The US Air Force has test-launched an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of carrying nuclear warheads, a move that is expected to escalate simmering tensions with North Korea over its development of missiles and nuclear weapons.
The unarmed Minuteman III missile was launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base, 130 miles northwest of Los Angeles, California, and successfully hit the targetnear the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands.
The test was aimed at assessing the effectiveness, readiness, and accuracy of the missile system, the USAF said.
Colonel John Moss, the commander of the 30th Space Wing, said the Minuteman missiles need to be tested on a regular basis to ensure their reliability and to demonstrate the national nuclear capabilities.
The timing of the test was questioned by peace groups, with the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation calling it a “double standard” in the wake of rising tensions with Pyongyang.
“When it comes to missile testing, the US is operating with a clear double standard: It views its own tests as justified and useful, while it views the tests of North Korea as threatening and destabilizing,” the foundation’s president David Krieger said in a statement on Tuesday.
“What is needed is diplomacy rather than military provocations. Threats, whether in the form of tweets, nuclear-capable aircraft carrier groups, or nuclear-capable missile launches, only increase the dangers to us all.”
Washington has warned Pyongyang of a military confrontation if it does not stop its development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles.
The US has recently deployed a naval strike group to waters off the Korean Peninsula. A nuclear submarine is slated to join the strike group, which is currently carrying out joint drillswith Japanese forces.
The North has so far conducted five confirmed nuclear tests and numerous missile test-launches, and it is believed to be preparing for a sixth nuclear weapons test.
Earlier on Wednesday, the Pentagon began transporting parts of the controversial Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile system to a planned deployment site in South Korea.
Seoul and Washington reached an agreement over the THAAD’s deployment in July last year, declaring that the objective is to protect South Korea against the North’s alleged missile threats, a move that has been criticized by Russiaand China.