Pentagon tests long-banned ballistic missile over Pacific

WASHINGTON (AP) – The Pentagon on Thursday flight-tested a missile that had been banned under a treaty that the United States (US) and Russia abandoned last summer. Some US arms control advocates said the test risks an unnecessary arms race with Moscow.

The prototype missile was configured to be armed with a non-nuclear warhead. The Pentagon declined to disclose specifics beyond saying the missile was launched from a “static launch stand” at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California and landed in the open ocean. The Defence Department said the ballistic missile flew more than 500 kilometres.

The test comes amid growing uncertainty about the future of arms control. The last remaining treaty limitation on US and Russian nuclear weapons – the New START treaty of 2010 – is scheduled to expire in February 2021. That treaty can be extended for as long as five years without requiring a renegotiation of its main terms. The Trump administration has indicated little interest in doing so. The Pentagon declined to reveal the maximum range of the missile tested. Last spring, when US officials disclosed the testing plan, they said it would be roughly 3,000 kilometres to 4,000 kilometres.

That is sufficient to reach potential targets in parts of China from a base on Guam, for example. The Pentagon has made no basing decisions and has suggested that it will take at least a few years before such a missile would be ready for deployment.

Under the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty, land-based cruise and ballistic missiles with a range between 500 kilometres and 5,500 kilometres were prohibited. The Trump administration chose to abandon the INF treaty, saying that while it had adhered to the treaty’s limitations, Russia had violated it by deploying a noncompliant cruise missile aimed at US allies in Europe.