Pentagon Plans to Test Long-Banned Nuclear-Capable Missiles This Year

March 15th, 2019 - by Jason Ditz /

Jason Ditz /

Tests to begin after August, when INF Treaty is canceled

(March 13, 2019) — With President Trump having suspended involvement in the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty in February, initial assurances that the US didn’t intend to start openly violating the former treaty seem to be scrapped, with Pentagon officials now affirming that this is exactly the plan.

Earlier this week, the Pentagon issued a statement announcing that they will begin making parts for intermediate-range, nuclear-capable missiles soon. In August, when the six month pullout process in completed, the Pentagon now says it intends to test missiles of the types that would’ve been explicitly banned under the INF.

This isn’t a treaty violation, of course. Indeed, the whole point is that the Pentagon is waiting until the moment the INF is dead to start doing these things. There are more disturbing questions, however, with how the US plans to deploy such missiles.

Historically, the US circumvented the INF by making ship-launched missiles. Land-based missiles in the INF range, 500 km to 5,500 km, would have no use in the US, because they wouldn’t be in range of anything.

Historically, US nuclear arms in that range were positioned in Europe and aimed at Russia. Vladimir Putin has already made clear that US missiles returning to Europe would lead to a new arms race, and while the US hasn’t announced that is their intention, yet, it’s not clear what else the missiles would be for.

On the other hand, most NATO nations in Europe probably aren’t going to want to play host to American nuclear weapons. Doing so would obviously make them a bigger target in a war with Russia, and would likely be generally unpopular within the host country.

US to Make Missile Parts Banned by Treaty Trump Suspended

Jason Ditz /

(March 11, 2019) — Just over a month after the US suspending cooperation with the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, the Pentagon has issued a statement saying they intend to begin making and testing parts for missiles that would explicitly violate that treaty.

The 1987 INF Treaty forbade the US and Russia from having any nuclear-capable missiles with a range over 500 km but under 5,500 km. The US disavowed the treaty in February, claiming a Russian missile technically violated the INF. This began a six-month process of the US withdrawing from the treaty outright.

The Pentagon statement confirmed that the US has been researching a missile that would violate the INF since 2017. They admitted the actions they are now taking would’ve been “inconsistent with our obligations under the treaty.”

Indications are that the US is going to make parts and test them for the rest of the six-month process of withdrawing from the treaty. The Pentagon says they want development to be reversible just in case the INF does remain intact. Failing that, the US will be well on its way to making such missiles.

US Plans Tests This Year of Long-banned Types of Missiles

Robert Burns / Associated Press

WASHINGTON (March 13, 2019) — The Pentagon plans to begin flight tests this year of two types of missiles that have been banned for more than 30 years by a treaty from which both the United States and Russia are expected to withdraw in August, defense officials said Wednesday.

By moving forward with these missile projects, the Pentagon is not excluding the possibility that the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty could still survive, although it likely will be terminated in August. At that point, Washington and Moscow would no longer face legal constraints on deploying land-based cruise or ballistic missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers (310 to 3,410 miles). The INF treaty has been in effect since 1987.

The INF treaty was an arms control landmark in the final years of the Cold War, but it began unraveling several years ago when Washington accused Russia of developing, testing and, more recently, deploying a cruise missile that U.S. officials say violates the treaty. Russia denies the violation and contends the U.S. accusation is a ploy to destroy the treaty.

Intermediate-range weapons are regarded as particularly destabilizing because of the short time they take to reach a target.

When he announced on Feb. 1 that the U.S. would pull the plug on the INF treaty, President Donald Trump said 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 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 within 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 said. If Russia and the U.S. were to reach a deal to rescue the INF treaty before August, these projects would not go forward.

The cruise missile recalls a nuclear-armed U.S. weapon that was deployed in Britain and several other European NATO countries in the 1980s, along with Pershing 2 ground-based ballistic missiles, in response to a buildup of Soviet SS-20 missiles targeting Western Europe. With the signing of the INF treaty, those missiles were withdrawn and destroyed.

The defense officials said U.S. allies in Europe and Asia have not yet been consulted about deploying either new missile on their territory. NATO is currently studying the implications of the demise of the INF treaty and possible military responses.

One defense official said it was possible that the intermediate-range ballistic missile could be deployed on Guam, a U.S. territory, which would be close enough to Asia to pose a potential threat to China and Russia.

Arms control advocates and Democrats in Congress have questioned the wisdom of leaving the INF treaty, while accepting U.S. allegations that Russia is violating it by deploying a cruise missile that can target American allies in Europe.

“The Russians have been violating the INF treaty for years but, instead of focusing world opinion against the Russians, the Trump administration decided to withdraw from the treaty,” Rep. Adam Smith, the Democratic chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said recently. “Instead of punishing the Russians, the administration has announced it would sink to the level of the Russians.”

Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, said Wednesday the Pentagon has not yet established a military requirement for a ground-launched cruise or ballistic missile of intermediate range.

“It is unwise for the U.S. and NATO to match an unhelpful action by Russia with another unhelpful action,” Kimball said. The alliance also needs to develop a post-INF arms control strategy because “if the United States tries to bully NATO into accepting deployment of such missiles, it is going to provoke a destabilizing action-reaction cycle and missile race.”