The US post-INF cruise missile was tested with more than 500km of range. The test hit the target and will be used for future study and development.
The Pentagon did not publish many details about the US post-INF cruise missile test that happened on Sunday at San Nicolas Island, Calif. “Data collected and lessons learned from this test will inform the Department of Defense’s development of future intermediate-range capabilities,” said a statement released by the Pentagon.
CNN cited a US Department of Defense statement in the report of the experiment, saying the rocket was fired from its mobile ground launch platform on San Nicolas Island, California.
The test occurred at 2:30 PM Pacific time Sunday, according to a Pentagon announcement. The missile “exited its ground mobile launcher and accurately hit its target after more than 500 kilometers of flight,” the statement declared.
The United States exited the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty on August 2 following a decision late last year that the treaty no longer benefits US interests.
The INF was a 1987 treaty with the former Soviet Union that banned ground-launched nuclear and conventional ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 500 to 5,000 kilometers. Nevertheless, the United States and NATO allies have for years declared Russia in violation of the agreement.
American officials have emphasized they do not plan on building a nuclear ground-based cruise missile capability, but 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.”
U.S. officials considered non-compliance by Russia as placing the U.S. at a disadvantage and acting a direct threat to the U.S., allies and partner nations, Pompeo’s statement said. Pompeo’s statement did not say the U.S. would also pursue developing missiles previously banned by the INF treaty. Instead, Pompeo’s statement said, “Going forward, the United States calls upon Russia and China to join us in this opportunity to deliver real security results to our nations and the entire world.”
However, the next day, Reuters reported Secretary of Defense Mark Esper is almost certain that the U.S. would develop previously banned missiles, announcing he favored, “placing ground-launched, intermediate-range missiles in Asia relatively soon.”
“I don’t see an arms race happening, I do see us taking proactive measures to develop a capability that we need for both the European theater and certainly this theater,” Esper announced, according to the Reuters article.
The imagery of the first post-INF land-based cruise missile 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 negotiation, with the belief that the Aegis Ashore systems in Poland and Romania could be converted to offensive systems.
“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,” Lt. Col Robert Carver, a Pentagon spokesman, said. “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.”
When he published on Feb. 1 that the U.S. would pull the plug on the INF agreement, Donald Trump told his administration would “move forward” with developing a military response to Russia’s alleged violations. He was not specific, but defense officials on Wednesday spelled out a plan for developing two non-INF compliant, non-nuclear missiles.
The officials, who spoke to a small group of reporters under Pentagon ground rules that did not permit the use of their names or titles, said one project is a low-flying cruise missile with a potential range of about 1,000 kilometers; the other would be a ballistic missile with a range of roughly 3,000 to 4,000 kilometers. Neither would be nuclear-armed, the officials said.
The U.S. cruise missile is likely to be flight-tested in August, one official said, adding that it might be ready for deployment in 18 months. The longer-range ballistic missile is expected to be tested in November, with deployment not likely for five years or more, the official maintained. If Russia and the U.S. were to reach a deal to rescue the INF treaty before August, these plans would not go forward.