On Thursday, the United States carried out a test of a prototype ground-launched ballistic missile in a capability demonstration designed to underscore Washington’s departure from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.
“The U.S. Air Force, in partnership with the Strategic Capabilities Office, conducted a flight test of a prototype conventionally-configured ground-launched ballistic missile from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California,” Robert Carver, a spokesperson for the Pentagon, said in a statement.
The Strategic Capabilities Office is charged to speedily repurposing existing U.S. military and civilian technologies for urgent defense applications.
“The test missile exited its static launch stand and terminated in the open ocean after more than 500 kilometers of flight. Data collected and lessons learned from this test will inform the Department of Defense’s development of future intermediate-range capabilities.”
The exact specifications of the missile are unknown and the flight range remains unspecified by U.S. authorities. A Notice to Airmen published ahead of the test suggests that the missile likely flew to a maximum range of 1,000 – 1,200 kilometers.
In a separate statement, Vandenberg Air Force Base said that the test “ marked the second of a prototype conventionally-configured ground-launched missile system since the U.S. withdrew from the INF Treaty in August.”
In August, the United States conducted a test of a ground-launched cruise missile from San Nicolas Island in California. The cruise missile appeared to be a variant of the U.S. Navy’s Tomahawk missile and was launched from a Mark 41 Vertical Launch System canister mounted on a trailer.
The test took place weeks after the effectuation of the United States’ withdrawal from the treaty. American withdrawal came five years after the United States first accused Russia of developing a ground-launched cruise missile furtively in violation of the treaty. Moscow denied that it ever violated the treaty.
Signed in 1987 by U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in the final years of the Cold War, the INF Treaty was a landmark arms control agreement that barred both countries from developing, possessing, testing or deploying ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with a range of 500 to 5,500km.
Air- and sea-launched missiles – both nuclear and conventional – were not included.
As part of the treaty’s implementation, U.S. Pershing II ground-launched ballistic missiles were verifiably dismantled, along with the BGM-109G Ground Launched Cruise Missile. The Soviet Union destroyed its SS-20, SS-4, SS-5, SS-12, and SS-23 ballistic missiles in addition to its SSC-X-4 cruise missiles.
According to reporting earlier in 2019, U.S. officials are seeking to develop two new post-INF missile capabilities, including a “low-flying cruise missile with a potential range of about 1,000 kilometers” and a “ballistic missile with a range of roughly 3,000 to 4,000 kilometers.”
The missile tested on Thursday may represent a prototype precursor to the latter.
A video of Thursday’s test is available here.