Panetta Supports Prompt Global Strike Weapon

It looks like the Pentagon’s plans to develop a prescision weapon capable of hitting anywhere on Earth with a conventional warhead in a matter of minutes or hours will remain alive for the time being.

Soon-to-be incoming Pentagon chief Leon Panetta told lawmakers during his confirmation hearings to be Secretary of Defense that he supports the effort to field such a weapon.

From his written testimony via Defense News:

Conventional prompt global strike (CPGS) weapons would provide the nation with a unique conventional capability to strike time-sensitive targets, so that distant, hard-to-reach places will no longer provide sanctuary to adversaries.  It is my understanding that the only current prompt global strike capability in the U.S. inventory is a nuclear armed ballistic missile.  CPGS would be a valuable option for the President to have at his disposal.

CPGS systems could be useful in scenarios involving regional adversaries considering an attack using weapons of mass destruction or against high-priority non-state adversaries.  More broadly, CPGS may be the only systems available in situations where a fleeting, serious threat was located in a region not readily accessible by other means.

Now, the Air Force says that it’s not planning on sticking a conventional weapon atop a ballistic missile. The most compelling arguement against doing so is that the rapid launch of an ICBM with little to no warning to other nations (see Russia) could make people think the U.S. was launching some sort of nuclear weapon.

So rather than an ICBM, the Air Force may develope hypersonic vehicles that would be booster to around Mach 6 and then use a sramjet-style engine to continue on to the target at such speeds. In fact, the Air Force already looking at ways to weaponize the technology used on its main hypersonic research vehicle, the X-51A Waverider.

However, as Defense News points out, it’s unclear if the Pentagon will have the cash on hand to fund such a program in the age of government austerity. Especially since it’s going to be competing with new aircraft carrier programs, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the next generation bomber and several new ground vehicle programs.

Speaking of the X-51A, its second test flight happened earlier this week and it was considered, well, “less than successful” after the vehicle’s engine refused to fully start. This is the second time in as many flights that the X-51A has seen its test shot cut short.

  • EJ257

    Maybe this tech will trickle down and we’ll finally have DC to PEK flights lasting no more than an hour?

  • Dfens

    It seems ridiculous to build a new subsonic bomber to replace the B-2 and try to develop a “global strike weapon” that cannot be an ICBM. A Mach 3+ capable bomber can be anywhere in the world from one base in 6 hours. With a more reasonable basing distribution it could probably be anywhere on the planet within 3 hours, and have a reasonable amount of loiter time, and carry a formidable load of ordinance, and be recallable. Plus, a Mach 3 bomber could dispense with the unreliable and expensive stealth coatings and use shape stealth along with speed to be invulnerable to air defenses. It could be made from steel as the XB-70 was, and dispense with the high costs of composite materials while providing better protection to the crew, superior damage tolerace, and be easier to repair than today’s billion dollar composite wonders.

    Yeah, why do that when we could have 2 big development programs running for the next 20-30 years making the bloated defense giants even more bloated with 2 to 3 more decades of record profits and most likely nothing flying when the miserable failures are finally terminated?

  • Dfens

    Not to mention the shock and awe factor a Mach 3+ bomber brings to the equation. Imagine if 20 minutes after Hugo Chavez got off the UN podium calling the POTUS “el Diablo” he gets a call from his wife telling him about how every window and dish in the palace has just been shattered by a series of supersonic shockwaves a flight of US bombers towed over the country — purely by accident, naturally. The Mach 3+ bomber could clearly be the Mighty Mo of the 21st Century, which is why we’ll wait for China to build one first.

  • Byron Skinner

    Good Afternoon Folks,

    I with anon on this one. This mission is made for the current SSGN or the upcoming Block IV Virginias. By the time the AF could get a bird in the air and in position the target would be notified and long gone. While I’m not about to advise the military on the type of weapon that would best carry out this mission there definitely in no need to design and develop another weapons platform.

    Prompt and Surprise Global Strike is not a USAF mission. This is what the submarine is designed for and US boats can do it quite well. Give the Bubble Heads the weapon and they will do the rest with what they got.

    Byron Skinner

    • Will

      If prompt & surprise global strike is not a mission for the USAF now, then this a new mission for the USAF that both the GWB & Obama administrations want to give it. Yes, sub launched missiles, either supersonic cruise type or ballistic would be useful & less costly, but the mission is to be able to strike before there’s time for any subs to get close enough.

  • dirtylodown

    “It looks like the Pentagon’s plans to develop a prescision weapon capable of hitting anywhere on Earth with a conventional warhead in a matter of minutes or hours will remain alive for the time being.”

    Are we not using nukes any more?

  • Hunter78

    A multi-billion dollar program in desperate search of a reasonable mission. Beyond thickly lining the pockets of a few people, of course.

  • bobbymike

    Great movie Dr Strangelove good reference

  • bobbymike

    Need a new conventional ICBM for this important mission other than that we need to exercise the solid rocket, warhead and reentry vehicle industrial base and then transition the new missile into a MMIII replacement.

  • Jacob

    According to that same Defense News article: “most of the time is spent analyzing intelligence data compared to the actual time of flight of a missile or bomber that would be tasked to destroy the target”. So wouldn’t the ideal platform be a stealth UAV that you send to the target area the moment you get actionable intelligence, and then decide later whether to pull the trigger?

  • I think we can make it next generation bomber with scram jet engine compoud with armadillo rocket it more reasonable enough.

  • PolicyWonk

    1. The problem with high-speed bombers is that they generate a LOT of heat and are therefore pretty easy to detect (hence – a good chunk of the reason why stealth bombers are subsonic), and they eat a lot of fuel.
    2. We’re not creating a clobal strike/conventionally armed ICBM because of concerns that it would alarm Russia and perhaps start a nuclear exchange. That SAME argument should be presented to the CHINESE.

  • blight

    And to raise a old thread from the dead:

    Firing ICBMs from airplanes. Perhaps that would be the answer: firing missiles from airplanes, using the stages of ICBMs discarded as part of START compliance to boost them to appropriate altitude and fire the PGS ramjet.

    Or heck, use ICBM stages to get it to altitude and let the PGS ramjet take over from there. It’ll just look like a rocket launch without an associated object on ballistic trajectory. The Russians aren’t stupid though: miniaturized nukes could probably fit on this PGS, and they will rightfully note that these can be used to deliver nukes, and we’re back to the trust issue about whether or not American launch systems can be trusted to not carry nuclear payloads that might be dropping on your soil. And that’s the real problem that our technological prowess cannot get around, leading to long term hand-wringing.