Vandenberg Air Force Base’s planned launch of an unarmed Minuteman 3 missile early Tuesday morning reportedly has been postponed amid increasing tensions with North Korea.
A senior military official said Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel delayed the long-planned Minuteman 3 test due to worries it could be misinterpreted and exacerbate the current crisis, according to The Associated Press.
The launch date had been scheduled for months from Vandenberg and wasn’t in response to any international incidents, Air Force officials said Friday.
“This is something we do regularly to test our systems,” an Air Force Global Strike Command spokeswoman said.
However, one nuclear analyst expressed concern that the test, although part of a regular program, could easily be misconstrued by North Korea’s highly paranoid dictator.
Since Jan. 1, 2010, Vandenberg has conducted 23 launches of rockets carrying satellites, interceptors checking missile defense systems and missiles testing long-range weapons.
Seven of those launches have been Minuteman 3 tests to collect data about the weapon system’s accuracy and reliability.
Tuesday’s test, however, would have come amid weeks of escalating tensions between North Korea and the United States, including U.S. bombers flying in the region and military exercises occurring nearby.
“It’s going to deepen their paranoia and could create another series of crazy acts on the part of the North Korea regime,” said Hans Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists, based in Washington, D.C.
Regardless of how long it’s been planned, a long-range intercontinental ballistic missile test likely would be viewed by North Korea’s leaders as the next step up the ladder in the escalating tensions, according to Kristensen.
“The point is not what we think,” he said. “The point is how it’s being interpreted, given how we have acted in the last month or so ....”
Vandenberg officials had issued notices to boaters and pilots to remain out of the area due early Tuesday morning due to the schedule launch.
The Air Force has warned mariners and pilots to stay out of the area between midnight and 10 a.m. Tuesday.
The $21 million missile tests from Vandenberg typically have a six-hour window that lately have stretched from 3:01 a.m. to 9:01 a.m. Minuteman 3 tests occur from underground silos on the northern section of the base.
The Air Force track the weapon’s dummy warhead as it flies approximately 4,200 miles southwest of Vandenberg to a predetermined target in the Kwajalein Atoll in the central Pacific Ocean.