Pentagon defends ICBM test decision
The Pentagon has defended its decision to cancel a planned test of an intercontinental ballistic missile, saying it would be reckless to disregard risks of escalating the Ukraine crisis with Russian nuclear forces on high alert.
“We are trying to help Ukraine defend itself; we’re going to make sure NATO can defend itself,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said on Sunday in a Fox News interview. “But we also have to be mindful that Russia’s a nuclear power. And so as we make these decisions, it would be irresponsible for us not to think about making sure we don’t escalate this conflict any bigger than it already is.”
The test in question involved an LGM-30G Minuteman III missile, a silo-mounted ICBM that can carry multiple nuclear warheads. The launch had been delayed a month ago, shortly after Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his country’s nuclear deterrent forces to be in a higher state of readiness, or “special regime of combat duty.”
Kirby dismissed critics’ suggestions that President Joe Biden might be afraid of Putin. “Biden has been nothing but direct with President Putin,” he said. “There's no fear here. President Biden sees President Putin for exactly what he is and the kind of leader that he is and the kind of unprovoked aggression that he’s conducting inside Ukraine.”
The Pentagon spokesman noted that the Biden administration has bolstered the eastern flank of NATO, including additional aircraft and forces that have been deployed in just the past week. As for the ICBM launch, he said other tests remain on the schedule for later this year.
“We are confident in our capabilities in terms of ballistic missile capabilities – that they’re still ready, that they’re still sound,” Kirby said. “This test is just one of many that will be conducted and have been conducted in recent years. So we’re confident in that capability.”
When the test was delayed last month, Kirby said the decision was “an effort to demonstrate that we have no intention of engaging in any actions that could be misunderstood or misconstrued.” The Pentagon also criticized Putin’s decision to put Russian forces on high alert, calling it “dangerous, irresponsible and unnecessary.” Putin has said that “aggressive statements” by NATO and the West’s sanctions campaign against Russia made heightened nuclear readiness necessary.
The Minuteman III was first deployed in 1970 and was originally meant to be in service for about 10 years. Testing of its replacement, the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD) missile, is scheduled to begin by the end of 2023.