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Panetta Supports Prompt Global Strike Weapon

by John Reed on June 15, 2011

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.

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{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

EJ257 June 15, 2011 at 12:57 pm

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

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Just sayin June 15, 2011 at 5:00 pm

Rest assured, this technology will not be used for the benefit of mankind. Only for destroying things.

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Dfens June 15, 2011 at 2:00 pm

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?

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Will June 16, 2011 at 1:24 pm

A high speed bomber must also be high altitude, similar in concept to the B-70. Too vulnerable to modern SAMs such as the S-400 Triumff – at Mach 3 it will be about 2000 mph slower than the missile. Too many potential targets can afford them (by way of selling oil to us) so we'd have to depend on the Russians not selling them the SAMs.

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Dfens June 16, 2011 at 5:43 pm

No, it would not be vulnerable at all. The SR-71 was not vulnerable to missiles when it retired. Simulations that have been done using US resources to intercept an SR-71 today still indicate that it is only on the edge of being possible, and the vehicle I'm talking about would have much more mature stealth shaping technology than the Blackbird had. Basically, stealth shaping has made high and fast (low supersonic speeds) possible again. We simply have not taken advantage of that realm because it provided too little financial return for the defense contractors.

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Dfens June 15, 2011 at 2:27 pm

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.

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Dfens June 17, 2011 at 9:37 am

One reason the high speed bomber should be of interest to the current administration is because it actually is a "shovel ready jobs program" for American workers. This kind of aircraft would bring work to many US machine shops that are already on their knees due to unfair competiton with machine shops in China. I know of one machinist locally who told me the only reason his shop was still in business was because of the relatively long turnaround time of China's shops. He said otherwise the Chinese shops could provide finished parts for less than he could buy the steel to build the part out of. I know we're all too sophisticated to care about what happens to a strategically important resource like machine shops and machinsts, but maybe not eveyone in American is for one world government.

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blight June 17, 2011 at 4:09 pm

It's shovel ready jobs projects for a small subset of American labor. It's the same problem that people have with our present government, which is oriented around giving squeaky wheels grease and not about focusing on general recovery. I had issues with the stimulus' "shovel ready" setup because it's always conveniently geared towards helping certain niches of the economy, which has that patchwork/band-aid approach.

The aerospace sector's recovery will help a few people, maybe even a few thousand people, or tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands, but there's millions of people out there who aren't machinists and won't see anything out of it.

The "free market" is the one that makes bottom dollar for bottom quality so attractive, and our skilled labor is paying for it. If Boeing couldn't sell high speed planes to airliners, then why should the government act against the market?

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Dfens June 18, 2011 at 11:47 am

While I agree with your praises of the "free market", there is nothing "free market" about our armed forces. In fact, I could only wish they would learn to make better use of free market methods of procurement. So given the socialist framework within which these aircraft are to be bought, at least their construction could go to helping out a segment of our economy that is both strategically important and hard hit by unfair overseas competition from a country that needs more than just a little push back.

As for whether or not Boeing found high speed aircraft an attractive civilian market, I don't see that this has anything to do with what weapons we buy. On the other hand, as one who has worked on the High Speed Civil Transport program and some short lived supersonic business jet proposals, I can tell you that should the DoD make some technology leaps in extending the range of supersonic aircraft, that would go a long way toward helping the civilian high speed market. For instance, and airplane — especially a business jet — that could make it across the Pacific with a decent compliment of passengers would sell like hot cakes. It is the "holy grail" of business jet travel right now.

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Byron Skinner June 15, 2011 at 3:14 pm

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.

ALLONS,
Byron Skinner

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Will June 16, 2011 at 1:35 pm

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.

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dirtylodown June 15, 2011 at 4:32 pm

"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?

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Cheesed June 15, 2011 at 9:25 pm

By "not any more," do you mean not since the last time they were used in anger? Because – and I'll admit that I've been playing a lot of Starcraft – I think that was sixty-five years ago..

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Hunter78 June 15, 2011 at 6:04 pm

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

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bobbymike June 15, 2011 at 9:48 pm

Great movie Dr Strangelove good reference

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bobbymike June 15, 2011 at 9:50 pm

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.

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Cheesed June 16, 2011 at 6:24 pm

"Warhead and re-entry vehicle industrial base?" How macabre. If the solid rocket industry needs a boost, could we not give them some practice by having them shoot satellites into space? Competition always lowers costs, so I hear, and practice makes perfect.

Or we could just sequentially nuke all the other countries, whichevs.

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Jacob June 15, 2011 at 10:06 pm

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?

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Oudin June 16, 2011 at 1:57 am

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

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PolicyWonk June 17, 2011 at 8:21 am

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.

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Dfens June 17, 2011 at 9:26 am

Yeah, that's why we lost so many SR-71's to missiles in the '90s. Oh wait, we never lost an SR-71 to enemy fire. Stagnation temperature at Mach 3 is 800 C. Edges on supersonic vehicles that might experience these temperatures are cooled by fuel flow. The rest of the vehicle sees about 300 degrees. Hardly a glowing beacon in the sky. If you want fuel economy, go slow. If you want to get there fast, yes, it will take more fuel. The whole point of this second vehicle the Air Force wants to develop is getting to the target fast.

The B-2 will get you there slowly. We decided a few years back we only needed 20 of those. Suddenly we need more and we need a second program for a vehicle that gets us there fast? I'm calling BS on that. One development program for a vehicle that's not the same as the last one we developed obviously makes more sense than two development programs with one for a vehicle we've already got and another that's made from unobtanium.

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blight June 24, 2011 at 2:59 pm

And to raise a old thread from the dead:
https://wiki.umn.edu/pub/AEM_Air_Launch_Team/Laun

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.

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Just sayin June 16, 2011 at 5:41 pm

I can't believe you just said that.

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Blight June 17, 2011 at 9:22 am

Do farmers farm for free? As much as a monetized society appeals to me people refuse to work for free, and as materially motivated creatures if everything was free productivity would drop like a stone.

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