The Biden administration postponed a routine test launch of an Air Force Minuteman III intercontinental missile on Thursday to avoid further enflaming tensions with China.
The U.S. has repeatedly delayed tests this year as Beijing ramps up its rhetoric over Taiwan, which it views as Chinese territory, and as Russia waged war in Ukraine.
This time, the test was postponed after China deployed dozens of planes and fired missiles near Taiwan in a show of strength in response to the visit of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
The test was due to be conducted from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, officials told the Wall Street Journal.
Republicans were quick to condemn the move, at a time when they said it was wrong to placate Chinese leader Xi Jinping.
The U.S. military postponed a previously scheduled test of its intercontinental ballistic missile on Thursday in an effort to avoid enflaming tensions with China. The Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile is pictured during a test launch in October 2019
An official told the Wall Street Journal that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin postponed the test to ‘remove any misunderstandings given the PRC’s actions around Taiwan’
Republicans quickly accused the Pentagon of trying to placate Chinese leader Xi Jinping
Minuteman III nuclear missile: The $7million warhead that can travel 6,000 miles at 15,000 mph
The Minuteman III makes up the Unites States’ land-based ICBM of the nation’s nuclear triad, along with the Trident submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) and nuclear weapons carried by long-range strategic bombers.
It is a strategic weapon system using a ballistic missile of intercontinental range. Missiles are dispersed in hardened silos to protect against attack and connected to an underground launch control center through a system of hardened cables.
The $7,000,000 Minuteman III weighs 79,432 pounds and can travel 6,000 miles at 15,000mph.
Development of the missile began in the 1950s, and was named after the Colonial Minutemen of the American Revolutionary War, who could be ready to fight on short notice.
The Minuteman entered service in 1962 as a deterrence weapon that could hit Soviet cities, with the Minuteman-II entering service in 1965 with a number of upgrades to its accuracy and survivability in the face of anti-ballistic missile (AMB) systems.
In 1970, the Minuteman-III became the first deployed ICBM with multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles (MIRV): three smaller warheads that improved the missile’s ability to strike targets defended by AMBs.
By 1970 during the Cold War, 1,000 Minuteman missiles were deployed, but by 2017, the number had shrunk to 400, deployed in missile silos around Malmstrom AFB, Montana; Minot AFB, North Dakota; and F.E. Warren AFB, Wyoming.
From 2027 onwards, Minuteman will be progressively replaced by the new Ground Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD) ICBM from 2027 onwards to be built by Northrop Grumman.
A defense official said Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin ordered the delay to prevent tensions being raised further.
‘This is a long-planned test but it is being postponed to remove any misunderstandings given the PRC’s actions around Taiwan,’ the official said, referring to the People’s Republic of China.
The Minuteman III is a vital part of the U.S. military’s strategic arsenal.
The nuclear-capable missile has a range of more than 6,000 and can travel at speeds of up to 15,000 miles per hour.
Development of the original Minuteman began in the 1950s and it took its name from the Colonial Minutemen of the American Revolutionary War, who were ready to fight at short notice.
Rep Mike Rogers (R-AL), lead Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, condemned the decision which he said was designed to ‘placate Xi’s tantrums.’
‘This news comes after China conducted live-fire exercises following the Speaker of the House’s visit to Taiwan,’ he said.
‘These weak-kneed pearl-clutching attempts at appeasement hurts our readiness and will only invite further aggression by our adversaries.’
A March test was also delayed after Russia said it was putting its nuclear forces on high alert. It was postponed till April before being delayed again.
Washington said at the time that it was important both nations ‘bear in mind the risk of miscalculation and take steps to reduce those risks.’ However, officials said the intent was only to delay the test ‘a little bit,’ not cancel it.
This time it comes as China holds live fire exercises in the waters around Taiwan.
The autonomous island said China fired 11 ballistic missiles into waters off its south-western and north-eastern coasts on Thursday during a two-hour period.
Beijing also scrambled fighter jets and sent some of its most up-to-date warships to surround the island, in what state media said is a rehearsal for an invasion. The drills are due to last until Sunday, and are due to including long-range bombers and hypersonic missiles. China’s two aircraft carriers are also holding position nearby.
American forces – including the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier which is forward-deployed with the Pacific Fleet – are thought to be lurking nearby, while missile-tracking spy planes have been sent to watch over the drills.
Xi Jinping announced the exercises using US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s trip to the island – which took place from Tuesday and Wednesday – as an excuse.
She is the most-senior politician to visit since Newt Gingrich in 1997, but her trip came shortly after a Senate delegation visit drew no response.
Earlier, Secretary of State Antony Blinken attempted to ease tensions and accused China of trying to manufacture a crisis.
‘We remain committed to our One China policy guided by our commitments to the Taiwan Relations Act, communiqués. … And I want to emphasize: nothing has changed our position and I hope very much that Beijing will not manufacture a crisis or seek a pretense to increase its aggressive military action,’ he said at the ASEAN-US ministerial meeting in Cambodia.
Much of the world believed that escalation could have ‘unintended consequences’ that would serve no-one’s interests,’ he added.
China fires short-range ballistic missiles into waters near Taiwan on Thursday, as four days of live-fire exercises kick off that will effectively blockade the island in the biggest threat to its independence in decades
Chinese missile batteries open fire from the coast near Pingtang Island across the Taiwan Strait as Beijing begins its biggest-ever war games around the self-governing island