The US Air Force has canceled a planned test for the Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile, with the Pentagon stating the decision was made out of an “overabundance of caution” amid soaring tensions with Russia following its attack on Ukraine.
Initially planned for March, the missile drill was postponed after Moscow ordered its nuclear forces on higher alert status due to what Russian President Vladimir Putin deemed “aggressive statements” from the NATO alliance. On Friday, however, the military confirmed that the test had been scrapped entirely.
“The launch had been previously delayed due to an overabundance of caution to avoid misinterpretation or miscommunication during the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine and was canceled for the same reason,” the Pentagon told Newsweek, adding that the next test launch is set for “later this year.”
Reached by Reuters, Air Force spokesperson Ann Stefanek said the decision would not affect “the readiness of the strategic forces of the United States.”
In announcing the initial delay last month, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said Washington wanted to avoid “any actions that can be misunderstood or misconstrued” by Russia, calling the move a “strong, clear, unambiguous message to Mr. Putin [about] how seriously we take our nuclear responsibilities at a particularly tense time.” He added that several tests are conducted annually and are usually planned three to five years in advance.
News of the canceled test came the same day Moscow ordered its military to shore up Russia’s western border, which Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said “will be done in a way to make us secure and ensure we reach the required level of parity so that it wouldn’t cross anyone’s mind… to attack us.”
The Pentagon has called off other Minuteman drills in the past, including last May after the missile malfunctioned during countdown. The Barack Obama administration also postponed a test in 2013 due to hostilities with the DPRK, with a senior defense official telling ABC that it “might be misconstrued by some as suggesting that we were intending to exacerbate the current crisis with North Korea.”
The LGM-30G Minuteman III is the sole land-based ICBM in the US arsenal and makes up one leg of the nuclear triad, next to long-range strategic bombers and Trident submarine-launched ballistic missiles. It has a range of around 6,000 miles and can travel at speeds of more than 17,000 miles per hour.