Following the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, the US military is seeking to accelerate the development of such missiles and deploy them throughout the world, with particular emphasis on Europe (Russia) and Asia (China). As Russian President Vladimir Putin warned in his State Address early last year, this would be an extremely dangerous development and would force Russia to take countermeasures.
Defenseone.com has published a report and interview with senior US army officers describing their plans and aspirations for modernization and expansion of their intermediate range weapons systems. The report begins:
Army wargames against Russia and China found a major gap in the service’s planned arsenal of long-range precision weapons, a gap it now plans to fill with a new intermediate-range missile that could fly as far as 2,000 miles. To speed development, the weapon will probably be derived from a missile already used by another service, such as the famous Tomahawk.
“[Navy] SM-6s and Tomahawks, that’s a capability I can see us as having in the future,” the Army Chief of Staff, Gen. James McConville, told a DefenseOne webcast this morning. “We are working that, [and] the Marine Corps is doing the same thing. If you don’t have to develop your own system, if you already have something that already works… it’s in all of our interest to go ahead and pursue those.”
Now, McConville didn’t address the intermediate-range missile specifically, whose existence was first reported by our Defense News colleague Jen Judson just last week. But in an exclusive interview about the new weapon, the artillery modernization director at Army Futures Command told me the service is looking at “existing missiles capable of flying at various speeds and altitudes.”
That way, Brig. Gen. John Rafferty told me, prototypes of the new mid-range weapon can be operational in 2023, alongside several other new weapons – revolutionizing the Army’s long-neglected artillery branch to hit targets once reachable only by airstrikes.”
Developments planned to be completed by 2023 include: the first prototype battery of the Precision Strike Missile (PrSM), increasing the range of the Army’s MLRS and HIMARS missile launchers from 300 km to over 500km; the first prototype battery of the new intermediate-range missile, to be developed by the Rapid Capabilities & Critical Technologies Office (RCCTO) also working on hypersonics and laser weapons, with a range of up to 1,500 or even 2,000 km; the first full-range tests for the experimental Strategic Long-Range Cannon (SLRC), which aims to use gunpowder and rocket-boosted shells to reach 1,500 km-plus ranges; the first prototype battery of the Long-Range Hypersonic Weapon (LRHW), with a range of “thousands of kilometres.”
The article further explains:
… as the Army studied future conflict – with extensive input from the other services and the joint Combatant Commanders around the world – it found a whole category of targets too distant to hit with PrSM but too numerous to handle with hypersonics.
“The strategic fires study was done with combatant commands’ input, as well as others from the operational force,” Rafferty told me. “[It] showed that if we could address some of the high payoff targets in the mid-range space that we would really begin to change the calculus in the Pacific and in Europe – in really different ways.”
In the vast expanses of the Pacific, Rafferty said, the primary target for the intermediate-range weapon would be Chinese warships – which means it must be able to track and home in on moving targets. PrSM will eventually have an anti-ship seeker as well, but its 500-plus km range doesn’t get you that far across the Pacific; hence the value of an intermediate-range weapon…
By contrast, Europe is a smaller warzone, mostly on land, where the intermediate-range weapon could strike targets deep in Russian territory. In the 1980s, the ability of Army Pershing missiles to threaten Moscow from bases in Western Europe helped lead to the now-defunct INF Treaty, which banned such weapons and got the Army out of the long-range missile business for a generation.
By recreating an intermediate-range capability in Europe, Raffety said, “you begin to put all of the adversary assets at risk in depth. Now there is not sanctuary for him to hide.” LINK
The US military and political leadership seems oblivious to the fact that Russia and China are also capable of developing new weapons systems, and that they are deeply concerned by the US political and military statements and actions that threaten their very survival by placing as many weapons of mass destruction as possible as close as possible to their borders, accompanied by the threat that ‘all options are on the table’. All options, except diplomacy and rational dialogue to address mutual concerns and develop mutually acceptable and beneficial relations in an atmosphere of goodwill and coexistence.
In February 2019 USA Today reported:
Russian President Vladimir Putin warned Wednesday that Moscow will target the U.S. with its new hypersonic missiles if the Trump administration follows its scrapping of a key arms control agreement by deploying new intermediate-range missiles in Europe.
In his state-of-the-nation address to Russian lawmakers, Putin said Russia was ready for talks with the U.S. on disarmament issues, “but we won’t knock on the closed door anymore,” Russia’s state-owned TASS news agency reported.
The Trump administration announced in early February that it would withdraw from the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty over what it said was Russian violation of the Cold War pact.
The INF Treaty, signed in 1987 by President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, covers deployed and non-deployed ground-based short-range missiles (from 310–620 miles) and intermediate-range missiles (from 620-3,420 miles.)
Such weapons were seen as particularly destabilizing as they only take a few minutes to reach their targets, leaving no time for decision-makers and raising the likelihood of a global nuclear conflict over a false launch warning…
Putin, addressing the Russian Federal Assembly, denied the charges of treaty violations but said the Kremlin would respond with new weapons aimed at the U.S. if Washington deploys new missiles in Europe.
The Russian leader also warned that Russia would not only aim its new, modern weapons at any country hosting any newly deployed weapons, but also at the U.S. itself.
“I will say it directly and explicitly so that no one could reproach us about anything and so that everyone could understand what we are talking about here,” he said. “Russia will be forced to create and deploy those types of weapons, which could be used not only against those regions from where we will face a direct threat, but also against those regions, hosting the centers, where decisions are taken on using those missile systems threatening us.”
… Noting that any U.S. intermediate-range missiles deployed in Europe would take only 10 to 12 minutes to hit Moscow, Putin said such steps would “sharply deteriorate international security and create serious threats to Russia.”
“This is a very serious danger to us,” he added. “In this case, we will be forced, and I want to stress this, we will be forced to envisage symmetric and asymmetric measures.
“We need peace, and the entire effort on increasing our defensive capacity will pursue just one goal: It is aimed at ensuring security of our country and citizens so that no one could think about aggression against Russia and even try to use the methods of military pressure against our country.” LINK
The US military planners seem intent on pushing the world to the brink of a major conflagration, whether though an intentional surprise attack or through a human or technical error given that Russia and China will only have minutes to react to indications from their early warning systems that a missile may have been launched against them from close range.
The political leadership in the White House and the Congress is at least as ‘gung ho’ as their military planners, with little prospect for improvement as both major presidential candidates, Trump and Biden, as well as the ‘political heavyweights’ of the Democrats and Republicans in the US Congress, try to outdo each other with their tough postures and rhetoric against China and Russia.
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