The US has tested a nuclear-capable long-range missile in a show of force to China and Russia amid heightened tensions with both countries.
The Air Force Global Strike Command launched the unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) from California’s Vandenberg Space Force Base early yesterday. It was directed into the Pacific.
“Make no mistake — our nuclear triad [nuclear capability from land, sea and air] is the cornerstone of the national security of our country and of our allies around the globe,” said Colonel Chris Cruise, commander of the 576th Flight Test Squadron.
“This scheduled test launch is demonstrative of how our nation’s ICBM fleet illustrates our readiness and reliability of the weapon system. It is also a great platform to show the skill sets and expertise of our strategic weapons maintenance personnel and of our missile crews, who maintain an unwavering vigilance to defend the homeland.”
The test had twice been delayed — it was scheduled for earlier this month and in March.
The postponements were an attempt to quell diplomatic rows with Beijing and Moscow. China is outraged by what it sees as growing US interference with Taiwan, while the war in Ukraine has brought US-Russian relations to their lowest point since the Cold War.
China’s military staged full-scale exercises in the Taiwan Strait this month in response to a visit to the island two weeks ago by Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House of Representatives. Pelosi was the highest-ranking American politician to visit Taiwan for 25 years.
China considers Taiwan, which is a democracy, to be part of its territory and has never renounced using force to bring it under its control.
The US military denied that yesterday’s test was a show of its muscle. “This test launch is part of routine and periodic activities intended to demonstrate that the United States’ nuclear deterrent is safe, secure, reliable and effective,” the air force said in a statement.
“Such tests have occurred more than 300 times before, and this test is not the result of current world events.”
The test will, however, have been noted in Russia and particularly in China, which has aggressively sought to bolster its position in the Pacific in recent years, a development that has frustrated successive administrations in Washington.
China’s military said it conducted more exercises near Taiwan on Monday when a group of American congressmen visited Taiwan and met President Tsai.
The missile tested by the US yesterday carried a test re-entry vehicle, which in a strategic conflict could be armed with a nuclear warhead. The re-entry vehicle travelled about 4,200 miles to the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands in the Pacific.
At the start of the year the US had about 3,700 nuclear warheads.
China maintains a much smaller number of nuclear warheads, thought to be about 200, although a report by the US defence department last year predicted the number could quadruple by 2030.