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U.S. Launches Minuteman III ICBM, Detonates Non-Nuclear Warhead

Ever since the height of the Cold War in the 1960s, the word Minuteman has struck some degree of fear in the hearts of America’s foes. The moniker is used to describe land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) that can carry nuclear warheads to distances of up to 6,000 miles (9,600 km).
Minuteman ICBM launching from California 8 photos
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To date, there have been three versions of the Minuteman, each improving on the previous version to achieve impressive numbers. The latest variant, Minuteman III, was just launched by the Air Force Global Strike Command from the Vandenberg Space Force Base in California, and detonated a non-nuclear warhead above the waters near the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands.

Described by the American military as not being a “response or reaction to world events or regional tensions,” the test was meant to verify the “accuracy and reliability of the ICBM weapon system.”

The Minuteman is a product of Boeing. The missile, 5.5 feet (1.67 meters) in diameter and weighing 79,432 lbs (36,030 kg), has been designed to carry up to three independently re-targetable reentry vehicles.

Being a ballistic missile, meaning it rises very high up (about 700 miles/1,120 km) using rocket engines and then falls back down using the Earth’s gravity, the thing can reach incredibly high speeds. According to its maker, the ICBM can speed towards its target at 15,000 mph (24,000 kph), which if we are to use the speed of sound as a reference would be Mach 23.

According to the numbers provided by Boeing, there are presently about 400 of these ICBMs in service, spread all over the U.S. in about an equal number of silos.

The U.S. conducts regular tests of these missiles, as they an important part of the country’s nuclear triad, which includes nuclear weapons placed on land, on submarines, and in the air.

Editor's note: Gallery shows other Minuteman ICBMs.

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