On Sunday, after the United States withdrew from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty on Aug. 2, the U.S. tested a new ground-based cruise missile that can range over 300 miles.
The Pentagon stated that the missile, which was launched from San Nicolas Island, California at 2:30 p.m., “exited its ground mobile launcher and accurately impacted its target after more than 500 kilometers of flight. Data collected and lessons learned from this test will inform the Department of Defense’s development of future intermediate-range capabilities.” Lt. Col Robert Carver, a Pentagon spokesman added, “The launcher used in Sunday’s test is a MK 41; however, the system tested is not the same as the Aegis Ashore Missile Defense System currently operating in Romania and under construction in Poland. Aegis Ashore is purely defensive. It is not capable of firing a Tomahawk missile. Aegis Ashore is not configured to fire offensive weapons of any type.”
Both the United States and its NATO allies have stated that Russia has flouted the terms of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty, which the U.S. signed with the Soviet Union in 1987. The treaty banned ground-launched nuclear and conventional ballistic and cruise missiles that could fly between roughly 310 to 3,100 miles. Armscontrol.org stated, “The United States first alleged in its July 2014 Compliance Report that Russia was in violation of its INF Treaty obligations ‘not to possess, produce, or flight-test’ a ground-launched cruise missile having a range of 500 to 5,500 kilometers or ‘to possess or produce launchers of such missiles.’ Subsequent State Department assessments in 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018 repeated these allegations.”
In March 2017, Gen. Paul Selva, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a House Armed Services Committee hearing that Russia had deploying a land-based cruise missile in violation of “the spirit and intent” of the INF treaty, adding, “We believe that the Russians have deliberately deployed it in order to pose a threat to NATO and to facilities within the NATO area of responsibility … We’ve begun an investigation of a series of potential strategy changes.”
As DefenseNews.com reports, “Secretary of Defense Mark Esper has said his department will fully pursue the development of these ground-launched conventional missiles as a prudent response to Russia’s actions and as part of the joint force’s broader portfolio of conventional strike options.” DefenseNews added, “Imagery of the test shows the weapon was launched from a Mark 41 Vertical Launch System, the same launcher used in the Aegis Ashore missile defense system. That is notable, as Russia has often claimed the Mk41 presence in Europe as a violation of the INF treaty, with the belief that the Aegis Ashore systems in Poland and Romania could be converted to offensive systems.”
In early August, Esper stated that having intermediate range precision weapons In Asia was important because of the great distances within the Indo-Pacific region, Military Times noted. He did not confirm exactly where such missiles would be located, but minimized reaction from China, saying that “80 percent plus of their inventory is intermediate range systems, so that shouldn’t surprise them that we would want to have a like capability.”