by Airman 1st Class Ian Dudley
30th Space Wing Public Affairs
4/2/2015 - VADENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- The
576th Flight Test Squadron, which conducts Minuteman III launches from
Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, holds the unique distinction as
the sole intercontinental ballistic missile test unit in the Department
The 576th FLTS gathers valuable flight and equipment data from the ICBM
tests, ensuring the weapons system remains operationally effective and
"I love the missile test mission; this mission is awesome," said Capt.
Erik Holmstrom, 576th FLTS ICBM flight test manager. "We are the only
ICBM test squadron in the Department of Defense and it is a tough task
to make sure you get it right. The tests also demonstrate to our
adversaries that this weapon system works and it assures our allies that
they don't need to develop nuclear weapons because we have them, and
they are very functional."
The unarmed Minuteman III missiles launched from Vandenberg AFB are
taken from the missile fields at Malmstrom AFB, Montana; Minot AFB,
North Dakota; or F. E. Warren AFB, Wyoming, and brought to Vandenberg
"The reentry vehicles used on our test launches do not have any nuclear
components in them," said Capt. Joe Liles, 576th FLTS chief of ICBM
field test management. "They are virtually identical to them in flight
characteristics but the nuclear material is replaced with measurement
equipment for gathering flight data."
Testing ICBMs is only a small part of what the flight test squadron
does, and when not launching a Minuteman III ICBM, they are maintaining
and upgrading the older test equipment and testing other sustainment and
weapon system upgrades.
"A lot of people think our mission here is to conduct operational test
launches when in fact that is only a quarter of our mission," said
Liles. "We are responsible for testing every piece of equipment, either
new or an upgrade that touches the Minuteman III weapon system. It could
be anything from an upgrade on a communications system or a new vehicle
that is built to support the ICBM fleet. We test it, evaluate it and
provide our recommendation as to whether it should be used."
Although the 576th FLTS conducts the test launch, the missile launch crew is from the same base as the missile being tested.
"For test purposes we want to make it as operationally realistic as
possible, so we bring the real operators, the real people who would use
this system here," said Liles. "Another thing we are evaluating is their
ability to use this system in the first place. If the operator can't
use it then it doesn't work, even if it physically does work."
While the ICBM test mission serves primarily to test the reliability of
ICBMs, it also provides a deterrent for potential adversaries.
"Through testing, we are able to accomplish three things," said Col.
Kelvin Townsend, 576th FLTS commander. "First, we are able to validate
the reliability, accuracy and performance of the weapon system.
Secondly, we demonstrate the capability of America's land-based ICBM
force through flight tests. Finally, we are able to identify potential
issues with the weapon system early so as to ensure the Minuteman III
weapon system is effective and sustainable."