Pentagon Prepares to Build Banned Missiles as Treaty Expires

The missiles were banned by the 1987 INF Treaty, but the U.S. is pulling out due to allegations of Russian cheating.

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National Archives

The U.S. government is preparing to revive production of a banned missile system after the treaty prohibiting their use expires later this year. The 1987 INF Treaty banned medium to intermediate-range land-based missiles, but the U.S. is leaving the treaty due to what it claims are Russian violations of the treaty. Moscow denies the charges.

The report, an Aviation Week & Space Technology exclusive, that the U.S. government plans to begin fabricating parts for new ground launched cruise missiles after the INF Treaty officially expires in August. The U.S. has accused Russia of deploying the 9M729 land-based cruise missile, which it says has a range that violates limitations set by the treaty.

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A Gryphon GLCM launcher showing the four launch tubes for Tomahawk cruise missiles.
National Archives

The INF Treaty, signed in 1987, eliminated an entire class of ground-launched missiles from the inventories of the U.S. and U.S.S.R. The treaty sent thousands of missiles with ranges between 310 and 3,240 miles to the scrap heap, both cruise missiles and ballistic missiles. Despite its informal name, the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty, the treaty did not actually ban nuclear weapons but rather the missiles that carried them.

It’s unknown which missiles the U.S. is planning to manufacture. The U.S. previously fielded the Gryphon ground launched cruise missile (GLCM), a land-based version of the Tomahawk cruise missile, and the Pershing II ballistic missile (see image at top). According to an expert quoted by AvWeek, candidates for the new GLCM are the “the Raytheon AGM-160 Miniature Air-Launched Decoy, Raytheon AGM-109 Tomahawk and Lockheed Martin AGM-158 Joint Air-to-Surface-Standoff Missile.” Here’s a video of MALD in action as a flying decoy:

In addition to the missiles themselves, the Pentagon would need to manufacture new transporter-erector-launcher vehicles to carry and launch them into combat. These would likely be heavy tracked or wheeled vehicles carrying at least four missiles with some offroad capability and light armor. The Department of Defense will also have to figure out which service will operate the missiles: in the 1980s at the height of the Cold War, the Air Force operated Gryphon cruise missiles and the U.S. operated the Pershing II.

The new missiles will likely go to both Europe and Asia, provided the U.S. can find enough countries to agree to host nuclear-capable missiles. Missiles based in Europe would deter the 9M729. Missiles based in Asia, on the other hand, would probably be armed with conventional warheads and meant to deter China. Unlike the United States and Russia, China was not a signatory to the INF Treaty and developed a of ballistic and cruise missiles to compensate for lack of long range attack aircraft and bombers. Another possibility is basing missiles pointed at Asia on American territory, either in the Aleutian Islands or Guam.

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