The Pentagon will begin work on producing components for a new ground-launched cruise missile (GLCM), US Department of Defense spokesperson Lt. Col. Michelle Baldanza said in a statement to Aviation Week & Space Technology.
The missile was previously banned under the now suspended INF Treaty between the US and Russia.
“This research and development is designed to be reversible, should Russia return to full and verifiable compliance before we withdraw from the Treaty in August 2019,” Baldanza said.
She also said that Pentagon work only covers conventional GLCM technology, excluding nuclear weapons.
The INF Treaty was signed between the US and the USSR in 1987 to calm nuclear war fears. The treaty required both countries to dismantle their ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of between 310 to 3,420 miles.
ZeroHedge reminded that “about a decade ago, the Obama administration believed Moscow was developing and testing a new GLCM with a range forbidden by the treaty. Several years later, the administration announced their concerns about the alleged Russian GLCM program. Then in 2016, Russian officials disclosed the existence of the 9M729 missile (NATO designation: SSC-8) but told the international community it did not violate the treaty.”
Following that, the Trump administration also initiated a “maximum pressure” campaign to force Russia into compliance, while the Kremlin maintained that no violation occurred on its part.
Russia also repeatedly accused the US of working on prohibited missiles, which Washington in turn denied.
The Trump administration in 2017 requested an authorization bill that would allow the Defense Department to launch research and development on GLCM technologies.
According to Aviation Week & Space Technology, the first indications that the Pentagon had moved beyond GLCM R&D was in early March 2019. In response to a question by the outlet, Army Undersecretary Ryan McCarthy said he had reviewed a report on such technology but was not sure about the current status. The Office of the Secretary of Defense confirmed to AW&ST that research and development work had started on new GLCMs.
“Because the United States has scrupulously complied with its obligations with the INF Treaty, these programs are in the early stages,” the Pentagon spokesperson said.
The US also alleges a new Russian cruise missile violates the pact. The missile, the Novator 9M729, is known as the SSC-8 by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
Speaking at a Washington conference, Russian Ambassador to the United States Anatoly Antonov dismissed allegations that the missile violated the treaty as a “fairy tale.”
In January, the head of Russia’s military’s missile and artillery forces said the missile’s maximum range fell short of the treaty’s lower limit.
Furthermore, Frank Rose, a former U.S. assistant secretary of state for arms control now at the Washington’s Brookings Institution think tank said that the US announcement may be simply another play to pressure Russia into compliance.
“My best guess is that it is political signaling intended to make it clear the United States is serious about moving forward with the development of a new GLCM (ground-launched cruise missile) unless Russia returns to compliance with the treaty,” Rose said.
Meanwhile, the UN has continued urging both US and Russia to preserve the treaty, since its dissolution would make the world a more dangerous place.
In addition, other preparations for an expected impending crisis may be viewed in some other US decisions, such as US President Donald Trump requesting $500 million to counter “Russian malign influence” in his FY2020 budget proposal.
The Pentagon’s budget in 2020 would also potentially receive a 5% increase, circumventing limitations, by receiving funding through the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account, which is designated for war spending and not subject to the caps.
On March 5th, US EUCOM Commander the NATO Supreme Allied Commander-Europe told the Senate Armed Services that the US needed to send more troops to Europe to “stay ahead of Russia.”
On Russia’s side, it is most likely not a surprise that reports started surfacing of the Nudol missile defense systems, dubbed the Satellite Killer.
Furthermore, Moscow repeatedly warns that increased NATO military build-up near the Russian state border increases the risk of provoking a military confrontation.
On February 27th, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu also announced the creation of new military units and formations in the Southern and Eastern Military Districts, as well as the Western Military District.
Notably, the Western Military district is to receive of a mobile reserve anti-aircraft missile regiment (the effectiveness of covering military and government facilities in the Baltic operational direction will increase by 40%) a tank regiment in the Baltic Fleet, two regiments in the 20th Army, a district technical missile base and a coastal missile division in the Baltic Fleet.
This is possibly to provide some defense against a potential modification of the US Aegis Ashore program, which could see the Aegis defense systems equipped to launch Tomahawk missiles.
Russia is also making progress on its Zircon Hypersonic missile, which according to reports is to be test-launched by the end of 2019. According to reports dating back to 2017, the missile reached a top speed of Mach 8, while according to more recent reports it is to also be equipped on on all ships currently capable of carrying the Kalibr and Oniks missile systems, from 800 ton missile corvettes to frigates and even ships currently armed with the large Soviet-era Granit anti-ship missiles, namely the nuclear-powered missile cruisers and cruise missile submarines.