US Air Force DESTROYS a $7 million intercontinental ballistic missile mid-flight after an ‘anomaly’ is detected during an unarmed test in California
- Minuteman 3 ICBM was above the Pacific Ocean after its launch from California
- The weapon’s flight was aborted after it developed an ‘anomaly,’ officials said
- Officials sent a self-destruct message to the missile at 7:42am ET Tuesday
The US Air Force intentionally destroyed an unarmed missile mid-flight during a botched test launch from California this week.
The Minuteman 3 intercontinental ballistic missile was sailing above the Pacific Ocean when its flight was aborted after it developed an ‘anomaly,’ officials said.
An Air Force statement says the flight was safely terminated after officials sent a self-destruct message to the missile at 7:42am ET (12:42pm BST) Tuesday.
The debris from the $7 million (£5.3 million) rocket fell safely into an unpopulated region of the Pacific, it said.
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The US Air Force intentionally destroyed an unarmed missile mid-flight during a botched test launch from California this week. Pictured is a file photo showing a Minuteman III missile launching from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, like the one in Tuesday’s aborted test
The Minuteman system’s accuracy and reliability is routinely tested with launches from the Vandenberg Air Force Base, located 10 miles (16km) northwest of Lompoc.
Each firing sends a missile’s re-entry vehicle on a 4,200-mile (6,759-kilometer) flight to a target in the Kwajalein Atoll of the Marshall Islands.
Launches are often planned years in advance.
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The Air Force defines an ‘anomaly’ as any unexpected event during a test. As a result, the error could arise from a number of different factors.
Officials are currently forming a ‘launch analysis group’ to determine the cause of the latest anomaly.
‘Since anomalies may arise from many factors relating to the operational platform itself, or the test equipment, careful analysis is needed to identify the cause,’ Air Force Global Strike Command said in a statement.
Decades after the Cold War, the United States still fields hundreds of Minuteman 3 ICBMs, dotted in silos across rural America. The missile, which weighs 36,000 kilos (80,000lb) and has a range of 6,000 miles (9,600km), has been in service since 1970 (file photo)
ICBM test flights are normally aborted when a missile flies slightly off track.
An official tracking the weapon’s GPS signal via a digital map hits a self-destruct button, causing explosives along the rocket’s seam to detonate.
This releases the missile’s fuel, causing it to ignite and safely destroy the ICBM, which then spins harmlessly into the Pacific Ocean.
HOW DOES THE US MILITARY ABORT MISSILE TEST FLIGHTS?
Intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) – long-range rockets that can carry nuclear warheads – are regularly tested by nations with nuclear programmes.
At Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, where unarmed ICBMs are launched for tests several times a year, a Mission Flight Control Officer (MFCO) has the job of making sure the missile stays on track.
A GPS transmitter tracks the missile’s location on its 4,200-mile (6,759-kilometer) flight to a target in the Kwajalein Atoll of the Marshall Islands.
During each ICBM’s flight over the Pacific Ocean, the MFCO looks over a screen displaying a digital map with lines that the missile cannot cross.
If the missile strays across these lines, it is deemed off-course, and the MFCO must hit the self-destruct button to terminate the test.
This button detonates explosives along the seam of the missile, which releases the weapon’s fuel, causing it to ignite.
The missile then spins harmlessly into the Pacific Ocean.
Decades after the Cold War, the United States still fields hundreds of Minuteman 3 ICBMs, dotted in silos across rural America.
The missile, which weighs 36,000 kilos (80,000lb) and has a range of 6,000 miles (9,600km), has been in service since 1970.
Manufactured by Boeing, each ICBM has a range of approximately 8,100 miles (13,000km).
The Minuteman 3 missile system’s accuracy and reliability is routinely tested with launches from the Vandenberg Air Force Base. Each firing sends a missile’s reentry vehicle on a 4,200-mile (6,759-kilometer) flight to a target in the Kwajalein Atoll of the Marshall Islands
WHAT IS AN ICBM?
An intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) is a long-range weapon used to deliver warheads to distant targets.
It is a type of ballistic missile, which are powered and guided toward a target but fall onto to it under gravity.
This means the trajectory of the missiles is a high, arching path.
To be classed as an ICBM, a missile must carry a warhead more than 3,400 miles (5,400km) either through the air, or through space.
Those that travel through space – which includes almost all nuclear missiles – are painstakingly designed to survive the heat and pressure of re-entry.
ICBMs typically deliver nuclear weapons but can also carry conventional warheads.
Regular tests help to ensure the system remains accurate and reliable.
‘These test launches verify the accuracy and reliability of the ICBM weapon system, providing valuable data to ensure a continued safe, secure and effective nuclear deterrent,’ according to a previous Air Force statement.
Over the next 20 years, the Air Force will switch-out the entirety of its Minuteman 3 fleet with a new missile known currently known as the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD).
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