A House-Senate conference on the fiscal 2016 defense authorization bill has kept language in the legislation that would require the Pentagon to begin development of military responses to Russia’s illegal cruise missile.
The conference report on the bill, completed this week, calls on the Pentagon to begin the work of achieving U.S. military capabilities to counter and respond to the new Russian ground-launched cruise missile that the Pentagon has code-named SSC-X-8.
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The missile was flight tested most recently on Sept. 2 and is considered a breach of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty that bans all missiles with ranges between 300 miles and 3,400 miles.
Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work said on Tuesday that the new ground-launched cruise missile is "in development," when questioned about the most recent flight test by Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R., N.H.).
"This is a long-standing issue that we have been discussing with the Russians," Work told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday.
"The system that you're talking about is in development; has not been fielded yet. We have had different discussions with them on our perception of the violation of the INF and they have come back. This is still in discussions and we have not decided on any particular action at this point."
Asked by Ayotte whether the Russians had violated the INF treaty, Work said: "We believe very strongly that they did."
"So what are we going to do about it, because they're claiming that they haven't [violated the treaty], going back to the 2008 violations, and now here we have another situation," Ayotte said.
Work said because the missile has not been fielded, the administration is still "negotiating this position" on how to respond.
The deputy secretary then stated that if the missile is deployed, "I would expect us to take one of the three options that [Defense] Secretary [Ash] Carter outlined before the committee."
The three options include new missile defenses against intermediate-range ground-launched cruise missiles, other "counterforce" weapons aimed at preventing intermediate-range ground-launched cruise missile attacks, and "countervailing strike capabilities" with U.S. or allied forces.
Ayotte said the lack of a response to the Russian INF treaty violation, like a similar lack of response to Chinese hacker attacks, were "consistent themes" of the administration.
"Both with the Chinese and the Russians, a lot of talk, no action, unfortunately, and people take their cues from that and that worries me," she said.
The House-Senate conference report, made public Tuesday, states that it is the sense of Congress that Russia has violated the INF treaty and is increasing the role of nuclear weapons in its military strategy.
Efforts to develop U.S. military and non-military options to the violation should not be open-ended, the report states.
The report said Russia is illegally occupying Ukraine’s Crimea and is cheating on as many as 12 arms control obligations and agreements.
The legislation requires the president to submit reports to Congress on whether Russia has flight-tested or deployed or possesses a military system that can reach INF ranges.
The congressional notification must be made within 30 days of the signing of the defense authorization bill. Additional reporting on Russian testing and deployments of INF missiles also must be submitted every three months under the bill language.
The bill authorizes Pentagon development funds to be made available for research, development, test, and evaluation of weapons that would close current capability gaps in response to the Russian cruise missile. Reports on the U.S. counter weapons must be submitted every six months, including potential deployment locations in East Asia and Eastern Europe and basing arrangements.
On the recent SSC-X-8 flight test, defense officials said the missile was not tested beyond the 300-mile range limit covered by the treaty.
However, the terms of the accord prohibit any testing of a missile capable of flying between 300 miles and 3,400 miles.
The missile was also tested in what officials said was a nuclear-capable profile.
The flight test was first reported Monday by the Washington Free Beacon.
A Russian embassy spokesman said he was unaware of any new ground-launched cruise missile test and dismissed U.S. charges of an INF treaty breach as "groundless."
A Russian official recently warned that Moscow could withdraw from the INF treaty if the United States goes ahead with reported plans to deploy modernized B61-12 aircraft-carried guided nuclear bombs in Germany.