The U.S. Army seeks to bolster its long-range fires capabilities as the Trump administration prepares to withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty after accusing Russia of violating it for years.
Army Secretary Mark Esper said Thursday in a discussion at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C., that developing longer-range missiles and artillery has become the “number one priority” as the service modernizes, trains, and equips for a future fight against near-peer powers like Russia and China.
In anticipation of the administration’s withdrawal from the INF treaty, the Army is already looking at concepts to field long-range precision-strike weapons that can hit targets beyond what the INF treaty allows.
Under provisions of the treaty, the U.S. and the former Soviet Union are prohibited from possessing ground-launched ballistic missiles with ranges between roughly 300-3,400 miles. At present, the Army’s longest ground-based missile can travel about 180 miles. However, the service is looking at missile and artillery platforms that can strike targets up to 1,000 miles away.
“The more range you have the better because you can strike with impunity with great effect and that’s what we want to achieve against any adversary is overmatch,” Esper said. “We want to be able to outrange and outgun them and that’s what [long-range precision fires] gives us, whether it’s a missile or cannon.”
Long-range fires will allow the Army to support either the Air Force “by suppressing enemy air defenses at hundreds and hundreds of miles” or the Navy “by engaging enemy surface ships at great distances,” he said.
Analysis: Critics — and this includes the European Union — of the Trump administration’s decision have said withdrawing from the treaty will lead to a nuclear arms race between the U.S. and Russia, and that Europe will be at the greatest risk.
But Russia is already in violation of the treaty, according to both U.S. and European intelligence agencies. So at this point, if there is a ‘race,’ it has already been started — by Moscow. Failing to respond in kind will only put the EU — and NATO and the U.S. — at a greater disadvantage.
In prior conflicts, U.S. naval and air power were both used to suppress enemy defenses so the Army could advance. Now, if the U.S. does, in fact, exit the INF treaty, the Army could take on the role of suppressing enemy fires, air defenses, electronic warfare systems, and other threats in addition to air and naval assets — sort of a triple-threat option.
Either way, the Army’s offensive power projection has to add some distance in order to ensure its formations survive on the modern battlefield. And since we are already behind the curve (the Chinese have several missiles that would fall within the confines of the INF treaty, but they are not signatories), the Army secretary appreciates that time is of the essence in developing the capability.