An unarmed Minuteman III missile was shot off from Vandenberg Air Force Base early Wednesday morning as part of an operation test, despite objections from a local group of protesters.

The launch of the intercontinental ballistic missile, or ICBM, occurred at 5:45 a.m. from the north side of the base. It was the fifth time this year that the ICBM weapons system, which is a component of the United States’ nuclear program, was tested at VAFB.

"This launch, like every operational test launch from Vandenberg, is a vital part of demonstrating the readiness of our nation's nuclear capabilities," said Col. J. Christopher Moss, commander of the 30th Space Wing and the launch decision authority. "The combined team from the 30th Space Wing and Air Force Global Strike Command's 576th Flight Test Squadron performed exceptionally well during this important launch. It really was an impressive effort."

The missile traveled about 4,200 miles to a target in the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands in the central Pacific Ocean, according to Air Force Global Strike Command.

Air Force officials say the test launches verify the accuracy and reliability of the ICBM weapon system and serve as an effective nuclear deterrent.

Wednesday's test was not without criticism, however.

David Krieger, president of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, joined with other anti-nuclear activists to speak out against the U.S. still using the ICBM weapons system.

The Nuclear Age Peace Foundation’s self-stated mission is to educate and advocate for peace and a world free of nuclear weapons.

“Each (test) launch sends the same message: that the U.S. can hit targets on the other side of the world with its nuclear weapons,” Krieger said. “No one doubts that. What is doubted in the world community is that the U.S. is serious about fulfilling its obligations to negotiate in good faith for nuclear disarmament.”

Willis Jacobson covers the city of Lompoc for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter @WJacobsonLR.

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