Saturday, July 31, 2010

ICBM Test Launches Showcase Global Strike Capabilities

Two Global Strike Command missile crews launched Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile test vehicles June 16 and 30, respectively, at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.

Missile maintenance and operational task forces from F.E. Warren AFB, Wyo., and Malmstrom AFB, Mont., combined with the 576th Flight Test Squadron at Vandenberg AFB to launch the missiles.

The launches give the crews a unique training opportunity to turn the launch keys that send an actual missile rocketing into the sky, said Capt. Isaac Earnhart, the 341st Operations Support Squadron missile combat crew commander..

The process is careful and deliberate, officials said.

"You don't get a second chance with an ICBM test launch," said Mr. Richard Serrano, the 576th FLTS instrumentation laboratory team chief. "You have to do it right the first time."

A successful launch is also a moment of pride for the missile maintenance team, said Tech. Sgt. Robert Houck, the 341st MMXS missile handling team chief.

"It shows what we work on is still a vital weapons system," he said. "There's a certain pride in ownership in knowing they put it together and watched it take off."

"Every flight test provides valuable experience to the crews and an evaluation of the missile's accuracy and reliability in its intended operational environment," said Col. Carl DeKemper, the 576th FLTS commander. "These launches are part of a continuous self-assessment of our proficiency."

The final launch sequence begins years earlier, as pre-determined criteria are used to carefully select a missile from the field and then transport it hundreds of miles to Vandenberg AFB for processing by the 576 FLTS, said Capt. Douglas Carmean, the 576 FLTS chief of ICBM test operations.

"The process requires deposturing a missile on alert after months of detailed monitoring and shipping the 60,000-lb. missile nearly half the length of the country," said Capt. Earnhart, Malmstrom AFB's missile combat crew commander.

Once it has been transported, all missile components are individually inspected, test equipment is installed and all components are reunited at the launch facility to once again take the shape of a flight-ready missile, said 1st Lt. Jared Hostetler, the 341st Missile Maintenance Squadron mechanical flight commander.

Teams from the operational missile bases come to Vandenberg and assemble the missile as they would at their home bases, he said. The test launches validate maintenance technicians' skills from the operational wings, he said.

Prior to the launch, members of the missile crew are certified by undertaking intensive simulated test launches, Mr. Serrano said.

Launch day is like the Super Bowl to the missile community -- a rare opportunity to see the pay-off all of the preparation, Captain Earnhart said.

Another Minuteman III launch is scheduled from Vandenberg Sept. 15, by a missile task force from the 91st Missile Wing, Minot Air Force Base, N.D.

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