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By Carla Pampe
Air Force Global Strike Command Public Affairs
Members of Air Force Global Strike Command’s missile community regularly participate in intercontinental ballistic missile operational test launches, called Glory Trips, to validate the safety, security and reliability of the Minuteman III ICBM force.
The next operational test launch, GT 246, is currently scheduled for the third week in April, and planning and preparation for this mission began more than a year in advance.
“This test launch will validate the ability of the Airborne Launch Control System to provide a secondary launch platform for our nation’s ICBM force,” said Lt. Col. Brian Lane, 625th Strategic Operations Squadron commander. “The ALCS is routinely used in test launches to validate the backup launch capability provided by the weapon system and guarantee that an adversary cannot carry out a paralyzing first strike on the United States.”
Unlike the fixed Launch Control Centers located at the three Missile Wings, the ALCS resides aboard a U.S. Navy E-6B Mercury aircraft, Lane said.
“The ALCS mission is a perfect example of the teamwork and close coordination required by the Joint Force,” he added. “We cannot accomplish our nuclear deterrent mission without the outstanding Navy professionals who operate and maintain the E-6B Mercury fleet. It is a privilege to work alongside our mission partners from Strategic Communications Wing One.”
While nuclear professionals of the 625th STOS are integral to working GT 246 from start to finish, in order to ensure the most effective operational test launch, a test launch calendar is forecast five years out. Missiles used in each test are selected at random from either F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyoming, Malmstrom AFB, Montana, or Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota.
For this launch, the missile was selected and pulled from Malmstrom AFB and shipped to Vandenberg months before the launch task force will arrive on station.
Maj. Eric Schoenhals is serving as the launch director for GT 246.
“Each mission is built around very specific objectives. Whether it is accuracy, reliability or performance, it all comes back to enhancing the weapon system and showing the world that the Minuteman III is still capable of doing its job.” he said. “Each test launch validates something different, which is why we schedule them so far in advance.”
Capt. Zach Dennis is a test manager with the 576th Flight Test Squadron at Vandenberg Space Force Base, California.
“These launches are important because they allow us to test the world’s most dynamic weapon system in real time,” he said. “They allow us to make the appropriate upgrades to keep the system current while also showing the world the capability of the Minuteman III.”
Dennis said the most rewarding part of a test launch is sharing the preliminary accuracy score with the Task Force members who built and launched the missile.
“They are the warfighters and it's the best way I can say “thanks and phenomenal work,’” he said. “Each test marks the culmination of dedicated individual effort as well as effective coordination between multiple DoD organizations. However, most importantly, each test validates the Air Force’s capability to provide a flexible nuclear deterrent capability in support of the defense of our nation.”