In this image taken with a slow shutter speed and provided by the U.S. Air Force, an unarmed Minuteman 3 intercontinental ballistic missile launches during an operational test early Wednesday, April 26, 201, from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. The target of the test was in the Pacific Ocean. An Air Force statement said the mission was part of a program to test the effectiveness, readiness, and accuracy of the weapon system. (Senior Airman Ian Dudley/U.S. Air Force via AP)
VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. (AP) — An unarmed Minuteman 3 intercontinental ballistic missile was launched from California early Wednesday in a test of the weapon system that is part of the U.S. nuclear force.
The missile blasted off from a silo at 12:03 a.m. from Vandenberg Air Force Base and delivered a single re-entry vehicle to a target approximately 4,200 miles (6,759 kilometers) away at Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific Ocean, the Air Force Global Strike Command said.
The launch command was issued via an air launch control system aboard a Navy E-6 Mercury jet.
"Tonight's launch was an important demonstration of our nation's nuclear deterrent capability," Col. John Moss, commander of Vandenberg's 30th Space Wing, said in a statement. "Test launches like this one are vital to validating the effectiveness and readiness of our operational nuclear systems, so it is critical that they are successful."
Operational tests of Minuteman 3 missiles are conducted regularly but the timing of Wednesday's launch amid U.S. tensions with North Korea over its nuclear and missile programs drew criticism from the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, which has advocated against nuclear weapons for more than 30 years.
"When it comes to missile testing, the U.S. is operating with a clear double standard: It views its own tests as justified and useful, while it views the tests of North Korea as threatening and destabilizing," David Krieger, president of the organization, said in a statement on its website Monday.
"What is needed is diplomacy rather than military provocations. Threats, whether in the form of tweets, nuclear-capable aircraft carrier groups, or nuclear-capable missile launches, only increase the dangers to us all," he said.
President Donald Trump has in recent weeks ordered an aircraft carrier and other Navy vessels into the region in a show of force to deter North Korea, which on Tuesday conducted large-scale, live-fire artillery drills.
On Wednesday, the White House hosted all 100 senators for a classified briefing on North Korea by Trump's secretary of state, defense secretary, top general and national intelligence director.
The briefing team was to meet later with House members in the Capitol.
The most recent previous Minuteman 3 launch was in early February.