Missile test

On Aug. 18, at 2:30 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time, the Defense Department conducted a flight test of a conventionally configured ground-launched cruise missile at San Nicolas Island, Calif. The test missile exited its ground mobile launcher and accurately impacted its target after more than 500 kilometers of flight. Data collected and lessons learned from this test will inform DOD's development of future intermediate-range capabilities.

A week after a Russian cruise-missile disaster, the U.S. Army fired off a ground-launched cruise missile in a successful test.

The launch last Sunday of what appears to be a modified Tomahawk cruise missile from an island off California is the latest in the back-and forth between the Cold War rivals since the expiration last month of a treaty that banned intermediate-range nuclear weapons.

The test showed how quickly the U.S. could take a sea-based technology, strap it to a trailer and rocket past the accord that banned ground-launched cruise missiles.

"The test missile exited its ground mobile launcher and accurately impacted its target after more than 500 kilometers of flight," the Pentagon said in a news release. "Data collected and lessons learned from this test will inform the Department of Defense's development of future intermediate-range capabilities."

The ease of fielding a ground-launched cruise missile is evident in the disco-era technology involved in the Pentagon test. The roots of America's ground-launched cruise missiles are even older, dating to the 1950s.

Cruise missiles are essentially the first drones — unmanned planes that deliver explosives or nuclear warheads to distant targets.

The American Snark missile, a 30-ton drone, was considered the country's primary nuclear deterrent from the late 1950s to the early 1960s, when intercontinental ballistic missiles took over.

What's new is the rare public display from the Pentagon of an ostensibly secret weapons test.

By showing off U.S. capabilities, the Pentagon has issued a warning for Russia on what could happen if they continue to deploy intermediate-range missiles to their western border.

Russia has long flouted the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty with a series of compact, truck-mounted missiles capable of launching nuclear warheads.

President Donald Trump has called for a new arms-control pact, and has relied on saber-rattling to sell it.

"You know, I've redone our nuclear," Trump told reporters this month. "We have new nuclear coming. I hate to tell that to people. I hate to say it because it's devastating, but we’ve always got to be in the lead."

Russia and China of late have touted their cruise-missile capabilities, with Russian President Vladimir Putin bragging about his country's nuclear-powered missile. That's the weapon that reportedly failed in a test this month, causing a nuclear scare at a northern Russian base.

China, which never joined the intermediate forces pact, has a large fleet of cruise missiles, including several variants of the Silkworm anti-ship missile that have been reconfigured for land targets.

So, what triggered this cruise-missile arms race?

There's one easy answer: American technology.

A decade ago, the U.S. unveiled its stealthy Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile. The missile, air-launched from a variety of U.S. planes, proved its worth last year when Trump used them to strike Syrian chemical weapons facilities.

The weapons successfully thwarted Syria's Russian-built air defenses to strike targets.

Since the U.S. has a proven capability with a next-generation cruise missile, Russia and China have been racing to catch up.

Contact Tom Roeder: 636-0240

Twitter: @xroederx

Senior Military Editor

Tom Roeder is the Gazette's senior military editor. In Colorado Springs since 2003, Tom covers seven military installations in Colorado, including five in the Pikes Peak region. His main job, though, is being dad to two great kids.

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