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

  • Timeline of the 3-year search for missing Malaysia plane

    World News CTV News
    KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia -- The end of the deep-sea sonar search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 leaves the largest and most technologically challenging search in aviation history unresolved. Some of the key moments in the search: Source
  • MH370 search ends after three years

    World News CTV News
    SYDNEY, Australia - After nearly three years, the hunt for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 ended in futility and frustration Tuesday, as crews completed their deep-sea search of a desolate stretch of the Indian Ocean without finding a trace of the plane. Source
  • Reports: police question Istanbul nightclub attacker

    World News Toronto Sun
    ISTANBUL — A gunman suspected of killing 39 people during a New Year’s attack on an Istanbul nightclub has been caught in a police operation, Turkish media reports said early Tuesday. The suspect was captured in a special operations police raid on a house in Istanbul’s Esenyurt district, private NTV television reported. Source
  • Friends recount terror and tragedy of seeing friend killed in Mexico club shooting

    Canada News CBC News
    The first gunshot cut through the pulse of the Playa del Carmen, Mexico, nightclub less than a minute after Charles Lewis last spoke to Kirk Wilson, a Canadian killed in a shooting that left four others dead in the early hours of Monday morning. Source
  • Mexican town fears nightclub shooting means drug war has come

    World News CTV News
    PLAYA DEL CARMEN, Mexico -- While authorities investigate what set off a deadly shooting at an electronic music festival event, residents said it came amid a growing and increasingly open drug scene in this resort town that has long been spared the violence of Mexico's cartel wars. Source
  • Officers at Ohio jail beat homeless veteran into coma: lawsuit

    World News CTV News
    DAYTON, Ohio -- A federal lawsuit alleges that officers at an Ohio jail beat a homeless veteran so severely that he ended up in a coma for two months and is now wheelchair-bound and cognitively disabled. Source
  • German court to rule if lawmakers can ban far-right party

    World News CTV News
    BERLIN - Germany's supreme court is scheduled to announce its verdict Tuesday on lawmakers' bid to outlaw a far-right party accused of promoting a racist and anti-Semitic agenda. It would be the first ban of its kind since 1956. Source
  • Saskatoon man finally cashes in on $5M lottery win from last summer

    Canada News Toronto Sun
    SASKATOON — A Saskatoon man who traded in snacks for lottery tickets has picked up a $5 million cheque for being the sole winner of a Lotto 649 draw last summer. Curtis Mooney jokingly told reporters on Monday that he is 45 and single — “but not for long. Source
  • 81 false killer whales dead in stranding off Everglades

    World News Toronto Sun
    MIAMI — Officials say dozens of false killer whales have died after stranding themselves in the Gulf of Mexico west of the Florida Everglades. Blair Mase of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s fisheries service told reporters that the Coast Guard had confirmed sightings Saturday of the black dolphins in the shallows on the western edge of Everglades National Park. Source
  • Milos Raonic cruises to 1st-round victory at Australian Open

    Canada News CBC News
    Milos Raonic and Dustin Brown renewed their Grand Slam duel Monday night (Tuesday afternoon in Australia) and the result was the same as the last time — a three-set win for the tall Canadian. Raonic and Brown met for the first time in the first round of last year's U.S. Source