America speaks, and the missile is the message

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- 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.

See Full Article

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 Defence 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 defence 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 defence 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 Jan. 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.



Advertisements

Latest Canada & World News

  • Solving the legacy of indigenous sexual abuse: think globally, act nationally

    Canada News CTV News
    Fred Kejick Thomas remembers the exact day -- April 14, 2005 -- when he confronted the uncle who had sexually molested him out on a trap line when he was four years old. After years of being haunted by flashbacks and rage, Kejick Thomas asked police to accompany him on a visit to see his uncle, where he read a letter in Ojibwa to speak his truth. Source
  • Trump expands list of candidates to head State Department

    World News CTV News
    WASHINGTON -- President-elect Donald Trump is expanding his pool of candidates for secretary of state, raising a question about whether former CIA Director David Petraeus' guilty plea for leaking classified information disqualifies him to serve as the nation's top diplomat. Source
  • Miniature therapy horse on the mend after cougar mauling

    Canada News CTV News
    Six-year-old miniature horse, Rio, is finally healing after a vicious cougar mauling. Rio, a therapy horse, was attacked back in November at a farm in Maple Ride, B.C. The attack by a rare black cougar left him in critical condition, with deep puncture wounds to his face, head and throat. Source
  • Thousands protest corruption, support judiciary in Brazil

    World News CTV News
    RIO DE JANEIRO -- Tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets in cities across Brazil on Sunday to express disgust with public corruption and outrage at what they say are lawmakers' attempts to muzzle the judges and prosecutors pursuing those crimes. Source
  • U.S. releases Guantanamo Bay detainee

    World News Toronto Sun
    THE ASSOCIATED PRESS First posted: Sunday, December 04, 2016 02:49 PM EST | Updated: Sunday, December 04, 2016 02:54 PM EST Source
  • Italians vote on reforms; Premier Matteo Renzi vows to quit if he loses

    World News CTV News
    ROME -- Italians voted Sunday in a referendum on constitutional reforms that Premier Matteo Renzi has staked his political future on, hoping to survive the rising populist forces that have gained traction across Europe. Renzi has said he will resign if the reforms, which he contends will modernize Italy and reduce its legendary bureaucracy, are rejected. Source
  • Green Party taking Pennsylvania recount bid to court

    World News Toronto Sun
    HARRISBURG, Pa. — Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein is taking her bid for a statewide recount of Pennsylvania’s Nov. 8 presidential election to federal court. After announcing Stein and recount supporters were dropping their case in state court, lawyer Jonathan Abady said they will seek an emergency federal court order Monday. Source
  • Quebec inmate escapes from Gatineau hospital

    Canada News Toronto Sun
    MONTREAL — Quebec provincial police are asking the public to be on the lookout for an inmate who fled from a Gatineau hospital on Saturday. They say 22-year-old David Harvey injured a hospital worker before fleeing on foot. Source
  • Netanyahu says Trump election has not changed 2-state goal

    World News CTV News
    JERUSALEM -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says his support for a two-state solution with the Palestinians remains the same after Donald Trump's victory in the U.S. presidential election. Trump's election has encouraged Israeli hardliners to call on Netanyahu to step up Israeli settlement construction, annex parts of the occupied West Bank or even abandon the idea of Palestinian independence. Source
  • Complaint alleges animal cruelty at Marineland; park denies all accusations

    Canada News CTV News
    A complaint that led Ontario's animal welfare agency to investigate Marineland accuses the tourist attraction of cruelty against several species, alleging there was a "highly unusual" amount of land animal deaths for a zoo, several deer that didn't get proper medical care, sick bears and a peacock with a growth near its eye, The Canadian Press has learned. Source