Prompt Global Strike Likely Hypersonic Glider, Not ICBM

Looks like its official, the Air Force won’t be using any type of ICBM to carry conventional warheads around the world at record speed to carry out the Prompt Global Strike mission. There have been lots of questions about how the service would achieve it’s plan hit high value targets on almost any spot on the globe within hours or minutes of a strike being ordered.

One option was the notion of a conventional ICBM. A problem with that idea was that a lot of people worried an ICBM launch would be confused as a nuclear first strike. Not something you want to have happen.

Now it seems the Air Force has ruled that out. According to Defense News:

The U.S. Defense Department’s planned Conventional Prompt Global Strike (CPGS) weapon is likely to be a hypersonic glider, a senior U.S. Air Force official said.

“Our focus is on boost-glide capabilities, including the Hypersonic Technology Vehicle concept,” said Maj. Gen. David Scott, the service’s operational requirements chief.

Scott said the concept of a conventional weapon that can strike anywhere on Earth in 30 to 40 minutes is still being developed.

“CPGS is something we are still figuring out with AT&L,” or the office of the defense undersecretary for acquisition, technology and logistics, he said.

Scott said the weapon will not be a Trident missile with a conventional warhead, as he had seemed to suggest in a an earlier interview. The Trident is a submarine-launched intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that is armed with a nuclear warhead.

Oh, and technically, the Trident’s a sea-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) not an ICBM. Although, I suppose it would become an ICBM if it were used by the Air Force.

  • JB Zimmerman

    Unless it is possible to conclusively prove that the Prompt Global Strike vehicle does not and cannot carry a nuclear warhead

  • JB Zimmerman

    Unless it is possible to conclusively prove that the Prompt Global Strike vehicle does not and cannot carry a nuclear warhead, this may not necessarily improve things and may in fact make the situation worse. If the PGS vehicle flight profile cannot be adequately covered using existing strategic early warning systems, it will introduce yet more additional uncertainty.

    • chaos0xomega

      Thats the point of a hypersonic glider. Launch transients for these would be pretty difficult to track.

      • kim

        The knowledge that you can to track an incoming missile is one of the things that prevents you from sending off missiles first. It has worked very well - so far.

  • Oblat

    More airforce baloney. They will spend a couple hundred million on it and then scrap it because there is no way to prove it’s not nuclear armed.

    • William C.

      You can’t prove cruise missiles aren’t loaded with nuclear warheads either. They used to make 155mm nuclear artillery shells too. Yet the world doesn’t panic when we launch some Tomahawks and our 155mm guns are providing fire support on a regular basis.

    • Oblat

      Go back to sleep Bill.

      Of course in Bills world wasted money is the objective. That is why he’s all for failure.
      That is why the difference between a artillery shell a cruise missile an ICBM and a cheeseburger are irrelevant.

  • Stephen Russell

    Or carry bunkerbuster bombs aside cluster bombs IF needed or Earthquake bombs then HIT hard that way.

  • Belesari

    OK someone tell me WHY we need to be able to launch a conventional missile strike AROUND the world in less than 2 hrs?

    Really this is gotten stupid.

    Want to know a better way to do this? Rods from god. Or not at all.

    People need to accept what Should be done and what shouldnt. We have carriers and long range bombers for a reason.

    What is the point of developing a missile to carry a $2,000 dollar warhead around the planet to strike a $5,000 dollar house to kill 5 terrorist. All this comes at the cost of a $50,000,000 dollar a peice missile.

    That is stupid, this is why we are broke and why many people are looking at the airforce as VERY in need of a re structuring and redefining of missions.

  • theman

    Rods from God would be prohibitively expensive, and the technology is completely unproven. The idea behind this is to act on actionable intelligence as quickly as possible, without having to wait for subsonic flight times. We have signed treaties which promise we will not arm particular delivery vehicles with nuclear warheads, and the idea behind that is countries like Russia take us at our world.

  • slntax

    wouldnt it be wasteful to throw away the entire engine or whatever its called everytime you launch a missile like this? wouldnt it be smarter/cheaper to make a reusable system that goes most of the distance and launches a smart missile within enemy airspace?

    • blight

      You’d probably end up sacrificing endurance just to save endurance for the engine to return. Additionally, you need mechanisms to maintain used engines and refurbish them for re-use. In the end, it can often be very expensive to re-use, almost as much as using brand new equipment. Reuseable boosters didn’t save the space program a lot, and reused space shuttles had to be painstakingly maintained as well.

  • Ontos

    I still like the idea of the “Intercontinental Ballistic Chicken-Fried-Steak and cup-a-coffee” or ICBCFS&CAC.

    This about it for a sec… You’re a Lance Corporal sitting on the lee-side of a wind swept mountain freezing your can off with the rest of your fire team. You’ve been on patrol for 5 days now and ate your last MRE the night before…

    So what do you do? Grab the horn to DASC (or whatever they’re calling it these days) and request a ICBCFS&CAC. 5 minutes later a rocket fires up in Wyoming and sends enough chicken fried steak, country gravy, scrambled eggs, hash-browns and huge thermos of rich columbian coffee for a squad of Marines screaming across the globe at a gazzillion miles an hour.

    30 minutes later you’ve got piping hot breakfast (kept warm by the heat of atmospheric re-entry) delivered in your lap. Voila!

    Yeah, yeah… it’s be expensive, but it’d be a better use of tax-dollars than a lot of the crap it’s being spent on.

    Whatcha think?

    • mike j

      I think the 8 cents worth of pyrotechnics that deploy the chutes would fail, and the fire team would end up digging their food-pulp out of the crater with an e-tool. But that still beats sitting on a cold rock.

    • Tim

      Great idea! But then how would you know that “it’s really chicken” or something like it made to order by some peculiar companies with affiliates in… Chinois? Just a thought… )

  • STemplar

    I think why we need it probably can’t be answered fully unless you’re in the loop of intelligence. None of us know what sort of targets of opportunity don’t get addressed because there is no way to hit them in time. I suppose there is truth to the conspiracy military industrial complex theory that some just want to spend money on things we don’t need. I think that there are targets we are missing is just as likely an explanation.

    We have a ton of assets worldwide, but we aren’t everywhere. The only weapons we have to hit anywhere are nukes on missiles, and even those have set targets typically.

    The concern over it being confused for a nuclear launch is baloney and the Russians and Chinese know that. The proposal that land based ICBMs would be placed in CA and open to inspection eliminated the reality of that confusion. The truth is the idea the US could lob precision weapons anywhere in the world in 2 hours scares the hell out of the Chinese and Russians because that would render their nuke arsenals vulnerable to being eliminated by conventional weapons. You raise the issue of confusion with a nuke launch to the uninformed and spread misinformation to muddy the waters.

    I wouldn’t want to see any money for a program unless there is a proven working vehicle. It should stay R&D until that is perfected. Once there is a working hyper sonic vehicle, then the rest is easy enough to move forward with. The desire and benefit for these hyper sonic engines is there absent military applications so there should be plenty of R&D money commercially.

  • Kristofer

    Well from what I imagine, this project is further along than expected. Since the X-51 Waverider was a basic tech concept and test vehicle. Im sure this PGS system would be very useful in taking out high value targets as soon as their spotted.

    Another note, The chinese and russians would be very worried that a swarm of hundreds of these missiles could crater their airfields within a half hour.

  • Dfens

    No one could or can shoot down a Mach 3+ SR-71, but we wouldn’t want to consider a Mach 3+ bomber. Not nearly enough free development profit in one of those. Heck, they might not even be able to stretch a program like that out to 30 years. Clearly, what’s the point?

  • David A

    To address the last point of this piece, while you’ve technically got the definition of the SLBM acronym correct, the range of TRIDENT II puts it in the ICBM category, regardless of it’s launch point/Point of Origin (POO)/launch platform. I’m sure this is what Gen Scott was referring to.

  • Dfens

    I wonder what the loiter time for this “glider” would be? Maybe 1 second. Real useful. A Mach 3+ bomber could be anywhere on the planet in less than 10 hours even if they were all based in one place. With more realistic basing they could be anywhere within 5 hours. In an area of interest, they could be anywhere within minutes, and in none of these scenarios would they only be on station for a few seconds. Plus, if the USAF had a Mach 3 bomber, they could use it as a launch platform for a hypersonic drone or missile if they really needed to get ordinance on a spot in a hurry. It is unfortunate that we continue to let our defense policy be governed by what makes the most profit for the defense contractors instead of by what makes sense for the country. Paying defense contractors profit on development is crazy, so everything that comes from that policy is just as nutty.

    • kristofer

      The USAF hasn’t requested Mach 3 capability on its new B-3 Long Rang Strike platform, it would be nice if they did tho. That sort of speed coupled with a laser defense system would be able to an unreal amount of sorties against russian or chinese targets.

      • Dfens

        One other thing a Mach 3+ bomber can do that nothing else can. It can put the fear of being blown to hell in a group of people without actually having to send them there. Dragging a few Mach 3 shockwaves across a country will definitely test their resolve when it comes to pi$$ing us off. Granted we have fighters that can do a little of that now flying near borders, but a Mach 3+ bomber or a group of them flying straight over a country daring their air defense to take a shot gives us a “muscle flexing” capacity that our current military forces very much lack.

  • Dfens

    The bureaucrats in the USAF are no more interested in a short development time program than are the contractors they are supposed to be watching. They all want to settle into that long, career builder program that keeps them in one place for long enough to get the kids through college. To hell with the guy fighting the wars.

  • Will

    The possibility that a CPGS ballistic missile would be confused with a strategic 1st strike appears to be overblown. CPGS would be used 1 or at most a few at a time on targets no where near either Russia or China. And the “red phone” system is still there. Converting existing ICBM/SLBM should be cheaper than building a new missile based on new tech.
    On the other hand, a ramjet powered CPGS could be the basis for an air launched missile to arm the proposed new bomber.

  • theman

    There is a great article in the 2010 spring issue of international Security that covers this debate on conventional ballistic missiles. One criticism that would extend to a glider is the fact that any intelligence on high value targets takes at least months to collect, and therefore, you have ample time to position assets in order to strike. However, I like this idea, and all of the cost estimates in the comments above are completely uninformed.

  • Justin H

    3 words: extended range ATACMS

  • Justin H

    So the Chinese have 2,000 non-nuclear ballistic missiles, but we cant have any?

    • Justin H

  • bobbymike

    We can’t develop CPGS, we can’t build new nuclear weapons nor test them anymore. There is a segment of the US population that will always see the US as the ONLY real danger in the world and if we were just weaker then the world would be a better place.

    Offensive weapons like prompt global strike are a threat to the world, defensive weapons like missile defense are a threat to the world, America disarmed is the only outcome they really want.

  • theman

    The Chinese do not have 2,000 long range ballistic missiles

  • STemplar

    So comments today are that a conventional ICBM is still an option??? If confusion were gun powder the Pentagon would be self sufficient…..

  • Dfens

    An hour shot time is not exactly instantanious, and what happens if the “target” is in a school full of children when the “glider” gets there (why a “glider” needs a chin intake is a mystery to me)? The Mach 3 bomber has many options with regard to speed, altitude, and maneuvers it makes in such a scenario. The glider has none except to ditch in the ocean.