Conventional Prompt Global Strike and Long-Range Ballistic Missiles: Background and Issues

How super-fast missiles will change the way we think about defence
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Hypersonic weapons could conceivably challenge the present notion of nuclear deterrence. By operating at the strategic level with the ability to launch both conventional and nuclear strikes, HGVs present a real risk to the relative stability between states and alliances. The same can also be said of shorter-ranged HCMs which can still have a coercive effect on opponents at the operational level. They also present existing defences the same challenges as HGVs — target ambiguity, reduced warning times and manoeuvrability.

The technology level for HCMs is still very much cutting edge but they offer relative simplicity and affordabilitywhen compared to HGVs and can be launched from conventional platforms such as aircraft, ships or submarines. Proliferation is almost inevitable with such weapons and lesser nations that acquire them may see HCMs as a deterrent against greater power intervention.

HCMs provide a number of characteristics that appeal to the military in that they can strike at range whilst evading existing defences; this would include target sets that are difficult to hit using subsonic weapons. The drive to develop new technologies is relentless and is embracing more actors, both state and non-state, all of whom are presented with lower entry requirements. They are also rather conveniently forgetting that wars are invariably fought against determined and elusive opponents who will seek to adapt and overcome.


Politicians and indeed the military both focus on new technologies and concepts that promise fast, cheap and efficient victories. Look no further than Pearl Harbour, Baghdad or the Schlieffen Plan to witness the appeal of the short war where a decisive knock-out blow is the silver bullet to anyone charged with taking the military initiative.

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Conventional prompt global strike (CPGS) weapons would allow the United States to strike conventional warheads on their long-range ballistic missiles. During .. Background and Issues for Congress, by Kelley M. Sayler. Congressional Research Service report, Conventional Prompt Global Strike and Long-Range Ballistic Missiles: Background and Issues.

At the operational level, the relative accessibility of HCMs may well allow either major powers to enhance their A2AD programmes of lesser powers to flex their political aspirations in areas of the world already experiencing varying degrees of tension. Those who worship at the altar of technology may well have found their promised land — as long as, of course, the other disruptive technologies also bursting onto the scene, do not blunt or even negate the seductive lure of hypersonic weapons.

The world has been here before. It is not the ability of hypersonic weapons to win the next war that will decrease stability between nations and alliances, it is their false promise of a quick and bloodless victory that has the potential to prove fatal to commanders and politicians alike. History would suggest that their allure will be blunted by the constraints and conditions that this new type of weapon find itself operating in.

Top 5 Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM): The End of the World in 30 Minutes

Predictably, the Air Force wants a hypersonic weapon it can launch from an aircraft, while the Navy wants one it can launch from a ship. The Navy declared on January 22 that it is firing up a hypersonic test facility at its longtime weapons lab at China Lake, California. It plans to explore underwater hypersonic weapons at the base, deep in the Mojave Desert. The Army, of course, wants one it can launch from land.

Yep, even the Army wants a slice of this pie. Freedberg Jr. This quest for hypersonic weapons is the latest iteration of the myth that more—more speed, more firepower, more maneuverability, more money—leads to more victories on the battlefield.

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Of course, there are other options. Like many new weapons technologies, there are concerns that hypersonics could lead to real war. The Rand Corporation recently warned that their speed and stealth warrant a pact among China, Russia, and the United States to restrain their spread it may already be too late: Australia, France, India, and Japan are known to be working on homegrown hypersonics.

But, as the Pentagon never tires of telling us, they always do. Well, that shows how much he knows. The Pentagon has just begun its search for a next-generation missile-defense system. Secret or not, the Defense Department has, once again, embarked on its gold-plated quest for the latest silver bullet to render prior silver bullets impotent and obsolete. Center for Defense Information. POGO will continue to devote itself to rooting out waste, fraud, and abuse of power at even the highest levels of government.

Prompt Global Strike

Give now to support our investigations. Three key service programs now are center stage under the consolidated CPGS program. The U. Based on land — probably either on the U.

Missile Defence

After separation, the payload would travel hypersonically to the target while having the capacity to execute substantial cross-range maneuvers. Two benefits flow from such maneuverability: high accuracy and avoiding flight over hostile countries. The air force had hoped to reach an operational capability by with one ready missile and two spares , but it now appears that the CSM might not be ready until well after the middle of this decade. This is due to the substantial testing that remains for reentry bodies that must undergo at least five demonstration flights.

To date, the CSM has not undergone any successful hypersonic flight tests 2. However, after two flight test failures , , and the brief achievement of a speed of Mach 20, it is clear that the vehicle thus far cannot maintain aerodynamic control for a full flight test, no less the entire objective mission distance.

The dangers and risks of employing even a niche CPGS capability — consisting of 20 or so systems — no less hundreds or more, greatly exceed the benefits; moreover, more suitable, if less prompt, alternatives exist to deal with fleeting targets. The chief risks include creating strong preemption incentives, not only for states correctly perceiving they are in the gun sights of CPGS weapons, but also in nations considering emulating this American precedent to undertake theire own form of prompt long-range strike capability. Strategic stability is also threatened by the inevitable ambiguity surrounding whether or not an incoming CPGS attack is conventional or nuclear.

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Compressed circumstances surrounding such a scenario could foster unwanted erratic behavior. Such compressed conditions leave decision-makers with virtually no time to appraise the direct and potentially unintended consequences of their actions. The first is having a prompt strike option in case of the possible detection of a fleeting terrorist target with a nuclear weapon located in a neutral country, or a rogue state appearing to ready a nuclear-armed missile.

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The second is the belief that CPGS reduces the possibility that the United States may have to use nuclear weapons instead to defend its interests. In case of the first presumed benefit, while even proponents will admit that such scenarios are highly improbable, the combination of a much higher probability of poor intelligence support and the inadvertent start, in the case of a state-based scenario, of an otherwise avoidable conventional, or worse, nuclear war, simply is too high a risk to bear.