Pentagon again delays nuclear missile test amid Chinese drills near Taiwan

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WASHINGTON ― Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has again ordered the Pentagon to postpone a planned test launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile, this time amid increased tension with China over Taiwan, according to a department and a congressional source.

“This is a long-planned test. It will be rescheduled in future at a time of our choosing,” a defense official told Defense News.

It’s the second delay for the Minuteman III test after Austin ordered one in March be called off to quell tension with Russia over its invasion of Ukraine. The unarmed missile was due to be fired from Vandenberg Space Force Base, California, and splash down at the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands.

The Pentagon has yet to announce the scrubbed test or the rationale behind it, but it came as China conducted “precision missile strikes” Thursday in waters off Taiwan’s coasts as part of military exercises that have raised tension in the region following a visit by U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

The Wall Street Journal was first to report the move.

China earlier announced that military exercises by its Navy, Air Force and other departments were underway in six zones surrounding Taiwan, which Beijing claims as its own territory and has threatened to annex by force if necessary.

On Thursday, the U.S. Navy said its aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan was operating in the Philippine Sea, east of Taiwan, as part of “normal scheduled operations.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken addressed the drills Thursday, saying: “I hope very much that Beijing will not manufacture a crisis or seek a pretext to increase its aggressive military activity. We countries around the world believe that escalation serves no one and could have unintended consequences that serve no one’s interests.”

The delay triggered Capitol Hill pushback from Republicans. House Armed Services Committee ranking member Mike Rogers, R-Ala., framed the delays as concessions to Russia and China.

“These weak-kneed pearl-clutching attempts at appeasement hurt our readiness and will only invite further aggression by our adversaries,” Rogers said in a statement.

Tom Karako, director of the Missile Defense Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank, told Defense News the test’s delay is the wrong move.

“I hope at some point we figure out neither the Russians nor the Chinese are really going to be all that impressed by this kind of thing,” Karako said. “They probably respect strength more than weakness, action more than inaction.”

U.S. Air Force crews with the 576th Flight Test Squadron test four Minuteman III rockets per year from Vandenberg, according to the Pentagon. The tests are planned years in advance and publicized to avoid miscalculations.

Air Force Global Strike Command declined to comment and referred comment to the Pentagon.

In March, U.S. Strategic Command chief Adm. Charles Richard told lawmakers the U.S. had not altered the posture of its nuclear forces in response to Russia’s decision to put its forces on higher alert.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Joe Gould is senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry.

Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter at Defense News. He previously reported for, covering the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare. Before that, he covered U.S. Air Force leadership, personnel and operations for Air Force Times.

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About the Author

Tony Beasley
Tony Beasley writes for the Local News, US and the World Section of ANH.