The US Air Force yesterday tested a prototype conventionally-configured ground-launched ballistic missile capable of flying at ranges previously banned under the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.

The prototype missile test saw the conventionally-configured missile travel for 500km before being ditched in open waters.

In a release, the US Department of Defence said: “On Thursday, Dec. 12, 2019, at 8:30 a.m. Pacific Time, the US Air Force, in partnership with the Strategic Capabilities Office, conducted a flight test of a prototype conventionally-configured ground-launched ballistic missile from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.

“The test missile exited its static launch stand and terminated in the open ocean after more than 500 kilometres of flight. Data collected and lessons learned from this test will inform the Department of Defence’s development of future intermediate-range capabilities.”

The US suspended the INF Treaty this year, accusing Moscow of repeated non-compliance the terms of the agreement which banned both the US and Russia from operating missiles that could travel between 500 and 5,500km. After the US announced it was suspending the treaty Russia followed suit, leaving just the NewSTART treaty as the only active nuclear arms treaty left in force.

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After the test-launch, US Secretary of Defence Mark Esper tweeted: “Today, US Air Force 30th Space Wing and DoD Chief Technology Officer Strategic Capabilities Office successfully tested a prototype conventional, ground-launched ballistic missile. Congrats to the joint government-industry team for going from concept to launch in less than 9 months!”

Esper added: “The test team began work after the US suspended its INF obligations in February 2019. It usually takes 24 months to plan and execute such a test. This achievement demonstrates America’s ability to respond to critical national security challenges.”

The Russian RIA News Agency reported that an official from the Russian Foreign Ministry in charge of arms control said: “It alarms us. Of course, we will take this into account.”

A spokesperson for the Russian President Vladimir Putin, Dmitry Peskov, as reported by TASS said: “We’ve said more than once that the United States has been making preparations for violating the INF Treaty. This [missile test] clearly confirms that the treaty was ruined at the initiative of the United States.

“I’m not in the position to make any comments [on the missile test] from the technical standpoint and the missile’s parameters and characteristics.”

Defense News reported that the missile used in the test was developed by Northrop Grumman, with the companies Innovation Systems wing acting as the “primary launch services contractor”.