heightened attention due to reported rising tensions between the U.S. and North Korea, was to check the readiness and accuracy of a weapon system that forms part of the U.S. nuclear force, according to the Air Force.

Col. J. Christopher Moss, the commander of the 30th Space Wing at VAFB, was the launch decision authority.

“It's always a privilege to partner with the tremendous professionals of Air Force Global Strike Command to conduct test launches like this one," Moss said. “The dedication and expertise of the combined 341st Missile Wing, 576th Flight Test Squadron and 30th Space Wing team is simply amazing. Their efforts over the past 10 months to make this mission possible shows why they are some of the most skilled operators in the Air Force."

The U.S. reportedly has about 450 Minuteman III missiles. Tests are typically conducted about four times per year.

These past two tests — the previous test launch was held in the early morning of April 26 — occurred so close together, according to the Air Force, because last week’s launch was rescheduled from November 2016 due to fires on VAFB.

Willis Jacobson covers the city of Lompoc for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter @WJacobsonLR.

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