Air Force Destroyed Unarmed ICBM in Test Gone Wrong: STRATCOM Chief

FILE PHOTO -- An unarmed U.S. Air Force Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile launches during an operational test at 1:23 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time Monday, May 14, 2018, at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. (U.S. Air ForceAirman Aubree Milks)
FILE PHOTO -- An unarmed U.S. Air Force Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile launches during an operational test at 1:23 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time Monday, May 14, 2018, at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. (U.S. Air ForceAirman Aubree Milks)

An unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile was destroyed in flight this week due to a safety issue, the head of U.S. Strategic Command said Wednesday.

"I have a full complement of ICBMs on alert," Air Force Gen. John Hyten said during his opening remarks at the 2018 STRATCOM Deterrence Symposium in Omaha, Nebraska.

However, on Tuesday there was a disappointing "episode" during a test launch, he said, referring to a failed test out of Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.

Everything was "perfect," Hyten said, until "somewhere in flight, we saw an anomaly, and the anomaly was going to create an unsafe flight condition, so we destroyed the rocket before it reached its destination. It was the smart thing to do."

Air Force Global Strike Command said the flight was safely terminated over the Pacific Ocean at 4:42 a.m. Tuesday, The Associated Press reported. The missile originally was set to target the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands, the AP said.

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"And now we have to go figure out what happened. You have to understand what a rare thing that is in the missile business. The last failure I think we had was in 2011 … we had one in 2009. Basically, it happens very, very infrequently," Hyten said of failures during land-based ICBM test launches.

He said the incident will provide lessons learned to officials still analyzing the mishap. "This is the reason that we test. … We have to make sure that things work. We learn more from failures than we do successes," he added.

In January, Defense Department officials told CNN that an SM-3 Block IIA missile interceptor fired from an Aegis Ashore Missile Defense Test Complex in Hawaii had failed to intercept an incoming target, marking the second unsuccessful test of its kind in less than seven months.

Months prior, a medium-range ballistic missile launched from the Hawaii test range was supposed to be intercepted by an SM-3 missile launched from the guided-missile destroyer John Paul Jones. The Missile Defense Agency said the interceptor missed its target.

"We'll go out and we'll make sure that the missiles are safe, secure, ready and reliable," Hyten said Wednesday. "Always on alert, ready to go. That's just part of the job that we do."

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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