Russia pledged a response to a Sunday test of a U.S. ground-based cruise missile the Pentagon conducted two weeks after the expiration of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty in early August.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said, following a Helsinki meeting with Finnish President Sauli Niinistö, the speed with which the U.S. tested a modified Tomahawk Land Attack Missile indicated the Defense Department had been working on the system long before the U.S. declared it would withdraw from the INF treaty.
For Russia it means, “the emergence of new threats,” Putin said, reported The Associated Press.
The missile successfully struck a target from a ground station in Hawaii at 310 miles, the minimum range of the INF treaty. The TLAM has a range of about 1,000 miles.
While the Pentagon hasn’t released many details on the test of the TLAM, photographs and video released show what appears to be a modified Raytheon TLAM Block IV fired from a jury-rigged Lockheed Martin MK-41 Vertical Launch System cell mounted on a standard-sized trailer.
The project was overseen by the Pentagon’s Strategic Capabilities Office. The SCO was created to tweak existing weapon systems to create new warfare capabilities.
For example, In 2016 then-Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announced that the SCO and the Navy had modified the anti-air Raytheon Standard Missile 6 to function as a supersonic anti-ship missile.
In terms of the TLAM test, the U.S. would already have had several lessons learned from the Navy’s development of the Aegis Ashore. Based on radars and systems found on the Navy’s guided-missile cruisers and destroyers, the ground-based Aegis Ashore installations in Romania and Poland drew criticism from the Kremlin since it employed the MK-41 launcher that could conceivably fire a Tomahawk as well as the ballistic missile defense SM-3s. While the U.S. said the MK-41s were modified to only field the SM-3s, Moscow claimed the installations was a violation of the INF treaty.
“Launches of this missile can be carried out from systems already located in Romania and Poland. All you have to do is change the software. And I don’t think our American partners will inform even the European Union about this. This entails new threats for us that we must react to,” Putin said, reported Reuters.
However, with a proven modified MK-41 capable of being transported by almost any road that accommodates a tractor-trailer the Pentagon could — with modifications — use the multi-missile launcher to deploy anyone of several missiles capable of striking land, air and sea targets, several naval analysts confirmed to USNI News since the Sunday test.
The ability for the then-Soviet Union and the U.S. to easily conceal shorter range land-based nuclear cruise missiles that could strike with almost no warning prompted the initial INF treaty.
U.S. and Russian withdrawal from the treaty are part of a larger world-wide trend to develop new systems, Tom Karako, a senior fellow with the international security program and director of the missile defense project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told USNI News on Tuesday.
“What you’re seeing is the global surge in the supply and demand signal for lots and lots of missile-based delivery systems. It’s not just Russia and China, you see the United States coming up with new kinds of missiles and you see our friends and allies acquiring lots of stand-off missile systems for various missions; cruise missiles, ballistics, boost-glide,” Karako told USNI News. “So, it’s a missile renaissance of sorts. So, in that respect, you’re seeing some continuity or connective tissue between all these missile stories.”