>The United States has tested a new ground-based cruise missile that is capable covering 500 kilometers in range, less than three weeks after officially exiting an arms treaty that banned such systems, Defense News reported.
The test occurred 2:30 PM Pacific time Sunday at San Nicolas Island, Calif., according to a Pentagon announcement. The missile “exited its ground mobile launcher and accurately impacted its target after more than 500 kilometers of flight,” the release said. “Data collected and lessons learned from this test will inform the Department of Defense’s development of future intermediate-range capabilities.”
China and Russia immediately accused the United States of stoking a new arms race, The Guardian reported.
Ground-launched versions of the missile had been removed from service decades ago, after the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces treaty was signed by Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987.
The treaty’s ban on missiles with ranges between 500 km and 5,500 km aimed to reduce the ability of both countries to launch a nuclear strike at short notice.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov condemned the latest US missile launch, but said Moscow was not looking to start a new arms race, and would not deploy any new missiles unless the US did first, The Guardian reported.
“All this elicits regret, the United States has obviously taken the course of escalating military tensions. We will not succumb to provocations,” the TASS news agency quoted him saying. “We won’t allow ourselves to be pulled into a costly arms race.”
Beijing also attacked the US for provocative behaviour, warning that the missile test could lead to “another round of the arms race,” and have a “serious negative impact” on international and regional security.
“We counsel the US side to abandon their outdated concepts of a cold war mentality and zero sum games, and exercise restraint in developing weapons,” Foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a news briefing.
US President Donald Trump made the decision to leave the INF treaty in February, giving six months notice, and blaming Russia for developing a suspect weapon that it said violated the treaty’s terms. Russia initially denied the missile existed, but more recently said its range did not violate those limits.
Globally, the end of the INF leaves just one major treaty providing formal restraint on the world’s major arsenals — the New START treaty — and it too is in jeopardy, The Guardian reported.
Trump has expressed interest in pursuing a new arms control agreement but one that includes Beijing. Concerns about China’s growing missile arsenal, which is not subject to any international arms control treaties, may have contributed to hawks in the US administration pushing to exit the INF treaty.
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, Defense News reported.
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.
“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.”