U.S. Tests Missile Banned for Decades, Ignoring Warnings from Russia

The United States has tested a land-launched cruise missile surpassing a limit set by a decades-old deal with Russia since scrapped by President Donald Trump's administration.

In a press release published Monday, the Pentagon announced that the previous day it "conducted a flight test of a conventionally-configured ground-launched cruise missile at San Nicolas Island, California." Notably, it stated that the "test missile exited its ground mobile launcher and accurately impacted its target after more than 500 kilometers of flight" or roughly 310 miles, a range once restricted by the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty signed by Washington and Moscow.

The U.S. has accused Russia of first violating the treaty through the development of its own land-based cruise missile, known as the Novator 9M729. Moscow has denied the charge, accusing Washington of having broken the agreement with defense systems suspected of being able to be used offensively as well.

"Data collected and lessons learned from this test will inform the Department of Defense's development of future intermediate-range capabilities," the Pentagon said Sunday, suggesting more such tests would be on the way in spite of repeating warnings from Russian President Vladimir Putin's administration, which has imposed on itself a moratorium against such launches with the stated goal of preventing a new arms race.

us cruise missile test inf treaty
The U.S. conducts a test flight of a conventionally-configured ground-launched cruise missile at San Nicolas Island, California, August 18. The weapon was said to have flown more than 310 miles, a range once restricted by a deal signed by Washington and Moscow in 1987 and since abandoned by both. U.S. Department of Defense

Prior to the test, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu told television station Rossiya-24 that Moscow was "keeping the door open" for talks on missiles once outlawed by the INF, reiterating the stance that "as long as the U.S. doesn't deploy such systems to Europe, we won't do the same, and as long as there are no US missiles in Asia, there won't be our missiles in the region."

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov argued a similar point Friday during an interview with the state-run Rossiya Sevodnya station, calling for Washington to adopt a like-minded pledge in response to Defense Secretary Mark Esper having earlier this month expressed proliferating such medium and intermediate-range missiles in Asia. Ryabkov stated that "American inquiries into the possibility of deploying IRBMs of any kind in any region of the world cannot but cause us the most serious concern."

While the Pentagon has not yet revealed what kind of weapons system was tested Sunday, the platform bore aesthetic similarities to the Mark 41 Vertical Launching System (Mk-41 VLS) used as part of the ship-based Aegis Combat System. In a statement sent to Newsweek, Pentagon spokesperson Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Robert N. Carver confirmed that an "MK41 was used" and that missile "was a variant of the Tomahawk Land Attack Missile."

Russia has for years argued that a similar system as part of the Aegis Ashore defense complex could be used to attack as well from an active site in Romania and another under development in Poland, thus a violation of the INF, but the U.S. has denied this.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had said that "Russia is solely responsible for the treaty's demise" due to the development of the 9M729 cruise missile in announcing the official U.S. exit earlier this month, but the Russian Foreign Ministry responded by arguing that "the deployment at U.S. military bases in Europe of Mk 41 launchers that have the capability to launch intermediate-range cruise missiles was already a grave violation of the Treaty."

As news of the new test broke, Russian President Vladimir Putin was meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron in Moscow, where both men discussed the INF Treaty. The Russian leader noted that the U.S. had yet to respond to his offer of suspending medium and intermediate-range missile deployment in Europe, though he has previously ordered defense officials to begin developing such weapons in response to the Trump administration's recent moves.

Update (8/19/2019) This article has been updated to include a statement from the Defense Department.