This video grab taken from a DoD (US Department of Defense) handout video released on Dec 12, 2019, shows a ballistic missile being launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. (PHOTO / HO / DoD / AFP)
WASHINGTON/MOSCOW — The Pentagon on Thursday flight-tested a missile that had been banned under a treaty that the United States and Russia abandoned last summer. Some US arms control advocates said the test risks an unnecessary arms race with Moscow.
Under the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces treaty, land-based cruise and ballistic missiles with a range between 500 kilometers and 5,500 kilometers were prohibited
The prototype missile was configured to be armed with a non-nuclear warhead. The Pentagon declined to disclose specifics beyond saying the missile was launched from a “static launch stand” at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California and landed in the open ocean. The Defense Department said the ballistic missile flew more than 500 miles.
Russia said on Friday it was alarmed after the US tested the missile that would have been prohibited under the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces 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 Trump administration formally withdrew from the 1987 INF pact with Russia in August after determining that Moscow was violating the treaty, an accusation the Kremlin has denied.
Under the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces treaty, land-based cruise and ballistic missiles with a range between 500 kilometers and 5,500 kilometers were prohibited.
The test comes amid growing uncertainty about the future of arms control. The last remaining treaty limitation on US and Russian nuclear weapons — the New START treaty of 2010 — is scheduled to expire in February 2021. That treaty can be extended for as long as five years without requiring a renegotiation of its main terms. The Trump administration has indicated little interest in doing so.
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The Pentagon declined to reveal the maximum range of the missile tested. Last spring, when US officials disclosed the testing plan, they said it would be roughly 3,000 kilometers to 4,000 kilometers. That is sufficient to reach potential targets in parts of China from a base on Guam, for example. The Pentagon has made no basing decisions and has suggested that it will take at least a few years before such a missile would be ready for deployment.
In a brief appearance before reporters after the test announcement, Defense Secretary Mark Esper was asked whether the Pentagon is considering deploying an INF-range missile to Europe.
“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," Esper said.
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Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, said the Pentagon's missile project is a mistake.
“This is a reckless and unnecessary escalation that's going to exacerbate tensions with Russia, China and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) — all of whom would be in range of this type of missile if it is ever deployed," Kimball said. “The other problem for the Defense Department is that there is no NATO or East Asia ally that has yet said they are interested in hosting such a missile because this would put them on the Russian, Chinese or DPRK target list."
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