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Missile successfully launches from Vandenberg

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- A Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile configured with a National Nuclear Security Administration joint test assembly launches May 22 from North Vandenberg's Launch Facility-10. The launch was an operational test to determine the weapon system’s reliability and accuracy.  The missile's single unarmed re-entry vehicle traveled approximately 5,250 miles before hitting its pre-determined target in a broad ocean area 230 nautical miles southwest of Guam.  (U.S Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Nathaniel Prost)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- A Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile configured with a National Nuclear Security Administration joint test assembly launches May 22 from North Vandenberg's Launch Facility-10. The launch was an operational test to determine the weapon system’s reliability and accuracy. The missile's single unarmed re-entry vehicle traveled approximately 5,250 miles before hitting its pre-determined target in a broad ocean area 230 nautical miles southwest of Guam. (U.S Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Nathaniel Prost)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- A Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile configured with a National Nuclear Security Administration joint test assembly launches May 22 from North Vandenberg's Launch Facility-10. The launch was an operational test to determine the weapon system’s reliability and accuracy.  The missile's single unarmed re-entry vehicle traveled approximately 5,250 miles before hitting its pre-determined target in a broad ocean area 230 nautical miles southwest of Guam.  (U.S Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Stephanie Longoria)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- A Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile configured with a National Nuclear Security Administration joint test assembly launches May 22 from North Vandenberg's Launch Facility-10. The launch was an operational test to determine the weapon system’s reliability and accuracy. The missile's single unarmed re-entry vehicle traveled approximately 5,250 miles before hitting its pre-determined target in a broad ocean area 230 nautical miles southwest of Guam. (U.S Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Stephanie Longoria)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- A Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile configured with a National Nuclear Security Administration joint test assembly launches May 22 from North Vandenberg's Launch Facility-10. The launch was an operational test to determine the weapon system’s reliability and accuracy. The missile's single unarmed re-entry vehicle traveled approximately 5,250 miles before hitting its pre-determined target in a broad ocean area 230 nautical miles southwest of Guam.(Air Force photo)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- A Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile configured with a National Nuclear Security Administration joint test assembly launches May 22 from North Vandenberg's Launch Facility-10. The launch was an operational test to determine the weapon system’s reliability and accuracy. The missile's single unarmed re-entry vehicle traveled approximately 5,250 miles before hitting its pre-determined target in a broad ocean area 230 nautical miles southwest of Guam.(Air Force photo)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- A Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile configured with a National Nuclear Security Administration joint test assembly launches May 22 from North Vandenberg's Launch Facility-10. The launch was an operational test to determine the weapon system’s reliability and accuracy. The missile's single unarmed re-entry vehicle traveled approximately 5,250 miles before hitting its pre-determined target in a broad ocean area 230 nautical miles southwest of Guam.(Air Force photo)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- A Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile configured with a National Nuclear Security Administration joint test assembly launches May 22 from North Vandenberg's Launch Facility-10. The launch was an operational test to determine the weapon system’s reliability and accuracy. The missile's single unarmed re-entry vehicle traveled approximately 5,250 miles before hitting its pre-determined target in a broad ocean area 230 nautical miles southwest of Guam.(Air Force photo/Joe Davila)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- A Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile configured with a National Nuclear Security Administration joint test assembly launches May 22 from North Vandenberg's Launch Facility-10. The launch was an operational test to determine the weapon system’s reliability and accuracy. The missile's single unarmed re-entry vehicle traveled approximately 5,250 miles before hitting its pre-determined target in a broad ocean area 230 nautical miles southwest of Guam.(Air Force photo)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- A Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile configured with a National Nuclear Security Administration joint test assembly launches May 22 from North Vandenberg's Launch Facility-10. The launch was an operational test to determine the weapon system’s reliability and accuracy. The missile's single unarmed re-entry vehicle traveled approximately 5,250 miles before hitting its pre-determined target in a broad ocean area 230 nautical miles southwest of Guam.(Air Force photo/Joe Davila)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- A Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile configured with a National Nuclear Security Administration joint test assembly launches May 22 from North Vandenberg's Launch Facility-10. The launch was an operational test to determine the weapon system’s reliability and accuracy. The missile's single unarmed re-entry vehicle traveled approximately 5,250 miles before hitting its pre-determined target in a broad ocean area 230 nautical miles southwest of Guam.(Air Force photo)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- A Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile configured with a National Nuclear Security Administration joint test assembly launches May 22 from North Vandenberg's Launch Facility-10. The launch was an operational test to determine the weapon system’s reliability and accuracy. The missile's single unarmed re-entry vehicle traveled approximately 5,250 miles before hitting its pre-determined target in a broad ocean area 230 nautical miles southwest of Guam.(Air Force photo/Joe Davila)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- A Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile configured with a National Nuclear Security Administration, or NNSA, joint test assembly launched from North Vandenberg today at 3:04 a.m.

The launch was an extended range test which proved the weapon system's reliability and accuracy.

The missile's single unarmed re-entry vehicle traveled approximately 5,250 miles before hitting its pre-determined target in a broad ocean area 230 nautical miles southwest of Guam.

This flight was approximately 1000 miles farther than the traditional tests, which land in the Marshall Islands.

"The longer flight path is part of our testing procedures," said Capt. Jason Yeates, launch director for the mission. "Every three years we test the extended range of the missile."

The more distant impact site imposed unique challenges which were overcome through a joint effort with the Navy.

"This mission was different in the fact that our normal target area is pre-configured for our re-entry vehicle scoring," said Captain Yeates "To gather the data we needed in this new location, we joined with the Navy and one of their oceanographic vessels."

The Navy vessel deployed 16 rafts with on-board tracking instruments in a grid pattern to score the accuracy of the re-entry vehicle when it struck the water, said Captain Yeates.

This cooperative effort between the Air Force and the Navy was key to the success of the entire operation.

"This mission was unique in its use of the extended range assets from the Navy's Mobile Instrumentation System on a T-AGS class ship" said Lt. Col. Lesa Toler, 576th Flight Test Squadron commander. "Inter-service coordination was phenomenal resulting in a seamless operation and collection of the necessary data for a successful test."

Another unique feature of this mission was who led the launch itself. Captain Yeates was the first maintenance officer ever to act as launch director for a Minuteman III test launch

While he said he was excited and honored to perform such a feat, Captain Yeates was quick to point out that maintenance officers have served as launch directors for Titan, Peacekeeper, as well as Minuteman I and II operational test launches.

The critical task of testing and improving our nation's ICBM fleet has been a mission unique to Vandenberg since it's founding in 1958.

Through precise testing, weapon system improvements, and the resulting demonstration of a key Air Force deterrent, Vandenberg Airmen help maintain strategic stability.

"For the past 50 years Vandenberg has been at the forefront of testing and improving American ballistic missiles," said Col. Steve Tanous, 30th Space Wing commander. "Thanks to the hard work of the 30th SW and the 576th FLTS, we continue a proud legacy of assuring the readiness and reliability of our ICBM fleet."