The U.S. Air Force tested an unarmed long-range nuclear-capable missile from Vandenberg Air Force base in California in the early morning hours on Tuesday.
The Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) was launched just after midnight and traveled 4,200 miles to the remote Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands. The test, originally scheduled to be carried out earlier this month, had to be delayed citing concerns over U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's visit to Asia, which included a stop to meet with officials in self-governed Taiwan.
China followed up that visit by Pelosi to Taiwan with days of live-fire drills that made headlines and were seen as an intimidation tactic showing China's displeasure over the visit.
Military officials released a statement emphasizing that Tuesday's test was not a reaction to world events as tensions between the U.S. and China have roiled in the days following Pelosi's visit to the island, followed by visits from multiple U.S. lawmakers to meet with officials in Taiwan.
Maj. Armand Wong, commander of the test task force, said, "Our test launches are scheduled well in advance and are not reactionary to world events," he said. "A meticulous planning process for each launch begins six months to a year prior to launch."
But scrutiny over launches like these, especially now as Russia's Kremlin has recently put its country's nuclear capabilities on alert as it wages a sustained, unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, has surfaced from military experts. Former Defense Secretary William Perry argued that bolstering the United States' nuclear arsenal now could welcome harsh responses from countries that see the exercises as a threat. There is also the possibility of a miscalculation when firing these weapons, which include ICBMs.
Col. Chris Cruise said, "This scheduled test launch is demonstrative of how our nation's ICBM fleet illustrates our readiness and reliability of the weapon system."
U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers from Alabama criticized delaying the launch saying, "This news comes after China conducted live-fire exercises following the Speaker of the House's visit to Taiwan." He said, "These weak-kneed pearl-clutching attempts at appeasement hurt our readiness and will only invite further aggression by our adversaries."
The Minuteman III is the only land-based part of the U.S. Military's nuclear triad. It makes up one leg of a three-part system that includes the Trident submarine-launched ballistic missile along with other nuclear weapons that are delivered by long-range strategic bombers.