Of­fi­cial says US plans to put mis­sile in Asia

The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - News | Tributes Services Announceme­nts - BY LOLITA C. BAL­DOR

U.S. De­fense Sec­re­tary Mark Esper said he wants to de­ploy an in­ter­me­di­ate range con­ven­tional mis­sile in the Asia Pa­cific re­gion within months, now that the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has for­mally pulled out of a Cold War­era arms con­trol treaty with Rus­sia.

Esper, how­ever, added that it will likely take some time to de­velop the more ad­vanced land­based mis­sile ca­pa­bil­i­ties. The move is likely to anger China, but Esper said Bei­jing shouldn’t be sur­prised by it.

“It’s fair to say, though, that we would like to de­ploy a ca­pa­bil­ity sooner rather than later,” Esper told re­porters trav­el­ing with him to Aus­tralia on Fri­day. “I would pre­fer months. I just don’t have the lat­est state of play on time­lines.”

Esper’s com­ments come as the In­ter­me­di­ate-range Nu­clear Forces treaty ex­pired Fri­day, and the U.S. said it planned to be­gin test­ing new mis­siles that would have been pro­hib­ited un­der the ac­cord. The U.S. has com­plained for years that Moscow has been vi­o­lat­ing the treaty and that a Russian sys­tem banned by the agree­ment is a di­rect threat to the U.S. and its al­lies.

Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo an­nounced the for­mal U.S. with­drawal on Fri­day, say­ing that “the United States will not re­main party to a treaty that is de­lib­er­ately vi­o­lated by Rus­sia.”

Esper, who was con­firmed as Pen­tagon chief on July 23, wouldn’t de­tail pos­si­ble de­ploy­ment lo­ca­tions in Asia, say­ing it would de­pend on dis­cus­sions with al­lies and other fac­tors. He down­played any re­ac­tion from China, say­ing that “80 per­cent plus of their in­ven­tory is in­ter­me­di­ate range sys­tems, so that shouldn’t sur­prise them that we would want to have a like ca­pa­bil­ity.”

He said that be­cause of the great dis­tances within the Indo-Pa­cific re­gion, U.S. devel­op­ment of ef­fec­tive in­ter­me­di­ate range pre­ci­sion weapons is im­por­tant.

Some Pen­tagon es­ti­mates have sug­gested that a low-fly­ing cruise mis­sile with a po­ten­tial range of about 620 miles could be flight-tested this month and be ready for de­ploy­ment in 18 months. A bal­lis­tic mis­sile with a range of roughly 1,860 to 2,490 miles could take five years or more to de­ploy. Nei­ther would be nu­clear armed.

The INF treaty was signed in 1987 and banned land-based mis­siles of ranges be­tween 310 and 3,410 miles. Its demise comes as world pow­ers seek to con­tain the nu­clear threat from Iran and North Korea. And it sig­nals an­other mile­stone in the de­te­ri­o­ra­tion of re­la­tions be­tween the U.S and Rus­sia.

Esper also added his voice to those who be­lieve that ex­tend­ing the New START Treaty may not make sense. New START ex­pires in Fe­bru­ary 2021, and is the only re­main­ing treaty con­strain­ing U.S. and Russian nu­clear ar­se­nals.

Trump has called New START “just an­other bad deal” made by the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, and has said he wants to ne­go­ti­ate a three-way nu­clear arms con­trol agree­ment among the U.S., Rus­sia and China.

Esper said the U.S. should look at bring­ing in other nu­clear pow­ers and ex­pand the types of weapons con­trolled by the treaty. He added that he does not be­lieve this will trig­ger a new arms race, but that the U.S. needs to de­ploy mis­sile ca­pa­bil­i­ties that can pro­tect both Europe and the Pa­cific re­gion.

Esper ar­rived in Syd­ney for the annual meet­ing of U.S and Aus­tralian de­fense and for­eign ministers. Pom­peo is also at­tend­ing.

Esper’s week­long trip will also take him to New Zealand, Ja­pan, South Korea and Mon­go­lia.

It will be his first over­seas trip as a Se­nate-con­firmed sec­re­tary. For­mer Act­ing De­fense Sec­re­tary Patrick Shana­han, who stepped down be­fore his con­fir­ma­tion, vis­ited both Ja­pan and South Korea in June.

Esper said he is re­turn­ing to the re­gion in or­der to af­firm the U.S. and his own per­sonal com­mit­ments to the Indo-Pa­cific. The Pen­tagon’s na­tional de­fense strat­egy deems China and Rus­sia as Amer­ica’s top strate­gic com­peti­tors.


US Sec­re­tary of De­fense Mark Esper ar­rives for talks in Syd­ney, Aus­tralia, on Satur­day. He said the US in­tends to move con­ven­tional in­ter­me­di­ate-range mis­siles to Asia.

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