$70 million missile destroyed in failed test

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. (AP -- An unarmed Peacekeeper intercontinental ballistic missile was destroyed early Friday when a test launch went awry, the Air Force said.

The missile lifted off at 1:01 a.m. from the central coast base and was destroyed by launch controllers three minutes later.

No information about what went wrong was available, Sgt. Rebecca Bonilla said.

An investigative board was being formed.

The missile was supposed to carry nine unarmed re-entry vehicles 4,800 miles across the Pacific Ocean to a target in the Kwajalein Atoll. The test was intended to verify the accuracy and reliability of the Peacekeeper missiles.

The test had been delayed for one day for monitoring of data from the missileOs guidance system.

The Peacekeeper was selected for the test from operational missiles at F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyo. The launch was conducted by the 30th Space Wing and the 576th Flight Test Squadron at Vandenberg and the 400th Missile Squadron from F.E. Warren.

The 70-foot-long, 198,000-pound Peacekeepers, which cost about $70 million each, are ejected 50 feet out of a launch facility by pressurized gas before the first of four boosters ignite.

Last month the Bush administration proposed retiring all 50 of the Air ForceOs Peacekeepers, the most accurate U.S. nuclear ICBM, in 2002. That would reduce the U.S. arsenal of land-based long-range nuclear missiles to 500 Minuteman IIIs, which carry three warheads each.

Known during development as the MX missile, a Peacekeeper was first successfully launched on June 17, 1983, at Vandenberg.


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