The Biden administration on Thursday postponed a routine test launch of an Air Force Minuteman III intercontinental missile to avoid further escalating tensions with China.
The US has repeatedly postponed tests this year as Beijing ramps up its rhetoric about Taiwan, which it sees as Chinese territory, and because Russia is waging war in Ukraine.
This time, the test was postponed after China deployed dozens of planes and fired missiles near Taiwan in response to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit.
The test would 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 appease Chinese leader Xi Jinping.
The US military on Thursday postponed a previously planned test of its intercontinental ballistic missile in a bid to avoid escalating 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 has postponed the test to “clear any misunderstandings given the PRC’s actions in Taiwan”
Republicans were quick to accuse the Pentagon of calming down Chinese leader Xi Jinping
Minuteman III nuclear missile: The $7 million warhead that can travel 6,000 miles at 15,000 mph
The Minuteman III, along with the United States’ submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) and nuclear weapons carried by strategic long-range bombers, forms the United States’ land-based ICBM of the nation’s nuclear triad.
It is a strategic weapons system that uses a ballistic missile with an intercontinental range. Missiles are distributed in hardened silos to protect against attacks and connected to an underground launch control center via a system of hardened cables.
The $7,000,000 Minuteman III weighs 79,432 pounds and can travel 6,000 miles at 15,000 mph.
The 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 at short notice.
The Minuteman entered service in 1962 as a deterrent weapon capable of hitting Soviet cities, while the Minuteman-II entered 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 ICBM with multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles (MIRV): three smaller warheads that enhanced the missile’s ability to hit targets defended by AMBs.
In 1970 during the Cold War, 1,000 Minuteman missiles were deployed, but by 2017 the number had dwindled to 400, deployed in missile silos around Malmstrom AFB, Montana; Minot AFB, North Dakota; and F.E. Warren AFB, Wyoming.
Beginning in 2027, Minuteman will be gradually replaced by the new Ground Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD) ICBM to be built by Northrop Grumman beginning in 2027.
A defense official said Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin had ordered the postponement to avoid further escalating tensions.
“This is a long-planned test, but it is being postponed to clear up misunderstandings given the PRC’s actions around Taiwan,” the official said, referring to the People’s Republic of China.
The Minuteman III is an essential part of the US military’s strategic arsenal.
The nuclear missile has a range of over 6,000 and can travel at speeds of up to 25,000 miles per hour.
Development of the original Minuteman began in the 1950s and takes its name from the colonial Minutemen of the American Revolutionary War, who were ready to fight at short notice.
Representative Mike Rogers (R-AL), Republican leader on the House Armed Services Committee, condemned the decision, which he said was intended to “soften Xi’s tantrums.”
“This news comes after China conducted live fire drills following the House Speaker’s visit to Taiwan,” he said.
“These slack, pearl-pinching attempts at reconciliation harm our willingness and will only lead to further aggression from our adversaries.”
A March test was also postponed after Russia said it was putting its nuclear forces on edge. It was postponed to April before being postponed again.
Washington said at the time it was important that both countries “keep in mind the risk of miscalculation and take steps to mitigate those risks.” However, officials said the intention was only to delay the test “a little”, not to cancel it.
This time it’s because China is holding live fire drills in the waters around Taiwan.
The autonomous island said China fired 11 ballistic missiles into waters off its southwestern and northeastern coasts on Thursday over a two-hour period.
Beijing also pitted fighter jets and sent some of its most modern warships to encircle the island in what state media say is rehearsal for an invasion. The exercises will run through Sunday and will include long-range bombers and hypersonic missiles. China’s two aircraft carriers also hold close position.
US forces — including the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan deployed forward with the Pacific Fleet — are said to lurk nearby, while missile-tracking spy planes have been sent to monitor the exercises.
China fires short-range ballistic missiles into waters near Taiwan on Thursday as four days of live-fire drills begin that will effectively blockade the island in its biggest threat to its independence in decades
Chinese missile batteries open fire from shore at Pingtang Island across the Taiwan Strait as Beijing kicks off its biggest-ever war games around the self-governing island
In this image, taken from video footage carried out by China’s CCTV, a projectile is launched from an unspecified location in China, Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022. China says it carried out “precision missile strikes” in the Taiwan Strait
Xi Jinping announced the drills and used 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 visit from a Senate delegation went unanswered.
Earlier, State Secretary Antony Blinken tried to ease tensions and accused China of creating 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 in our position and I sincerely hope that Beijing will not create a crisis or look for a pretext to step up 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.
Washington has reached out to Beijing to de-escalate tensions, he said.