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Friday, February 26, 2016, 15:53

US military test-fires ICBM

By Reuters

US military test-fires ICBM
In this Feb 20, 2016 file photo provided by US Air Force, an unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile launches during an operational test at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. (US Air Force via AP, File)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif - The US military test fired its second intercontinental ballistic missile in a week late on Thursday to demonstrate the reliability of American nuclear arms at a time of rising strategic tensions with countries like Russia and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK).

The unarmed Minuteman III missile blasted off from a silo at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California shortly before midnight, a Reuters reporter witnessed, headed toward a target area near Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands of the South Pacific.

Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work said the US tests, conducted at least 15 times since January 2011, send a message to strategic competitors like Russia, China and DPRK that Washington has an effective nuclear arsenal.

"That's exactly why we do this," Work told reporters prior to the launch.

"We and the Russians and the Chinese routinely do test shots to prove that the operational missiles that we have are reliable. And that is a signal ... that we are prepared to use nuclear weapons in defense of our country if necessary."

Demonstrating the reliability of the nuclear force has taken on additional importance recently because the US arsenal is near the end of its useful life and a spate of scandals in the nuclear force two years ago raised readiness questions.

The Defense Department has poured millions of dollars into improving conditions for troops responsible for staffing and maintaining the nuclear systems. The administration also is putting more focus on upgrading the weapons.

President Barack Obama's final defense budget unveiled this month calls for a US$1.8 billion hike in nuclear arms spending to overhaul the country's aging nuclear bombers, missiles, submarines and other systems.

The president's US$19 billion request would allow the Pentagon and Energy Department to move toward a multiyear overhaul of the atomic arms infrastructure that is expected to cost US$320 billion over a decade and up to 1 trillion dollars over 30 years.

The nuclear spending boost is an ironic turn for a president who made reducing US dependence on atomic weapons a centerpiece of his agenda during his first years in office.

Obama called for a world eventually free of nuclear arms in a speech in Prague and later reached a new strategic weapons treaty with Russia. He received the Nobel Peace Prize in part based on his stance on reducing atomic arms.

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