The US military has rejected Russian accusations of violating the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, arguing that its drones can’t be seen as missiles and Tomahawk-compatible ‘defensive’ launchers can’t be used offensively.
The lengthy statement, drawn up to refute Russian accusations, was issued by the US mission to NATO on Friday. The US argued that the controversial ‘target’ missiles were in compliance with the treaty, while Aegis Ashore was capable of launching solely ‘defensive’ missiles. While the US military admitted that its missile defense system was largely based on naval MK.41 vertical launchers –capable of firing cruise missiles– it claimed the land-based versions were totally different.
“The Aegis Ashore Missile Defense System does not have an offensive ground-launched ballistic or cruise missile capability. Specifically, the system lacks the software, fire control hardware, support equipment, and other infrastructure needed to launch offensive ballistic or cruise missiles such as the Tomahawk,” the statement reads.
It remains unclear, however, whether –and how fast– the supposedly lacking components can be added to modify Aegis-Ashore to be offensive.
The massive US fleet of attack drones currently in service also does not violate the treaty, the Pentagon claimed, arguing that unmanned aerial vehicles do not fit the definition of a cruise missile – because the latter is a “one-way” vehicle, while a drone is supposed to return back to base.
But what does the INF treaty itself say? “The term ‘cruise missile’ means an unmanned, self-propelled vehicle that sustains flight through the use of aerodynamic lift over most of its flight path. The term ‘ground-launched cruise missile (GLCM)’ means a ground-launched cruise missile that is a weapon-delivery vehicle,” the treaty reads.
The description appears to fit the modern strike drones quite well, and it does note state anything about the missile being a “one-way system.”
Early in February, Washington unilaterally withdrew from the 1987 INF deal, accusing Russia of building prohibited missiles, but said it might consider returning to the accord if Moscow eliminates the ‘violation’ within the next 180 days. Moscow, for its part, argued that it sticks to the deal, with the Russian military urging the Pentagon to destroy its attack drones, Aegis-Ashore systems and target-missiles, stating that the systems violate the agreement.
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