The Pentagon said a modified ground-launched version of a US Navy Tomahawk cruise missile armed with a conventional, not nuclear, warhead, struck its target after flying more than 500 kilometres.

By Ian Horswill

Posted on August 20, 2019

It took just 16 days for the US to fire a type of missile banned for more than 30 years by a treaty that the US and Russia abandoned earlier this month, the Pentagon said.

The missile test off the coast of California on Sunday (local time) may spark the resumption of an arms race that analysts worry could inflame US-Russian tensions.

The Trump administration has said it remains interested in useful arms control but questions Moscow’s willingness to adhere to its treaty commitments, AP News reported.

The Pentagon said on Monday (local time) it tested a modified ground-launched version of a Navy Tomahawk cruise missile, which was launched from the uninhabited San Nicolas Island, the most remote of California’s Channel Islands, which is controlled by the US Navy. The Pentagon added that the missile, armed with a conventional, not nuclear, warhead, struck its target after flying more than 500 kilometres (310 miles). The missile was armed with a conventional, not nuclear, warhead.

The successful land-fired launch of a modified Tomahawk cruise missile may complement US Air Force and Army medium-range weapons now under development.

The Trump administration, which on February 2 gave a six-month notice of pulling out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, repeatedly stating Russia was violating its provisions, an accusation previous-President Barack Obama made as well.

“The United States will not remain party to a treaty that is deliberately violated by Russia,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in announcing the formal withdrawal in early August, calling a Russian missile system prohibited under the agreement a “direct threat to the United States and our allies.”

Russia said earlier this month, following the demise of the INF treaty, that it would only deploy new intermediate-range missiles if the US does.

Russian President Vladimir Putin condemned the US exit from the treaty “in a unilateral way and under a far-fetched reason,” saying that it “seriously exacerbated the situation in the world and raised fundamental risks for all.”

He said in a statement that Russia will carefully monitor Washington’s actions and respond in kind if it sees that the US is developing and deploying new intermediate-range missiles.

The INF Treaty, which was signed by US President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev on 8 December 1987, banned the production, testing and deployment of land-based cruise and ballistic missiles with a range of 500 to 5,500 kilometres (310 to 3,410 miles). Such weapons were seen as particularly destabilising because of the shorter time they take to reach targets compared with intercontinental ballistic missiles, raising the likelihood of a nuclear conflict.

The Pentagon spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Robert Carver said that the department would look at the data of the successful test launch, including precision targeting, trajectory and damage impact, before adding that the emerging land-fired cruise missile is a variant of the Tomahawk, bringing a land-fired element to the ship and submarine fired weapon.