Vandenberg Air Force Base is a United States Air Force Base that is located approximately 9 miles north west of Lompoc, California. Santa Barbara is 57 miles to the south, Paso Robles is 90 miles to the north. Vandenberg AFB is under the jurisdiction of the 30th Space Wing, Air Force Space Command (AFSPC).
Vandenberg serves a number of functions, one of which is providing support for the Air Force's Minuteman III LGM-30G Intercontinental Ballistic Missile Force Development Evaluation Program. This base essentially operates as the Department of Defense's space and missile testing base, with a mission of placing satellites into polar orbit using expendable rocket boosters, such as the Atlas V, Delta IV, Minotaur, Pegasus, Taurus and just recently started launching the Space X's Falcon 9 booster, which is capable of producing 4 million pounds of thrust.
On a periodic basis, the Air Force Global Strike Command, (AFGSC) which oversees the current 450 Minuteman III missile force, test one of its Minuteman missiles at Vandenberg AFB. A number of these missiles were active missiles randomly pulled from one of the Launch Facilities at either Malmstrom AFB, Minot AFB or F.E. Warren AFB, shipped to Vandenberg and once the warhead was removed, the missile is then launched to assure the reliability and accuracy of the Minuteman missile weapon system.
The Airmen who maintain and operate the Minuteman weapon system year round, do so in some significantly challenging environments. These test missile launches are a product of their tireless devotion to the mission of nuclear deterrence.
In the image above, the launch team was under the direction of the 576th Flight Test Squadron at Vandenberg AFB. It also included Airmen from the 341st Missile Wing, Malmstrom AFB, Montana, as well the 625th Strategic Operations Squadron, Offutt AFB, Neb.
With these launches, Airmen from Malmstrom, Minot, or FE Warren AFB are chosen from their respective missile wing, and are able to accompany the Minuteman missile that was pulled from their AFB and participate in the test launch of one of the active missiles they were responsible for.
These men and women find the experience of participating in the launch of one of "their" missiles to be immensely fulfilling, and are an example of the pride, dedication and precision they exhibit in executing their mission, day in, day out, 24/7, 365 days a year.
In the image above, you can see the 576th Flight Test crew, working on the Post Boost Vehicle for a Minuteman missile. These test launches provide valuable, tangible hands on training for these missile crews. They can see first hand the product of their labor. What better way to be rewarded for your constant training, than to service the component/components you specialize in with that missile, assemble the components, and then watch that missile launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base?
These test launches are using unarmed Minuteman missiles. Often times the Air Force will install a test Reentry Vehicle that has computer equipment installed that allows the launch team the ability to gather telemetry data on how accurate that missile system was able to deliver the test Reentry Vehicle to its target.
The intended target is 4200 miles away at the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands. The Kwajalein Atoll has been used for years to test the accuracy of these ICBM missiles. They have test equipment in place at the Kwajalein Atoll, which observes, tracks and records the Reentry Vehicle as it reenters the atmosphere and hits its intended target.
Of equal importance, these launches provide vital information on how reliable the missile system is overall. From the point of starting to prepare the missile prior to launch, emplacing the missile into the Launch Facility, connecting all of the essential equipment, and the final countdown to launch. Computers gather a wealth information of this entire process, and the Air Force is able to utilize these test results in constantly evaluating and improving the Minuteman weapon system.
Vandenberg's beginnings started back in 1941 as an Army base. The Army was looking for an ideal training location, and found it in the 86,000 acres they acquired consisting of open ranch lands between Lompoc and Santa Maria, California. The Army was drawn to the number of canyons in the area, surrounding hills, flat plateaus and the distinct remoteness from populated areas.
The Army started construction on the camp in September, 1941. With the completion of the camp a number of months away, the Army activated the camp on October 5, 1941, and the camp was given the designation of Camp Cooke in honor of Major General Phillip St. George Cooke. General Cooke was a cavalry officer whose military career stretched back close to 50 years.
Cooke graduated from West Point in 1827 and retired from the military in 1873. General Cooke was involved in the Mexican War, the Indian Wars, and the Civil War.
As the focus on developing a missile weapon system began to unfold in the 1950s, a significant need for an adequate training site that could also serve the function as the United State's first combat ready missile base. A select committee was formed that studied more than 200 potential sites before Camp Cooke was chosen, primarily for the same features the Army had hinged its decision to establish Camp Cooke in 1941.
In June, 1957 Camp Cooke was transferred to the Air Force, and it was renamed Cooke Air Force Base. Approximately 16 months later, Cooke Air Force Base was renamed Vandenberg Air Force Base in recognition of the late General Hoyt S. Vandenberg, the Air Force's second Chief of Staff.
A unique feature connected to Vandenberg Air Force Base is the way they have organized the security that is provided to the base. To this writers knowledge, Vandenberg is the only U.S. Air Force base that utilizes horseback patrols as a part of its security operation.
The base has approximately 45 miles of coastline that Vandenberg borders. Air Force security do use All Terrain Vehicles on a number of the beaches that the base is located on, but with the numerous rugged canyons, draws, and gullies within the confines of the coastal property, access by an ATV is just too difficult, and overall is not practical. That is where the sure footedness of a horse comes in.
Vandenberg's AFB website has this video available on its website. You can view this close to 2 minute video below. Contingent on whether your web browser prefers to play a WMV video file or an MP4, you can choose below.