Pentagon to flight-test missiles previously banned by treaty Trump suspended: report

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The United States plans to test-launch missiles this year that have been banned by a treaty President Trump announced last month the U.S. would be leaving, according to The Associated Press.

Citing unnamed defense officials who spoke to a small group of reporters at the Pentagon, the AP reported that a cruise missile is expected to be flight-tested in August, while a longer-range ballistic missile is expected to be tested in November.

The news comes after the Defense Department announced earlier this week it was starting to make parts for the cruise missile system.

{mosads}The systems being tested by the Pentagon had been banned by the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Force (INF) Treaty, which bars the United States and Russia from having nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers.

Trump announced last month he was suspending U.S. obligations under the treaty and starting the six-month process to officially withdraw. Russia followed suit by announcing its own suspension of the treaty.

U.S. officials have for years accused Russia of violating the accord with its 9M729 cruise missile.

Russia denies that it is in violation of the treaty and says instead that it is the U.S. that violated it with a missile defense system in Europe. The United States holds the system is purely defensive, so complies with the agreement.

The Pentagon is not ruling out that the INF Treaty will survive, according to the AP, but few are expecting it to.

The timeline for an August test of the cruise missile puts it after the United States would officially withdraw.

The cruise missile has a potential range of about 1,000 kilometers and could be ready to deploy in 18 months, the officials told the AP.

The ballistic missile could fly roughly 3,000 to 4,000 kilometers, with deployment expected in at least five years, the officials told AP.

Neither the cruise missile nor the ballistic missile would be nuclear-armed, they added.

In its earlier announcement on beginning to make parts for the cruise missile system, the Pentagon similarly said its efforts were “conventional only — not nuclear.”

The Monday statement also stressed “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.”

During the Pentagon’s budget rollout Tuesday, officials dodged questions about funding for INF-noncompliant systems, with acting Pentagon comptroller Elaine McCusker saying only that “our budget is, right now, INF-compliant.”

Democrats in Congress and arms control advocates, while agreeing Russia is in violation of the treaty, have blasted the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw. Among other reason, they argue U.S. allies in Europe are not likely to agree to host the missiles, and so the withdrawal will divide NATO. 

The defense officials told the AP that U.S. allies in Europe and Asia have not yet been consulted about deploying either new missile on their territory. One official said it was possible the intermediate-range ballistic missile could be deployed on the U.S. territory of Guam, posing a potential threat to China and Russia.

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