The United States Air Force tested a new intermediate-range ballistic missile this week. The missile blasted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California and headed west, into the Pacific Ocean. The still-unnamed missile was developed after the U.S. government accused Russia of cheating on the 1987 INF Treaty, which Washington later abandoned.
Preparations for the missile were detected the day before, when a NOTAM, or “Notice to Airmen” was put out for what was pretty clearly a launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base. The NOTAM warned of airspace hazards and the launch point corresponded with Vandenberg, which had not announced any scheduled launches. The NOTAM, and coordinates, were posted on Twitter.
The test apparently went off without a hitch. The missile traveled 500 kilometers--a distance formerly forbidden by the INF Treaty--before splashing down in the Pacific. According to Defense News, the test involved the U.S. Air Force and the Pentagon’s Strategic Capabilities Office, which specializes in taking existing technology and systems and repurposing them to take on new missions.
It’s not clear how the Pentagon put together a new missile so quickly. Pentagon officials told Defense News that the prime contractor for the test was Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems. Northrop Grumman builds a mock intermediate-range ballistic missile to test U.S. ballistic missile defenses. A logical start for building an IRBM would be a missile designed to replicate an IRBM’s performance.