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In a sobering doomsday signal to Moscow, Beijing, and Pyongyang, the Pentagon again showed it plans to leave the INF treaty behind and boldly risk sparking a new arms race by launching a prototype ballistic missile that blew past the old pact’s range limits, Breaking Defense reported.
In the second test of its kind since the US pulled out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty in August, the prototype ballistic missile flew more than 500 km before crashing into the ocean, as planned, while “data collected and lessons learned from this test will inform the Department of Defense’s development of future intermediate-range capabilities,” Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Robert Carver said in a statement.
In a previous test conducted just two weeks after withdrawing from the treaty, the Navy launched a Tomahawk Land Attack Cruise Missile from an island off the California coast, marking the first time a missile breached the 500-5,000km range barred by the treaty, putting competitors on notice that the US was ready to push ahead quickly, the report said.
Both tests were run in partnership with the Strategic Capabilities Office.
In it’s 2020 budget request, the Pentagon asked for US$96 million to continue research and begin testing ground-launched missiles that break the INF’s previously restrictive bounds. But any plans to buy one of these missiles in the near-term at least appears to be on hold until Capitol Hill understands the Pentagon’s plans a little better.
Congress blocked spending any fiscal 2020 funds on buying or fielding intermediate-range ballistic or cruise missiles. The prohibition is included in the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act agreed to Monday, just hours before the Army tested one of the competitors in it’s competition for a next-generation long-range missile.
That does not bar prototypes or other research ands development work. The Pentagon can keep working on them for the next year, but must submit a report to Congress with an Analysis of Alternatives for a future INF-busting missile.
Lawmakers also want more information on potential basing options in Europe and a rundown of what conversations the Pentagon has had with allies about plans for basing and deployment locations in the future.
Asked about possible deployments of the new missiles during a visit by the Czech defense minister to the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said, “once we develop intermediate-range missiles and if my commanders require them, then we will work closely and consult closely with our allies in Europe, Asia, and elsewhere with regards to any possible deployments.”
As far as what kind of missile was fired, Kingston Reif of the Arms Control Association said “it was probably some kind of Frankenstein using existing boosters and components. Of particular interest is whether it used anything from the Missile Defense Agency, especially given Russia’s claims that certain US missile defense programs violated the treaty.”
Reif called the test “more significant” than August’s Tomahawk launch since a ground-launched intermediate-range ballistic missile “could promptly strike deep into Russia, China, and North Korea.” That, of course, is exactly the capability the Pentagon wants.
Meanwhile, Russia said it was alarmed after the US tested a ground-launched ballistic missile that would have been prohibited under the INF Treaty, the RIA news agency reported.
“It alarms us. Of course we will take this into account,” said Vladimir Ermakov, head of the foreign ministry’s arms control and non-proliferation department.
The 1987 pact—signed by Soviet premier Mikhail Gorbachev and President Ronald Reagan—banned ground-launched nuclear and conventional missiles with ranges from 310 miles to 3,417 miles, Newsweek reported.
This forced the US and Soviet Union foes to remove some 2,700 short- and medium-range missiles from the battlefield, many of which were deployed along the Iron Curtain.
Officials from both nations have warned that a collapse of the INF Treaty could prompt a new arms race.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told journalists, “We’ve said more than once that the United States has been making preparations for violating the INF Treaty. This clearly confirms that the treaty was ruined at the initiative of the United States.”
Asked whether Russia had any information on the kind of missile tested or its capabilities, he replied, “I’m not in the position to make any comments from the technical standpoint [on] the missile’s parameters and characteristics.”
The US has accused Russia of developing and testing weapons that were banned under the INF Treaty, even while the agreement was still active.