The U.S. Air Force has conducted a scheduled test launch of an LGM-30G Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile from Vandenberg Air force base in California. But the important part is that it had an unusual load of three unarmed re-entry vehicles. It is to be noted that the missile is tested4-5 times a year and but the last time Minuteman III was tested with 3 reentry vehicle was on Apr. 25, 2018.
All operationally deployed Minuteman IIIs are presently armed with only one warhead in a single reentry vehicle as part of the United States' obligations on the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, orNew START. Air Force and Navy personnel onboard an E-6BMercury airborne command post aircraft initiated the missile launch. E-6B is an important component of this deterrent capability since it provides a backup option for launching the missiles remotely if other command and control nodes get taken out by a preemptive strike.
Air Force Colonel Omar Colbert, head of the 576th Flight Test Squadron at Vandenberg, said in a statement, "The flight test program demonstrates one part of the operational capability of the ICBM weapon system. This visible message of national security serves to assure our allies and dissuade potential aggressors." In this article, Defense Updates analyzes why American Minuteman III testing with 3 reentry vehicles is a direct message to Russia & China? Let’s get started.
The Minuteman family of missiles has served as the backbone of the U.S. land-based nuclear strategic force since 1962. In 1955, the Soviet Union successfully tested a hydrogen bomb, and in 1957 it launched the Sputnik satellite, surpassing the United States in rocket technology. Fearing that the Soviet Union had the ability to attack the United States with intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM), the United States made the development of a reliable, rapid-response ballistic missile the highest priority. On Feb. 27, 1958, the U.S. Air Force received approval from the Department of Defense to begin research and development on the new missile designated Weapon System 133-A, called the “Minuteman”. On Oct. 9, 1958, the Air Force announced its selection of Boeing as assembly and test contractor for the Minuteman missile.
The weapon is tasked primarily with the deterrence role, threatening Soviet cities with a second strike counter value counterattack if the U.S. was attacked, However, with the development of the U.S.Navy's Polaris which addressed the same role, the Air Force began to modify Minuteman into a weapon with much greater accuracy with the specific intent of allowing it to attack hardened military targets, including Soviet missile silos. The Minuteman III began development in 1964and entered service in 1970. It's command and control lie with the AirForce Global Strike Command. America deployed around 1,000 Minutemen IIIby the end of the 1970s. The number shrunk to around 450 by September 2017 and currently, there are about 400. The U.S military plans to keep the missile in service until at least 2030 Over the years it has been found that MinutemanIII has been extremely reliable. It is to be noted that the missile has seen many upgrades over the year to keep them up to date.
Minuteman series of missile gained range with incremental versions with Minuteman III acknowledged having an operational range of 8,100 miles or 13,000 km though the exact range is classified. As per many analysts, the missile actually can travel as far as 9,950 miles or 16,000 km depending on the warhead configuration. Minuteman III is designed to be launched from missile silos. A missile silo is a vertical cylindrical structure constructed underground, for the storage and launching of intercontinental ballistic missiles(ICBMs).
The structures typically have the missile some distance below ground, protected by a large "blast door" on top. They are usually connected, physically, and/or electronically, to a missile launch control center. Minuteman-III missiles are regularly tested with launches from Vandenberg Air Force Base in order to validate the effectiveness, readiness, and accuracy of the weapon system, as well as to support the system's primary purpose, nuclear deterrence. It has nearly 100 percent reliability. The original inertial navigation system provided it with an accuracy of about 200 m Circular Error Probable (CEP), but an updated inertial guidance system gives it 120 m CEP. This basically means the missile can be targeted with near pinpoint accuracy even at long distances.
Minuteman III has three-stage solid-fuel rocket engines. The first stage is Thiokol TU-122, the second stage is Aerojet-General SR-19-AJ-1 and the third stage is Aerojet/Thiokol SR73-AJ/TC-1. The solid-fuel missile can stand ready for extended periods of time with little maintenance. Hence these can be launched on command without needing preparation. The President of the United States can authorize a nuclear attack from fixed command centers, such as the White House Situation Room or also through 'Nuclear Football'. The nuclear football is a briefcase, that contains codes which can be used by the President of the United States to authorize a nuclear attack while away from fixed command centers.
The president is always accompanied by a military aide carrying the "football”. So, the missile can be launched at any time and under any circumstances. A multiple independently targetable reentry vehicle (MIRV) is a ballistic missile payload containing several warheads, each capable of being aimed to hit a different target.MIRV allows separately targeted nuclear warheads to be sent on their independent ways after the main propulsion stages of the missile launch have shut down. This technology is very complex and greatly increases the destructive power of a missile. Minuteman III was the first true MIRV capable missile.
It can carry a maximum of 3 warheads and these can be independently targeted against 3 different locations It carries a W78 or W87 warhead. The W78 thermonuclear warhead is the warhead used on most of the United States Minuteman III missiles. The W78 has a publicly announced yield of335–350 kilotons of TNT. The W87 is an improvement on W78, its design includes all modern safety features. The original yield of the W87 was 300-kilo tons of TNT but has the announced ability to be upgraded to a yield of 475 kilotons. So, a single missile is capable of unleashing destructive power of around 1000 to 1400 kt of TNT.
It can carry a maximum of 3 warheads and these can be independently targeted against 3 different locations It carries a W78 or W87 warhead. The W78 thermonuclear warhead is the warhead used on most of the United States Minuteman III missiles. The W78 has a publicly announced yield of335–350 kilotons of TNT. The W87 is an improvement on W78, its design includes all modern safety features. The original yield of the W87 was 300 kilo tons of TNT but has the announced ability to be upgraded to a yield of 475 kilotons. So, a single missile is capable of unleashing destructive power of around 1000 to 1400 kt of TNT.
The U.S. government also wants China to join this strategic arms control regime, but China has shown no interest. If the New START treaty collapses without a new treaty set in place, the United States would have a free hand to arm all of its MinutemanIII missiles with 3 reentry vehicles, hence the total number of deployed warheads can quickly rise up from 400 to 1,200. It is clear that this test with 3 reentry vehicles serves a special purpose and is a direct message to Russia & China that if they don't come to the negotiation table they will have to face the U.S which will be armed more aggressively.