Air Force aborts ICBM test before launch

RINGO CHIU/AFP via Getty Images
A streak of light trails off into the night sky as the US military test fires an unarmed intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) at Vandenberg Air Force Base, some 130 miles (209 kms) northwest of Los Angeles, California early on May 3, 2017. 

The Air Force aborted a planned test of a Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile prior to launch Wednesday, the service said.

The test had been planned for early Wednesday morning at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, but “experienced a ground abort prior to launch,” Air Force Global Strike Command said in a news release.

The news release provided no other details about what happened, saying the “cause of the ground abort is currently under investigation.”

“The Air Force adheres to strict protocols while performing operational test launches, only launching when all safety parameters with the test range and missile are met,” the release said.

Officials are evaluating rescheduling the test, according to the release.

The failed test comes as lawmakers debate whether to proceed with the program to replace the aging Minuteman III missiles or try to extend the life of the missiles.

U.S. Strategic Command chief Adm. Charles Richard, the top officer overseeing the U.S. nuclear arsenal, has been arguing strongly for moving forward with the replacement program, known as the Ground-based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD) program.

“We simply cannot continue to indefinitely life-extend Cold War leftover systems,” Richard said in congressional testimony last month. “I do not see an operational reason to even attempt to do that.”

In September, Northrop Grumman was awarded a $13.3 billion contract to build the GBSD, with the program expected to be worth at least $85 billion over the next several decades.

But the GBSD program is a top target for some Democrats and others wary at the estimated $1.2 trillion price tag to update the entire U.S. nuclear arsenal. Extending the life of the Minuteman IIIs, GBSD opponents argue, would be more cost effective.

Past efforts at cutting the GBSD program have failed with bipartisan majorities, but opponents are hopeful of a different outcome with both chambers of Congress and the White House in Democratic hands.

“There is no evidence in your document that the Minuteman III is not viable as it is today, nor is there any information that indicates that the Minuteman III cannot be extended one more time,” Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.) told Richard at a House Armed Services Committee hearing last month. “If I am incorrect and it is not possible to extend it one more time, then please provide the written documentation to that. That is a fundamental point in the debate that we’re having here about the GBSD and the necessity for it.” 

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