WASHINGTON — The United States has tested a new ground-based cruise missile capable of going over 500 kilometers in range, less than three weeks after officially exiting an arms treaty that banned such systems.
The test occurred 2:30 PM local time Sunday at San Nicolas Island, California, 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 department said.
“Data collected and lessons learned from this test will inform the Department of Defense’s development of future intermediate-range capabilities.”
The United States exited the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty Aug. 2, following through on a decision made late last year that the treaty no longer benefited American interests.
The INF was a 1987 pact with the former Soviet Union that banned ground-launched nuclear and conventional ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 500 to 5,000 kilometers. However, the United States and NATO allies have for years declared Russia in violation of the agreement.
American officials have stressed 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.”
During a recent trip to the Pacific, Esper also said he would like such weapon systems to end up in Asia as a deterrent to China. The governments in both Australia and South Korea quickly denied that any discussions about such a deployment had occurred, and Esper later downplayed his comments as a future objective.
Congress will have a say in how such systems are developed or deployed. On Capitol Hill, a flashpoint in the fight is $96 million the administration requested to research and test ground-launched missiles that could travel within the agreement’s prohibited range.
The Democrat-controlled House passed a spending bill that would deny the funding ― and a defense authorization bill that would deny it until the administration shares an explanation of whether existing sea- and air-launched missiles could suffice. Senate Republicans are expected to fight that language during the reconciliation process.