Loading Prompt Global Strike in VLS Cells Will Transform U.S. Naval Power

By Craig Hooper
Defense Tech Naval Warfare Analyst

As the venerable Tomahawk missile becomes too vulnerable for certain targets, naval observers have wondered why the Navy isn’t racing to fill the U.S. surface fleet’s 7,804 Vertical Launch System (VLS) cells with a new generation of anti-ship or fast land-attack munitions.

Our wait is over. The big brains at DARPA are aiming to appropriate VLS cells for the Prompt Global Strike Mission.

Meet ArcLight–the weapon that will change the way the world thinks about U.S. surface combatants:

“The ArcLight program will design, build, and flight test a long range (> 2,000 nm) vehicle that carries a 100-200 lb payload(s). ArcLight is based on an SM-3 Block II booster stack, a hypersonic glider and is capable of being launched from a Mark 41 Vertical Launch System (VLS) tube. The development of the ArcLight system will enable high speed, long range weapons capable of engaging time critical targets and can be launched from Naval surface and sub-surface assets, and Naval/Air Force air assets.”

Enlisting VLS cells for the Prompt Global Strike (PGS) Mission would be a boon to PGS advocates. First, by decoupling PGS from conventional ballistic missile platforms (the assumed primary delivery system for PGS), Congressional concerns that certain countries might misinterpret a PGS hit as a nuclear strike evaporate–and with Congress aboard, the funding that has crimped PGS development will, assuredly, open.

This development also may resonate with Acting Navy Secretary Robert Work (ok, ok, he’s still Undersecretary of the Navy…for now). Undersecretary Work has long preached the virtues of America’s VLS-equipped surface fleet, and any prospect of leveraging new technologies for the old launch system will spark the Undersecretary’s interest.

In short, this is gonna get done.

But what does it mean? Putting PGS into the VLS does something far more interesting than just “add capability”. It changes everything. PGS on a surface ship transforms the largely defensive nature of the U.S. surface combatant/carrier escort to, well, “offense”.

And that shift from the “Missile Defense” destroyer or “Air Defense” cruiser of old to a “Global Strike Combatant” will pose a real conceptual challenge for everybody–from those walking Aegis deckplates to any potential adversaries.

The idea that America’s 7,804 VLS cells may soon gain the ability to rain almost instant havoc on targets some 2,000 nm away should put a bit of a damper on those who counted on overwhelming a hunkered-down and relatively passive “defense-oriented” AEGIS fleet. It’s a big deal.

You heard it here first–A shift of the U.S. surface combatant fleet from defense to offense is a real game changer.

Photo: U.S. Navy

  • Jed

    Hypersonic glider – yep, that’s are real easy thing to design, build, test and successfully get into production and into the fleet – don’t hold your breath !

  • Marcase

    The HyStrike / Fast Hawk crowd getting a bone to sniff – before it gets yanked away (again).
    We’ve been here before; high hopes and gospel from powerpoint Jedi Knights, but in the end it will be nothing more than another program zooming past Nunn-McCurdy.

    You heard it all before.

    • Wombat

      All too true. My guess is it we will have to see how the other PGS projects go before this one gets anywhere. If they all crash and burn this one probably will too. There are still lots of technical issues to overcome, and those take $$!

    • Craig Hooper

      Yep. It is a DARPA thing, so, yeah, it could be one of those “Lucy-with-the-football” projects.

      But there’s enough proof-of principle going on that I’m optimistic. Gotta push the envelope on the VLS cells anyway–they’re all we’ve got…

  • aubrey

    200 lbs payload? hardly the stuff of nightmares

    • Formerly known as Skeptic

      At hypersonic speeds, it don’t take much.

    • JEFF

      A 200 lbs kinetic payload traveling at hypersonic velocities is equivalent to a 5000 lbs kinetic payload at supersonic velocities. E = M*V^2

  • My first thought was “finally, make a battleship for it” but then the math kicked in. Max speed for SM3 is about 6000 mph, so 2000 mile will take you 20 minutes to reach. All the while the enemy will see your “hypersonic glider” coming in hot and high.

    • citanon

      If it’s on an Aegis it will not necessarily be 2000 miles out, and seeing, tracking and hitting a few hundred incoming hypersonic gliders will not be easy.

      This will hold all of the PLA’s fixed assets at risk.

      • Maxtrue

        Again, a 2000lb rod traveling at over mach 7 with the ~mid day sun behind it would be a tough target to stop, especially if the rod’s mass has the ability to maneuver. Lasers aren’t going to do much either. Yep, tough target to hit before it slams into the ground with the force of a low yield nuke. Say good-bye to the underground target.

        And of course this would be over-kill on a naval target.

        • citanon

          It’s only 200 lbs……

          • JEFF

            A 200 lbs kinetic payload traveling at hypersonic velocities is equivalent to a 5000 lbs kinetic payload at supersonic velocities. E = M*V^2

          • SMSgt Mac

            kinetic energy = 1/2*(m*v^2)

  • Kto Tam

    Note that the Obama version of EuroBMD envisages putting Mk 41 VLS boxes on land in Poland, Romania and perhaps other places later this decade. If this PGS weapon becomes real, expect the Russians to have a cow.

    • BILL D

      Hate to say it but the idea of a joint missle shield system developed between U S and Russia was a good idea–remember the missles are being put in eastern Europe as a counter to NK and Iranian nuclear missles.Russia is still anxious to cooperate with the US to a certain degree and maybe the joint system would open more dialogue with them or at least get them to cooperate more.

      • anonymouser

        No it is not. It sees medium-range US missiles deployed in Europe as the intense threat they actually are, not as some BS “stepping stone to dialogue and cooperation”.

  • JZizka

    It could be a real game changer, a 100 – 200lb payload traveling at hypersonic speeds (M>5) could impart unbelievable amounts of Kinetic Energy (think GigaJoules). They’ll most likely equip it with varying payloads based on the target set (flechette warheads, penetrators, unitary warhead, etc.).

    Assuming the technology is sufficently mature (I think it’s close based on recent flight tests) outfitting naval vessels with these missiles and basing them in ground based silos/launchers provides a rapid, surgical strike capability.

    • Cheb

      Not quite GJ: assuming nothing but the 200lb payload strikes the target and that it’s travelling at the minimum required to be called hypersonic (mach 5), you’re looking at 130.6MJ. Of course, if we suppose that another 300lbs is keeping the payload together and that it’s pulling mach 7 at time of impact, the number is more impressive, at 639.8MJ.

  • Ed!

    The PGS will really strike into the likes of Iran, North Korea, and China. The Iranians would have to deal with the ability for the US to launch from outside the Persian Gulf to hit Targets deep in Iran. North Korea won’t be able to use their air defenses to stop our missiles with PGS. China won’t like the fact we can launch these from a destroyer, now they will have to combat more than just our carriers and destroyers and cruisers already have the SM-3s to use to defend against that carrier killer Ballistic Missile the chinese have.

    • Maxtrue

      200lb hypersonics won’t do much damage to underground facilities.

      • Craig Hooper

        Yeah, but I’d hate to see what these might do to an OTH radar site or a ground station or a surveyed missile launch site or a…

        Save the underground stuff for the late arrivals. You know, the Air Force… ;)

        • Moose

          Or the Rail Gun rounds

  • citanon

    Finally PGS starts to make sense, but where is the viable hypersonic glider platform?

  • William C.

    I like the idea, but the VLS cells on our current ships aren’t too large.

  • Maxtrue

    Well, a bigger game changer would be a hypersonic rod of about 1000lbs + delivered by a bomber or drone. As for the above, won’t conversion to PGS subtract from BMD? Is that really a good switch? And what about the inability to reload at sea? Seems like a problem to be addressed asap.

  • Matt

    so… this is the navys answer for the air force getting an x51 based pgs? i guess it makes sense; replace tomahawks with “arclight” and calcm with x51 based missles…

  • Moose

    Finally a good name. All those “Fast Hawk” and “HyStryke” labels sounded really crappy. “ArcLight” actually has some gravitas.

    • Chops

      Remember Arc Light was the name of the mission to kill Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now

  • Marvel

    Finally a good thread.

  • Kto Tam

    > a 100 – 200lb payload traveling at hypersonic speeds (M>5) could impart unbelievable amounts of Kinetic Energy

    200 lb at Mach 6 has 180 MJ of kinetic energy, about like 95 lb of TNT. That’s a bit less than half the load of a MK-82 500 lb iron bomb. I leave it to the weaponeers to comment on the utility of such a weapon.

    Since the break-even point for kinetic vs chemical energy comes around Mach 9, I suspect that the ArcLight payload is going to be something more than an inert mass.

    • SMSgt Mac

      Best post on the thread! Thanks for doing the math: saved others the trouble.
      I didn’t check your numbers but they look pretty close.
      This kind of weapon would be perfect for above ground/surface structures, fleeting targets such as relocatable ICBMs, mobile IADS nodes, etc.
      With sufficient accuracy and timing, they could perhaps jackhammer their way down through a hardened,buried high value target. The question needing an answer is ‘at what cost?’. And I have a PERFECT test target for the program: 40° 7’40.79″N, 113°16’16.93″W. One of the hardest chunks of granite on the planet.

  • Warrant Diver

    It doesn’t matter what new weapon comes along if there isn’t the politcal will to use it against the countries we most need it against…China and Iran come to mind.

  • Byron Skinner

    Good Morning Folks,

    This story covers only very lightly what has been going on for about five years now. Most of it is classified as it should be. Not mentioned but well know are the four SSM’s with four more Ohio conversions likely to start soon and the 12 vertical tubes on US SSN’s.

    Byron Skinner

    • Craig Hooper

      Didn’t discuss sub-surface stuff. Just focusing on surface VLS.

      • Moose

        Everything starts somewhere, but you can count on this thing ending on subs if it sticks around.

  • Byron Skinner

    Good Evening Craig,

    You might want to check out a TIME story, I saw over on yahoo today. Three Ohio Class SSM’s have been spotted in Asian water recently. I think it fits in well with your article.

    Byron Skinner

  • Chris

    While i think PGS could prove really useful, defense related organizations really like missiles because they are very expensive (and therefore profitable). 100-200 pounds of warhead isn’t all that much, and given the number of platforms we have available to launch from, and the number of cells we have available, I’m not convinced that the game changes all that much.

    And, we still have to have sufficient cells to protect the fleet.

    Just a thought…

  • pchall

    What about reloading at sea? I understand they have to return to port to reload. Will there be enough missiles for a reload? This is not encouraging if the stuff hits the fan.

    • Desert Tortoise

      Difficult but doable with some VLS rounds. There is a reloading crane that takes four VLS cells that isn’t currently shipped. The tactical situation doesn’t require reloading at sea. In a naval war with the Soviets, we would have necessarily reloaded at sea.
      There are three lengths of the Mk-41 VLS and all but the longest one is reloadable at sea. The longest cell is required for Tomahawk and SM-3, other VLS loads could be replenished at sea. Presumably this new missile will be as large as SM-3 and won’t be reloadable once fired, but the air defense rounds are.

  • Blight

    I wonder if we are trading too much destructive power for range…

  • Andres

    I can’t believe how many of you are crying around because of the “soft” warhead. Imagine the 200lb as uranium hardened lead. You could literally blow up pretty much every plating on the planet. As Mr. Skinner said this thing has a longer background than many of you would think – “classified” is not just a term! The new SSGNs combined with such a missile and a few MALD drohnes (just to confuse the enemy) could erase even the hardest defended air space within a few minutes. A real game changer.

  • Roland

    Thank you Navy for making the Defense readyness.

  • gt350

    A lot of soft warheads would make me take cover==and or KILL ME or just make it so i cant respond which is the point.

  • Right here is the right website for anybody who wishes to understand this
    topic. You understand so much its almost hard to argue with you
    (not that I actually will need to…HaHa).
    You definitely put a fresh spin on a subject that
    has been discussed for decades. Great stuff, just wonderful!

  • you’re in point of fact a excellent webmaster. The website loading speed is amazing.
    It sort oof feels that you’re doing any distinctve trick.
    In addition, The contnts are masterwork. you’ve one a excellent process on this topic!

  • Hi there, all the time i used to check webpage posts here in the early hours
    in the dawn, since i like to gain knowledge of more and more.

  • Asking questions are in fact fastidious thing if you are not understanding anything totally,
    except this article presents pleasant understanding yet.

  • Hey! I could have sworn I’ve been to this site before but
    after checking through some of the post I realized it’s new to me.
    Nonetheless, I’m definitely delighted I found it and I’ll be bookmarking and checking back often!

  • What’s Going down i am new to this, I stumbled upon this I have discovered It positively helpful and
    it has helped me out loads. I hope to contribute & assist different customers like its aided me.
    Great job.

  • If some one needs to be updated with newest technologies therefore he must
    be visit this website and be up to date all
    the time.

  • I visited many websites except the audio quality for auio songs
    existing at this website is in fact marvelous.

  • Never waver to get some information about any piece of the charges you don’t get it.

    There are numerous individuals that have issues with the charges they are
    charged by a lawyer, yet a hefty portion of
    them don’t say anything. There is a risk that you can do a percentage of the
    work yourself and spare a bit, so make a point to
    get some information about that. It is vital to consider
    the claim to fame of an attorney your are contracting.
    You need to verify you procure the legal advisor you require.
    You would prefer not to contract an attorney that has practical experience in criminal law to do your domain arranging.

    Picking a legal advisor that represents considerable authority in whatever region of law you need,
    will ensure you get somebody who has a ton of experience around there and
    can benefit work.

  • The short answer best fat burning diet pills for women is both.
    Depending on the couch, but long term. Unless something
    is improper if you have noticed the commercial for a special party,
    a man that saw a flyer on the dishwasher.

  • It’s very easy to find out any matter on web as compared to books, as I found
    this paragraph at this site.

  • Have you ever thought about creating an ebook or guest authoring on other websites?
    I have a blog based on the same information you
    discuss and would really like to have you share some stories/information.
    I know my audience would value your work. If you are even remotely interested, feel
    free to shoot me an email.

  • The virgin group even offers a website that enables news update,
    blog amongst others. Then the like is real and one real like is worth a thousand fakes.
    People want to know more about you and your business before they buy whatever
    you are selling.

  • With the complete collection of Questions and Answers, Plusexams 1Y0-A23 Exam is high enough to help the candidates to pass this exam easily without any other
    study materials and no need to attend the expensive training class.
    Determine creation process of a farm or join according to described environment.

    • Today, numerous schools offer helpful instructional classes to the
    individuals with inexpensive price points.

  • You need to be a part of a contest for one of the best blogs on the net.
    I am going to highly recommend this blog!

  • Hi! Do you know iff they make any plugins tto assist wwith SEO?

    I’m trying to get my blog to rank for some targeted
    keywords but I’m not seeing very good success. If you know
    of any please share. Kudos!

  • Genuinely when someone doesn’t know afterward its up to other viewers that they will assist,
    so here it happens.

  • It’s awesome in favor of me to have a web page, which is beneficial in favor of my experience.

    thanks admin

  • I’m amazed, I have to admit. Rarely do I encounter a blog that’s equally educative and entertaining, and let me
    tell you, you have hit the nail on the head. The problem is an issue
    that too few people are speaking intelligently about. I’m very happy that I stumbled across this in my search for something
    concerning this.

  • Remarkable things here. I am very happy to see your post.

    Thanks a lot and I am taking a look forward to touch you.

    Will you please drop me a mail?

  • gone through the info inside of this website loads, intending to take the plunge before long and
    buy a steam shower cabin, most likely soon after the holidays

  • It’s great to see this useful post on dog training.
    I have a question however. How do you train a younger dog?

  • This makes it simple to identify any plugins that are slowing down your website.

    According to the 2010 census the populations is about is nearly 750,000.

    A business owner can now have all the features and benefits of an established website with

    a great page rank without having to make the investment of his time and money.