U.S. Postpones Minuteman III Test Launch to Show 'Nuclear Responsibility'

Pentagon officials announced Wednesday the postponement of an upcoming test launch of the Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile as a means of showing America's status as a "responsible nuclear power."

The delay will not have an effect on the readiness of U.S. military forces, including nuclear weapons, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said at a Wednesday press conference. The announcement also comes as Russian President Vladimir Putin has said in recent days that the Russian military's nuclear forces would be placed on alert due to the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.

"We recognize, at this moment of tension, how critical it is that both the United States and Russia bear in mind the risk of miscalculation and take steps to reduce those risks," Kirby said, explaining that the delayed test is designed to "demonstrate that we have no intention in engaging in any actions that can be misunderstood or misconstrued."

He said it was not a decision that Pentagon officials took lightly, but felt it was necessary to act responsibly.

The U.S. military usually conducts at least two tests of the technology per year to ensure that the estimated stockpile of over 400 are still effective, according to Missile Threat, a product of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

A previous test that took place last August saw one of the Minuteman III missiles launch from a base in California, traveling about 4,200 miles and detonating explosives before making contact with the surface of the ocean, according to the Air Force.

"Test launches are not a response or reaction to world events or regional tensions," said Lieutenant Colonel Aaron Boudreau following the August test. "The launch calendars are built five years in advance, and planning for each individual launch begins six months to a year prior to launch.

The Air Force said at the time that the test launches provide the military with valuable data regarding the accuracy and reliability of the ICBM system and confidence that the missile can be deployed safely and accurately in a real conflict.

President Joe Biden, along with other U.S. military officials and NATO, have all said following Putin's "combat readiness" order for Russia's nuclear forces that there is no reason to be worried about a nuclear conflict and refused to raise threat levels.

Several experts told Newsweek earlier this week that Putin using such a weapon on Ukraine was very unlikely because of the catastrophic effect it could have on the rest of Europe and the western portion of Russia. The White House has repeated that stance, but still said discussions and threats of nuclear weapons should be avoided entirely.

"We think provocative rhetoric like this regarding nuclear weapons is dangerous, adds to the risk of miscalculation, should be avoided and we will not indulge in it," White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday.

Update 3/2/22 5:07 p.m. ET: This story has been updated with additional context and information.

Pentagon Minuteman Missile Launch Delay
Pentagon press secretary John Kirby conducts a news briefing at the Pentagon Wednesday in Arlington, Virginia. Kirby announced the delay of an upcoming test launch of a Minuteman III missile in efforts to reduce tension between the U.S. and Russia. Alex Wong/Getty Images