On 18 August, at 2.30 pm Pacific time, the Pentagon conducted a flight test of the new experimental Tomahawk-class GLCM-X ground-launched cruise missile (GLCM), launching it from St. Nicolas Island, California. The test was successful. Flying over 500 km, the missile ‘accurately impacted its target’. The experiment was the first range test of a US GLCM that would have been banned under the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF Treaty).
The missile tests took place just 16 days after the process unilaterally initiated by Washington to denounce the INF Treaty was completed in early August. Commenting on the tests, Lieutenant Colonel Robert Carver, a Pentagon spokesperson, said that the missile was the fourth variant of the Tomahawk Land Attack Cruise Missile and was launched using the Mk 41 Vertical Launching System. ‘After the United States suspended its obligations under the INF Treaty in February 2019, the Department of Defense began the conceptual design of ground-based cruise missile systems and ballistic missiles,’ RIA Novosti quoted the Pentagon spokesperson as saying.
According to Carver, Washington had previously warned that, after its withdrawal from the INF Treaty, it would engage in the research and development of non-nuclear ground-based ballistic and cruise missiles. The Pentagon spokesperson also told RIA Novosti that the launch of the cruise missile demonstrates ‘US commitment to this research and development’.
He added that the testing of non-nuclear ground-based cruise missiles is in the early stages and that it will be years before the system is ready for deployment. It was also reported that the Pentagon will continue to test such missile systems as needed.
According to Carver, the launcher tested during the GLCM tests is not a copy of the Aegis Ashore missile defence system, which is to say the ground-based Aegis missile defence system currently operating in Romania and also under construction in Poland. ‘Aegis Ashore is purely defensive,’ declared the Pentagon spokesperson. ‘It is not capable of firing a Tomahawk missile. Aegis Ashore is not configured to fire offensive weapons of any type.’
According to the US military, all the data collected during the GLCM flight test on 18 August will be used to create mostly intermediate-range missiles, which were previously prohibited under the INF Treaty. It is expected that the US will conduct several more tests of intermediate-range ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles before the end of the year. As recently stated by new US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, after the US withdraws from the INF Treaty, it will begin the large-scale development of missile systems of this class.
Unfortunately, none of these US representatives have acknowledged that the development of new dual-use (i.e. can be equipped with nuclear and non-nuclear warheads) intermediate-range ballistic and cruise missiles was, and remains, the only reason for America’s withdrawal from a treaty that the country’s previous leaders referred to as ‘a cornerstone of global security’.
Washington’s commitment to creating new ground-based mobile and stationary intermediate-range missiles for their subsequent deployment in Europe and the Asia-Pacific Region has been under close watch for many years. Testing the effectiveness of such missiles actually began at the same time as the development of forward-based missile defence systems, that is, missile defence systems not located within the continental United States but deployed far beyond its borders and closer to the territory of potential enemies. The Pentagon has been actively using six types of new intermediate-range and shorter-range ballistic and cruise training missiles to test its interceptor missile defence systems since October 1999.
In July 2017, so two years before the US actually began its withdrawal from the INF Treaty, the House of Representatives, the lower house of the United States Congress, voted to allocate funds for the development of a new intermediate-range GLCM that would have definitely fallen under the restrictions of the treaty. In September of the same year, the decision was also given the support of the US Senate.
In view of these two facts, the statement by the Pentagon spokesperson quoted above that the US Department of Defense only ‘began the conceptual design of ground-based cruise missile systems and ballistic missiles’ after the US suspended its obligations under the INF Treaty in February 2019 is clearly misleading.
Assertions by the US military that the launchers of US ground-based missile defence systems operational in Romania since May 2016 and similar systems that will appear in Poland next year cannot launch Tomahawk missiles are disinformation.
They can launch Tomahawk missiles, in fact, and they can do it without any real problem. The universal launchers would not even need any structural changes. Incidentally, US ships equipped with the Aegis naval combat information and management system can launch four types of missiles from the same Mk 41 launchers: interceptor and air defence missiles, as well as anti-ship and anti-submarine missiles. Standard-3 interceptor missiles and Tomahawk GLCMs have virtually the same measurements, for example, while the command posts of these two systems have pre-installed software, allowing the US to launch any offensive or defensive missiles from these universal launchers. For this reason, America’s new and existing ground-based operational systems in Europe and the Asia-Pacific Region will be and are combined strategic offensive and defensive structures in the US and NATO’s ‘forward-based’ combat weapons system.
Regarding the software for US missile defence systems in Europe, Russian President Vladimir Putin made particular reference to this during a working visit to Helsinki on 21 August when he expressed doubt that the US would even inform its European partners about the software that would be used in these systems. ‘This entails new threats for us that we must react to,’ noted the Russian president. It should also be borne in mind that there are already operational US missile defence systems in Romania and there will soon be such systems in Poland under America’s complete and independent control. All this is food for thought.
In addition, Washington has not given a positive response to Moscow’s proposal that both Russia and the US refuse to be the first to deploy intermediate-range and short-range missiles in any region of the world. And this is also food for thought.
Along the same lines, a direct question should be put to Washington: why, on page 33 of the new ABM Strategy approved this year by the current US administration, does it suddenly say that their active missile defence system will destroy the nuclear missiles of a potential enemy not just shortly after their launch, but before the launch order has even been given?
Explanations by high-ranking US representatives that the mostly intermediate-range ballistic and ground-based cruise missiles being created in the US will not be equipped with nuclear warheads are not true. This is also disinformation. They will be, because they are inherently ‘dual-use’ missiles.
Thus, Washington’s disinformation campaign continues, along with its false statements that Russia ‘violated’ the INF Treaty. In a report published by the US State Department on the eve of the launch of the new GLCM, there was yet another clumsy attempt to blame Moscow rather than Washington for the treaty’s collapse. This document was published for a reason. It was just more propaganda cover for the flight test of the new GLCM.
But a fact remains a fact: the US has still not provided the global community with any real proof of these violations. It also recently included China on the list of countries to blame, saying that it was the reason for Washington’s withdrawal from the treaty, but this is not true either, since Beijing was never a party to the treaty.
In short, the US is still stringing together one piece of disinformation after another.
Speaking at a meeting with the permanent members of the Security Council of the Russian Federation on 23 August, Russian President Vladimir Putin noted that the Tomahawk cruise missile tests conducted by the US are ‘no improvisation, but the latest link in a long-planned chain’. In this regard, he ordered the country’s Ministry of Defence, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other relevant departments to ‘study the level of threat posed by these US actions’ and ‘take exhaustive measures to prepare a symmetrical response’.