Shifting military technology and the Intermediate-Range Nuclear treaty

Russia has been violating the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty for at least five years. Trump has announced the US is pulling out of the treaty. Russia tested and then deployed land-based missile with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers (300 and 3,400 miles). Sea-based and air-based missiles were not covered under this treaty which is why there are so many air-launched and navy ship and submarine-launched mid-ranged cruise missiles. Drones were not covered under the treaty.

The purpose of the INF treaty was to reduce the land-based missiles placed all over Europe and in the Russian area near Europe. The ranges covered just behind the front lines to the end of the European-Russia theater of operations.

China has not signed onto this treaty and has many mid-ranged land-based missiles, drones and is now developing railguns and electromagnetic launchers to boost the range of missiles.

Longer range artillery is being created

The US has authorized $58 million in funding for the development of active defenses to counter INF-range ground-launched missile systems; counterforce capabilities to prevent attacks from these missiles, and countervailing strike capabilities to enhance the capabilities of the United States.

The US has begun development of giant cannons which will have a range of 1000 miles (1852 kilometers). Conventional artillery would have those ranges but usually nuclear weapons would need to be larger. Although 155 mm tactical nuclear weapons that could be fired from 155mm through 400mm artillery. The 155mm nuclear shell had the equivalent of 100 ton explosive nuclear weapon.

The trend of foreign, heavy MLRS (Multiple Launch Rocket System) is to fire well over 100 kilometers (60+ miles).

The US recently doubled the range of army artillery to 38 miles. The Army has successfully fired a 155mm artillery round 62 kilometers (38.5 miles). The Army is now prototyping artillery weapons with a larger caliber tube and new grooves to hang weights for gravity adjustments to the weapon – which is a modified M777A2 mobile howitzer. The new ERCA weapon is designed to hit ranges greater than 70km (43.5 miles). The Russian military is currently producing its latest howitzer cannon, the 2S33 Msta-SM2 variant; it is a new 2A79 152mm cannon able to hit ranges greater than 40km.

In 2016, South Korean defense contractor Poongsan revealed its own ramjet artillery shell concept, which had an estimated range of nearly 50 miles. Norway has a ramjet artillery shell with a 60-mile range.

Longer range missiles are not banned but can easily fly into the shorter range

Ballistic missiles can also fly to less than their maximum range if they fly along a depressed trajectory or a lofted trajectory, if they carry a heavier payload, or if they consume only part of their fuel. This was not banned.

The US has a 499-kilometer Precision Strike Missile (PrSM). It is meant to replace the Tactical Missile System while providing increased standoff range. Congress slowed the program in 2019 appropriations. The Precision Strike Missile would be close to the bottom limit of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.

Russia calls Drones missiles but US calls them planes

Russia claims that U.S. armed drones violate the INF Treaty because they are consistent with the treaty’s definition of a ground-launched cruise missile. The treaty defines a cruise missile as “an unmanned, self-propelled vehicle that sustains flight through the use of aerodynamic lift over most of its flight path.” It further specifies that a ground-launched cruise missile banned by the treaty means “a ground-launched cruise missile that is a weapon-delivery vehicle.”

The US position is drones are not missiles but are more like planes.

History of INF and what missiles were banned

The United States and Soviet Union signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty in December 1987. Negotiations on this treaty were the result of a “dual-track” decision taken by NATO in 1979.

The ban applies to missiles with nuclear or conventional warheads, but does not apply to sea-based or air-delivered missiles. The INF Treaty did not ban the possession or testing and production of missile defense interceptors, even if they flew to ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers.

For the Soviet Union, the list of eliminated weapons included the SS20 intermediate-range missile, and the SS-4 and the SS-5 shorter-range missiles. The Soviet Union also agreed to destroy a range of older nuclear missiles, as well as the mobile, short-range SS-23, a system developed and deployed in the early 1980s. For the United States, the list of banned missiles included the new Pershing II ballistic missiles and ground-launched cruise missiles, along with several hundred older Pershing I missiles that were in storage in Europe.

There is a Congressional Research Service report – Russian Compliance with the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty : Background and Issues for Congress. Amy F. Woolf. Specialist in Nuclear Weapons Policy. Updated October 5, 2018. (45 pages).

The U.S. State Department has reported that Russia has been in violation of the treaty from 2014 to 2018. In the 2016 report, it noted that “the cruise missile developed by Russia meets the INF Treaty definition of a ground-launched cruise missile with a range capability of 500 km to 5,500 km, and as such, all missiles of that type, and all launchers of the type used or tested to launch such a missile, are prohibited under the provisions of the INF Treaty.” The 2017 and 2018 compliance reports describe evidence for non-compliance. In 2018, the Russian missile 9M729 was specifically cited. Press reports also indicate that Russia has now begun to deploy the new cruise missile.

The Obama Administration raised its concerns about Russian compliance with the INF Treaty in a number of meetings since 2013. Russia continued to deny that it had violated the treaty. In October 2016, the United States called a meeting of the Special Verification Commission, which was established by the INF Treaty to address compliance concerns. Again no progress was made in resolving INF Treaty violations. A second SVC meeting was held in December 2017.