Strategic Weapons: Minuteman Passes Another Test


February14, 2007: On February 7th, the U.S. Air Force conducted another test of its Minuteman III ICBMs. A missile, selected at random from those stored in Midwest silos, was brought to Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, placed in a silo there, and fired into the Pacific. This kind of testing is not as realistic as what the Russians do, which is to just pick a missile at random, remove the nuclear warhead and replace it with one full of monitoring and radio equipment, and then fire it. The U.S. can't do that because American silos are surrounded by inhabited areas. Thus if the missile ran into trouble, and had to be destroyed (all such missiles are equipped with explosives for this, that can be set off by remote control), the debris could come down on people. The Russian silos are in more isolated areas, and Russians are more tolerant of their government showering them with missile debris.

The February 7th test was unique because for the first time, the test silo had the 105 ton doors closed, and then blown open just before launch. Repairing the doors is expensive, so the doors are usually kept open during preparations for the test, and plastic sheeting spread over the open silo to keep rain out. But a previous test was screwed up by a heavy rain, that flooded, and damaged, the silo despite the plastic sheeting. Another first for this test was the use of GPS guidance in the test warhead.


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