US Conducts 1st Ground-Launched Cruise Missile Test After INF Treaty Pullout

On Aug. 18, 2019, at 2:30 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time, the Defense Department conducted a flight test of a conventionally configured ground-launched cruise missile at San Nicolas Island, Calif. (Defense Department photo by Scott Howe)
On Aug. 18, 2019, at 2:30 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time, the Defense Department conducted a flight test of a conventionally configured ground-launched cruise missile at San Nicolas Island, Calif. (Defense Department photo by Scott Howe)

The Pentagon says it has successfully tested a new ground-launched cruise missile just weeks after the U.S. severed the decades-old Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty, known as the INF. The treaty had prevented such tests.

The Defense Department announced Monday that the flight test of the "conventionally configured ground-launched cruise missile" was conducted at San Nicolas Island, California, at 2:30 p.m. Sunday.

"The test missile exited its ground mobile launcher and accurately impacted its target after more than 500 kilometers of flight," the DoD said in a news release. "Data collected and lessons learned from this test will inform the Department of Defense's development of future intermediate-range capabilities."

The test was conducted by the U.S. Navy in partnership with the Strategic Capabilities Office, officials told Military.com.

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The missile was a "variant of the Tomahawk Land Attack Cruise Missile," according to Air Force Lt. Col. Robert Carver, a DoD spokesman.

The new test comes shortly after the U.S. withdrew from the 1987 INF Treaty on Aug. 2. The U.S. maintained that Russia has been in repeated violation of the pact, which banned all land-based cruise missiles with a range between 500 and 5,500 kilometers (310 and 3,410 miles).

"Russia has not, unfortunately, honored the agreement, so we're going to terminate the agreement and we're going to pull out," President Donald Trump said in October.

In 2017, Air Force Gen. Paul Selva, then-vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told lawmakers the DoD had concluded that Moscow violated the "spirit and intent" of the pact by equipping two battalions with a land-based cruise missile. One was placed at Russia's missile test site at Kapustin Yar and another at an unspecified location, The New York Times reported at the time.

The Trump administration has said it wants a more inclusive agreement, possibly including China, which has also been testing new weapons.

"Until people come to their senses, we will build it up," Trump told reporters Oct. 22 at the White House, referring to the U.S. weapons arsenal. "It's a threat to whoever you want. And it includes China and it includes Russia and it includes anybody else that wants to play that game."

On a recent trip to the Asia Pacific region, newly minted Defense Secretary Mark Esper said he would like to deploy medium-range conventional weapons, given the U.S. is no longer bound by the INF.

"We would like to deploy a capability sooner rather than later," he said, according to a DoD transcript as reported by the Japan Times.

"With … programs like this, it takes time," Esper said. "You have to design and develop, and test and do all those types of things … [but] I would prefer months."

He did not discuss what types of weapons would be considered, nor where they could be based. Australia has ruled out hosting any missiles.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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