US prepares to test launch unarmed ballistic missile from California

The U.S. Air Force is preparing to test an unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) on early Wednesday morning in California.

The missile is scheduled to be launched between 12.01 a.m. and 6.01 a.m. local time from the Air Force’s North Vandenberg Air Force Base, located nearly 130 miles northwest of Los Angeles.

Air Force Global Strike Command Col. Michael Hough, 30th Air Wing commander said the purpose of the ICBM launch program was to “validate and verify the effectiveness, readiness, and accuracy of the weapon system.”

“Team V is postured to work with Air Force Global Strike Command to test launch the Minuteman III missile,” said Hough. “Our long history in partnering with the men and women of the 576th Flight Test Squadron shows that the Western Range stands ready and able to create a safe launch environment.”

The Air Force statement pointed out that the 576th Flight Squadron will be responsible for tracking and commanding the destruct systems on the missile.

Minuteman missiles have been regularly tested at the Vandenberg base, and these missiles travel 4,200 miles (6,800 kilometers) across the Pacific to land at a target area in Kwajalein Atoll, according to the Associated Press.

The latest U.S. launches come amid growing tensions with North Korea, as the Asian nation develops its own ICBM. The Pentagon has expressed concern that it poses a danger to the commercial aircraft region.

A U.S. official confirmed Tuesday that a commercial airliner flew past the location where North Korea’s latest ICBM would land — less than 10 minutes later — in the Sea of Japan on Friday.

North Korea launched its first ICBM test on July 4 with leader Kim Jong-un calling it a “gift to the U.S.” on its independence day.

But Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis said it was “completely uncoordinated” and “flew into a busy airspace used by commercial airliners,” and a location for “commercial and fishing vessels.”

The U.S. flew two supersonic B-1 bombers with their Japanese and South Korean allies in the North Korea peninsula on Saturday in “direct response” to North Korea’s second ICBM test on July 28.

The U.S. also successfully conducted a test of the THAAD system on Sunday from Kodiak, Alaska, that was air-launched by the U.S. Air Force over the Pacific. The agency said it was planned prior to North Korea’s Friday ICBM launch, but the THAAD system is a “defensive weapon system” used to hit and kill…

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