Putin nuclear threats cause US to cancel ballistic missile test – risk of miscalculation

Ukraine forces appear to shoot down a Russian military helicopter

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The Air Force confirmed the cancellation of its Minuteman III test after Moscow announced earlier on Friday that it would militarily strengthen its Western borders with Europe. The US had previously delayed the ICBM test on March 2 when Russia said it was putting its nuclear forces on high alert.

Washington said at the time it was important both the United States and Russia “bear in mind the risk of miscalculation and take steps to reduce those risks.”

But it had publicly stated its intent only to delay the test “a little bit,” and not cancel it.

Air Force spokesperson Ann Stefanek told Reuters that the decision to cancel the test of the LGM-30G Minuteman III missile was due to the same reasons as when it had first been delayed.

The next Minuteman III test is scheduled to take place later this year.

Mr Stefanek said: “The Air Force is confident in the readiness of the strategic forces of the United States.”

The nuclear-capable Minuteman III is a key part of the US military’s strategic arsenal and has a range of 6,000-plus miles [9,660-plus km] and can travel at a speed of approximately 15,000 miles per hour [24,000 kph].

Missiles are dispersed in hardened underground silos operated by launch crews,
In response, the US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin made the decision to cancel the ballistic missile test that was scheduled for early March, “to demonstrate we are a responsible nuclear power.”

Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby claimed the move was a show of “restraint” amid warnings that Putin would be deploying vacuum bombs and cluster munitions across the border.

He assured the nation during a press conference on March 2: “This is not a step backward in our readiness, nor does it imply that we will necessarily cancel other routine activities to ensure a credible nuclear capability.

“We did not take this decision lightly, but instead to demonstrate that we are a responsible nuclear power.

“We remain confident in our strategic posture.”

Altering the test schedule for America’s ICBM force can be controversial.

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US Senator Jim Inhofe, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, expressed disappointment in March at the delay of a test he said was critical to ensure America’s nuclear deterrent remains effective.

Jeffrey Lewis, a missile researcher at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS), played down the impact of the cancellation.
Mr Lewis said: “There’s a value to doing the tests but I don’t think missing one test in the grand scheme of things is a really big deal.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin said in February that his nation’s nuclear forces should be put on high alert, raising fears that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine could lead to nuclear war.

But US officials have said they have seen no reason so far to change Washington’s nuclear alert levels.

Russia and the United States have by far the biggest arsenals of nuclear warheads after the Cold War that divided the world for much of the 20th century, pitting the West against the Soviet Union and its allies.

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