Washington: The US Defence Department on Monday announced the test of a medium-range ground-launched cruise missile, just weeks after tearing up the Cold War-era pact with Russia eliminating that class of nuclear-capable weapons.
The missile was launched on Sunday from the US Navy-controlled San Nicolas Island off the coast of Los Angeles, California.
"The test missile exited its ground mobile launcher and accurately impacted its target after more than 500 kilometres (310 miles) of flight," the Pentagon said in a statement. "Data collected and lessons learned from this test will inform the Department of Defence's development of future intermediate-range capabilities."
While the missile was described as "conventionally configured," meaning not nuclear-equipped, the launch was a sign of Washington beefing up its nuclear war-fighting capabilities in the wake of the collapse of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty on August 2.
The INF had banned all land-based missiles, conventional and nuclear, that could travel between 500 and 5,500 kilometres, in an effort to abolish a class of nuclear arms being deployed by the United States and the then-Soviet Union that left Europe the most threatened.
The missile tested on Sunday was a version of the nuclear-capable Tomahawk cruise missile. The ground-launched version of the Tomahawk was removed from service after the INF was ratified.
Many fear the end of the INF, which Washington accused Moscow of having violated in recent years, will lead to a new and dangerous nuclear arms race.
Early this month, Secretary of Defence Mark Esper said the US, no longer bound by the INF, had already begun work to develop "mobile, conventional, ground-launched cruise and ballistic missile systems." "Now that we have withdrawn, the Department of Defence will fully pursue the development of these ground-launched conventional missiles as a prudent response to Russia's actions," Esper said.
But he also stressed the US was not embarking on a new arms race. "The traditional sense of an arms race has been in a nuclear context," he said. "Right now, we don't have plans to build nuclear-tipped INF-range weapons. It's the Russians who have developed non-compliant likely, possibly nuclear-tipped weapons," he said.
He also said that the Pentagon would like to deploy new intermediate-range missiles in Asia, a move that would likely anger China, which was not party to the INF. "We would like to deploy a capability sooner rather than later," he said.
Speaking in France before news of the US test launch broke, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that it was the United States and not Russia that withdrew "unilaterally" from the INF. He said Russia does not intend to deploy intermediate- and shorter-range missiles where the US has no similar weapons.