Russia Defends New Cruise Missile, Says It Doesn't Violate Any Arms-Control Treaties

Moscow claims the new missile, 9M729, does not violate a treaty meant to ban intermediate-range missiles.

Russian Defence Ministry gives briefing on 9M729 missile
Getty ImagesSergei Bobylev

Russia took the unusual step today of holding a press conference in an attempt to explain its side of a dispute that threatens to sink a decades-long arms control treaty. Moscow claims that the new 9M729 cruise missile, which the United States believes violates the 1987 INF Treaty, is merely an updated version of an older missile that is not only in compliance with treaty range limits but actually has a shorter range than the previous missile.

For years, Washington has warned U.S. intelligence has picked up on indications Russia is secretly violating the 1987 INF Treaty. The treaty outlawed both the U.S. and USSR—later Russia—from deploying land-based ballistic missiles with ranges between 310 and 3,420 miles. This had the net effect of eliminating an entire class of nuclear delivery systems (the treaty affects ballistic and cruise missiles, not actual nuclear warheads).

Russian Defence Ministry gives briefing on 9M729 missile
9M729 cruise missiles in their launch canisters.
Getty ImagesSergei Bobylev

In late November 2018, U.S. Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats . Although the treaty bans ground-launched intermediate range missiles, it allows ground testing of missiles meant for launch from ships and aircraft. According to Coats:

Aware of this treaty provision, Russia initially flight tested the 9M729 – a ground based missile – to distances well over 500 kilometers (km) from a fixed launcher. Russia then tested the same missile at ranges below 500km from a mobile launcher. By putting the two types of tests together, Russia was able to develop a missile that flies to the intermediate ranges prohibited by the INF Treaty and launches from a ground-mobile platform. Russia probably assumed parallel development – tested from the same site – and deployment of other cruise missiles that are not prohibited by the INF Treaty would provide sufficient cover for its INF violation.

Russia has steadfastly denied 9M729 violates the INF Treaty and today launched its strongest defense yet. The general in charge of Russia’s Missile Troops and Artillery, as well as the deputy foreign minister, both claimed that the missile is within acceptable limits. Moscow also produced charts and figures that it said backed up its contention.

Some quality related photos by Vadim Savitsky.

— Dmitry Stefanovich (@KomissarWhipla)

According to Russia, 9M729 is actually an upgrade of the older 9M728 cruise missile. The briefing confirmed 9M729 is a ground-launched missile but claims it actually has a shorter range, by 6.2 miles, keeping it within treaty limits. The new missile is 20 inches longer than the older missile, allegedly to house a “modernized onboard correction system”—an electronics package likely meant to make the missile more accurate. The size of the fuel compartment and fuel supply remains the same across both missiles. If true, the increased size and weight of the new missile could plausibly account for the slightly shorter range.

Moscow also provided a static display of the the missile launch vehicle as well as launch canisters that it claimed held the 9M729 missiles. The display did not include showing off the actual missiles themselves, however, which reports indicate are sealed inside the canisters at the factory. Russia has reportedly offered to allow the U.S. to examine the missile in private but the U.S. has already rejected a similar offer, claiming such an examination would not allow it to determine the missile’s maximum range.

Russian deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov also Moscow’s counter-accusation that the U.S. was in violation of the INF Treaty in deploying the in Romania. Originally designed as an armored, multipurpose missile launcher for warships, Mk. 41 silos were constructed in Romania in 2017 as part of a ballistic missile defense system. Russia maintains that the silos can technically launch Tomahawk land attack cruise missiles. Russia also claims that armed American drones such as the MQ-9 Reaper are technically land-based cruise missiles. Ryabkov claimed that the U.S. has long intended to abandon the INF Treaty and is making a false allegation about 9M729 to give it a pretext for leaving.

ROMANIA-US-MILITARY
The U.S. missile defense facility in Romania that Russia claims is an INF Treaty violation.
Getty ImagesDANIEL MIHAILESCU

, the U.S. will begin the process of pulling out of the INF Treaty on February 2. Unfortunately, today’s event does not appear likely to save the treaty. The U.S. and its allies are unlikely to consider today’s information convincing. Ironically Russia has the most to lose from the loss of the treaty, as Russian missiles based in Russia are unable to target the United States directly. American missiles, on the other hand, based in Western Europe, could strike targets inside Russia itself.

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