US test-fires Medium-Range Cruise Missile after exiting INF treaty

The United States Department of Defense (DoD) announced successful testing of a medium-range ground-launched cruise missile, just weeks after withdrawing from Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, a Cold War-era pact with Russia eliminating that class of nuclear-capable weapons.

Key Highlights

The missile was launched from US Navy-controlled San Nicolas Island off the coast of Los Angeles in California.

The test cruise missile exited its ground mobile launcher and accurately impacted its target after more than 500 kilometers (310 miles) of flight. INF treaty banned development of missiles with a range of 500-5,500 kilometres.

The missile tested was a version of nuclear-capable Tomahawk cruise missile. The ground-launched version of Tomahawk was removed from service after INF Treaty was ratified.

Although the missile was described as ‘conventionally configured’ by US, which means it is not nuclear-equipped, but the launch was a sign of US increasing its nuclear war-fighting capabilities in wake of the collapse of INF Treaty on 2 August 2019.

Data collected and lessons learned from this test will inform DoDs development of future intermediate-range capabilities.

The 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty banned all land-based missiles, conventional and nuclear, that could travel between 500 and 5,500 kilometers. It worked towards abolishing a class of nuclear arms being deployed by United States and the then-Soviet Union that left Europe most threatened.

Concern:

Many fear that the end of INF, which US accused Russia of having violated in recent years, will lead to a new and dangerous nuclear arms race.

In early August 2019 US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper highlighted that since US is no longer bound by INF therefore it had already begun work to develop mobile, conventional, ground-launched cruise and ballistic missile systems.

Defence secretary stressed that US was not embarking on a new arms race as currently US don’t have plans to build nuclear-tipped INF-range weapons. However US would like to deploy new intermediate-range missiles in Asia, a move that would likely anger China, which was not party to the INF.

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