by Andrew Lichterman

In its current budget request, the military is pushing ahead with its proposals for “prompt global strike,” a broad effort aimed at giving the United States the ability to hit targets anywhere on earth in an hour or two. In the near term, the military wants to deploy conventional warheads on Trident submarine launched ballistic missiles, taking advantage of accuracy improvements resulting from programs conducted in recent years that have received little public attention. In the current proposal, two missiles on each ballistic missile submarine would be conventionally armed. At the same time, the U.S. is exploring other technologies and weapons concepts, ranging from land-based missiles with accurate, maneuverable re-entry vehicles to hypersonic glide vehicles that could deliver a variety of weapons. Although the technologies that would be developed in the Global Strike program currently are slated to be used to deliver only conventional weapons, there is nothing, aside from current policy, to prevent them from being adapted for nuclear weapons delivery in the future, potentially resulting in significant increases in the capabilities of the U.S. nuclear arsenal. Together with initiatives to rebuild the U.S. nuclear weapons production complex and to design new warheads with the flexibility to be fitted to a variety of delivery systems, the pieces are being put in place for a renewed arms race in the 21st century, with the U.S. leading the way.

In testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee Strategic Forces subcommittee last week, high ranking military officers and administration officials insisted that the United States absolutely must have the ability to strike targets inside any country, anywhere, anytime, in short order. Rear Admiral Stephen Johnson, Director of Navy Strategic Systems Programs noted that the budget request “frontloaded the funding,” asking for $175 million for FY2008 in order to allow the Conventional Trident to be deployed by 2010. Statement of Rear Admiral Stephen Johnson, Director of Navy Strategic Systems Programs before the Strategic Forces Subcommittee of the Senate Armed Services Committee, March 28, 2007, p.5. Johnson noted that considerable development and flight testing of technologies allowing the requisite accuracy already has been done:

“CTM [Conventional Trident] will use existing D5 missiles, MK4 reentry bodies equipped with aerodynamic controls, GPS-aided terminal guidance, and a conventional warhead. Advanced error-correcting reentry vehicles with GPS-aided Inertial Navigation Systems have been flight proven in a previous D5 test program. Total time from decision to weapons-on-target is about 1 hour. CTM technology can be rapidly developed and deployed within 24 months.” Johnson Statement, p.5

Strategic Command (STRATCOM) Commander James Cartwright lamented the lack of “the means to deliver prompt, precise, conventional kinetic effects at inter-continental ranges.” Statement of General James E. Cartwright Commander United States Strategic Command Before the Strategic Forces Subcommittee of the Senate Armed Services Committee, March 28, 2007, p.14. Neither Cartwright nor any other witness thought it relevant to mention that no other country has any such capability, or shows any signs of developing one). Cartwright noted that in addition to the Conventional Trident, the “Air Force Space Command is developing a promising concept for a CONUS [Continental United States] -launched conventional strike missile (CSM), which capitalizes on the maneuverability and precision-to-prompt-effects offered by maneuvering flight technology to produce effects at global distances.” (Id., pp.14-15). Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategic Capabilities Brian Green told the subcommittee that the Defense Department also “is considering other, longer-term solutions, both sea- and land-based, to broaden the portfolio of prompt, non-nuclear capabilities. The additional concepts include sea- and land-based conventional ballistic missiles and advanced technologies, such as hypersonic glide vehicles, employing precision guidance, advanced conventional weapons, and propulsion.” Statement of Mr. Brian R. Green Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Strategic Capabilities for The Senate Armed Services Committee Strategic Forces Subcommittee Hearing Regarding Global Strike Issues, March 28, 2007, p.8. Conventional Prompt Global Strike, Green concluded, “is critical to meeting evolving U.S. security needs in the 21st Century.” id. p.11.