Over the weekend, the United States conducted its first medium-range missile test since deciding to pull out of a Cold War-era nuclear agreement with Russia several weeks ago—an action that was banned under the treaty.
The launch was confirmed by the Pentagon to have taken place from the San Nicolas Island off the coast of Los Angeles, BBC reports.
“On Sunday, August 18, 2019 at 2:30 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time, the Department of Defense conducted a flight test of a conventionally-configured ground-launched cruise missile at San Nicolas Island, California,” the Pentagon said via ABC News, who also shared footage of the test. “The test missile exited its ground mobile launcher and accurately impacted its target after more than 500 kilometers of flight.”
Pentagon releases video of a land-based cruise missile test, the first test of its kind conducted since the U.S. pulled out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty earlier this month. https://t.co/v3k9VqpUqb pic.twitter.com/JE1xeCdzP7
— ABC News (@ABC) August 20, 2019
“A U.S. official said the missile was a variant of a Tomahawk Land Attack Missile, designed to carry a conventional, not nuclear, payload,” ABC News adds.
The U.S. officially withdrew from the INF Treaty on Aug. 2 after the Trump administration declared Russia had long been in material breach of the Cold War arms-control pact. While analysts have warned that the treaty’s end could lead to a dangerous new arms race, senior administration officials argued the U.S. had no choice but to terminate a deal that only one side was abiding by.
The Pentagon began research and development efforts focused on mobile, conventional and ground-launched cruise and ballistic missile systems in 2017 that it described as being in the “early stages” due to America’s compliance with the INF Treaty.
According to Defense Secretary Mark Esper, the US is looking to make up for the time they lost by abiding by the treaty to catch up its missile capabilities with technological advances.
“Now that we have withdrawn, the Department of Defense will fully pursue the development of these ground-launched conventional missiles as a prudent response to Russia’s actions and as part of the Joint Force’s broader portfolio of conventional strike options,” Esper said per the report.
BBC reports Russia is also moving forward by suspending their obligations to the now-collapsed treaty but said they would not “react to provocations”:
Russia has been accused of breaching the terms of the treaty in the past, but earlier this year the US and Nato said there was evidence that Moscow was deploying a new type of cruise missile, the 9M729, known to Nato as SSC-8.
Russia denied the accusation and President Putin said it was a pretext for the US to leave the pact.
In February President Donald Trump set a 2 August deadline for the US to withdraw from the INF if Russia didn’t come into compliance.
Russian President Vladimir Putin suspended his country’s own obligations to the treaty shortly afterwards.
The US withdrew from the INF as it had threatened on 2 August, and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said: “Russia is solely responsible for the treaty’s demise.”