BARKSDALE AIR FORCE BASE, La. --
Twice a year, operational missile launch facilities and launch control centers are configured to simulate an unarmed missile launch using commands from an Airborne Launch Control System aboard a Navy E-6B Mercury.
The most recent test, known as a simulated electronic launch minuteman (SELM) test, was executed by Airmen of the 625th Strategic Operations Squadron from Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska, March 7, 2023.
A typical ICBM launch is initiated by Airmen in a launch control center, but a SELM is a little more unique. It involves ALCS officers flying near missile silos aboard a Navy E-6B that possesses the ability to launch an ICBM with the turn of a key if needed, similar to missileers launching an ICBM from underground.
“Our adversaries might try to take out a launch control center, but we can launch those ICBMs from the air,” said Maj. Cameron Reese, an ALCS officer. “We can provide that key turn on our aircraft to launch any missile. We can act as a backup launch control center if the situation called for it.”
This iteration involved not just the 625th STOS, but also Airmen from the 576th Flight Test Squadron from Vandenberg Space Force Base, California, the 341st Missile Wing from Malmstrom AFB, Montana, and the E-6B from the Navy’s Strategic Communications Wing One (SCW-1).
“A SELM test validates the combat capability of our fielded ICBM weapon system, to include the launch facilities, launch control centers and airborne launch control systems, which directly support U.S. Strategic Command,” said Capt. Stephen Hunter, an ALCS test conductor assigned to the 625th STOS. “The SELM does this while saving the taxpayer money and without risk of escalatory messaging that the equivalent number of operational test launches would require to accomplish the same task.”
Each SELM focuses on specific and differing test objectives and incorporates new challenges determined by the 625th STOS and 576th FTS, with the goal of furthering support to the nuclear enterprise. This SELM was the first using an E-6B which has undergone a block II modification, consisting of an upgrade to communication equipment onboard the aircraft.
“Nuclear deterrence is an inherently joint enterprise which provides a broad range of weapon system options with a resilient nuclear command, control and communications system that connects to national leadership,” said Hunter. “A SELM demonstrates to allies and adversaries that we will always be able to respond to threats, and attacking the U.S. or anyone under our extended deterrence umbrella will never be worth the consequences.”
While a SELM might not be as visible as an operational test launch, it provides a great deal of utility. Not only do these tests ensure the sustainment and capabilities of our nuclear forces that allow our citizens to sleep at night, but they also provide global stability which helps foster economic prosperity as well.
“When we have a positive test like this, it serves as an indication to allies and adversaries that our day-to-day use is effective and operating exactly like it's designed to,” said Capt. Raun Carnley, an ALCS officer and test participant. “It continues to add to that deterrence piece. This particular mission is so unique and serves as backup to the ICBM force, allowing it to be more survivable and adding another level of security.”