Conventional Warheads for Long-Range Ballistic Missiles: Background and Issues for Congress
Prepared for Members and Committees of Congress
The United States has deployed long-range ballistic missiles in its strategic offensive nuclear
forces for more than 40 years. In the past few years, some have proposed that the United States
deploy conventional warheads on these missiles. This would provide the United States with the
ability to strike promptly anywhere in the world, regardless of the presence of overseas bases or
nearby naval forces.
The Air Force and Navy have both studied the possible deployment of conventional warheads on
their long-range ballistic missiles. The Air Force has been pursuing, with DARPA, research into a
number of technologies that might enhance the U.S. long-range strike capability. It is developing
a hypersonic glide vehicle, known as the Common Aero Vehicle (CAV), that could carry
conventional munitions on modified Minuteman II or Peacekeeper missiles, or it could deploy
these missiles with more familiar conventional warheads. This effort is now known as the
Conventional Strike Missile (CSM) and could be deployed as a mid-term option for the Prompt
Global Strike mission. The FY2007 Defense Budget requested $127 million to pursue the
deployment of conventional warheads on Trident missiles, which might be deployed in 2-4 years, th
but the 109 Congress rejected most of this request. The FY2008 budget requested $175.4 th
million, but the 100 Congress did not approve this funding, either, instead transferring $100
million to a combined fund to conduct research into a broad range of “prompt global strike”
technologies. The Bush Administration objected to this outcome, noting that the $110 million in
the account would not be sufficient to continue research into the proposed Air Force and Navy
Many have expressed concerns about the possibility that other nations, such as Russia or China
might misinterpret the launch of a conventionally-armed ballistic missile and conclude that they
are under attack with nuclear weapons. The Air Force has outlined a number of measures that
might reduce this risk. It plans to base these missiles along the U.S. coast, far from bases with
nuclear-armed ballistic missiles. It also would use consultations, notifications, and inspections to
inform others of the difference between conventional and nuclear ballistic missiles. But, although
these measures could address some of the concerns, they are not likely to eliminate the risks of
misunderstandings, particularly if the United States used these missiles on short notice in a crisis.
The Navy would not segregate its conventional missiles, but would deploy them on submarines
that also carry nuclear warheads, but it could still notify Russia or other nations to mitigate the
possibility of misunderstandings.
Long-range ballistic missiles can bring unique capabilities to the PGS mission. But these missiles
are only uniquely capable if the United States must attack promptly, or within hours, of the start
of an unanticipated conflict. In any other circumstance, the United States is likely to have the time
to move its forces into the region. Hence, Congress may review whether the benefits brought by
these systems outweigh the risks of misunderstandings arising from their use. This report will be
updated as needed.
Introduc tion ..................................................................................................................................... 1
Backgr ound ..................................................................................................................................... 2
Conventional Ballistic Missiles and Offensive Strike Forces...................................................2
Conventional Ballistic Missiles and Prompt Global Strike.......................................................3
The Prompt Global Strike Mission (PGS)..........................................................................3
PGS and the New U.S. Strategic Command.......................................................................4
Potential Targets and Weapons for the PGS Mission..........................................................5
Plans and Programs.........................................................................................................................6
Air Force Programs...................................................................................................................9
FY2003 and FY2004.........................................................................................................12
FY2005 ............................................................................................................................. 13
FY2006 and FY2007.........................................................................................................13
FY2008 ............................................................................................................................. 14
FY2009 ............................................................................................................................. 16
Issues for Congress........................................................................................................................16
Assessing the Rationale...........................................................................................................17
The Nuclear Posture Review............................................................................................17
PGS ............................................................................................................................ ....... 17
Reviewing the Alternatives.....................................................................................................18
Land-Based Ballistic Missiles...........................................................................................18
Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missiles............................................................................22
Tomahawk Cruise Missiles...............................................................................................23
Hypersonic Cruise Missiles..............................................................................................23
Submarine-Launched Intermediate-Range Ballistic Missile (SLIRBM)..........................24
Forward-Based Global Strike (FBGS)..............................................................................25
Arms Control Issues................................................................................................................25
Air Force Plans.................................................................................................................25
Weighing the Benefits and Risks............................................................................................27
Author Contact Information..........................................................................................................29
The United States began to deploy long-range ballistic missiles in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
These missiles—land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and sea-based submarine-
launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs)—have served as the backbone of the U.S. strategic nuclear
deterrent for more than 40 years. They provided the United States with the ability to threaten
targets throughout the Soviet Union, and, if necessary, in other nations, from the United States or
from submarines patrolling at sea. When the Cold War ended in the early 1990s, these missiles
carried more than 8,000 nuclear warheads. The United States has reduced its strategic forces
during the past 15 years, but it still has approximately 4,816 warheads deployed on 982 ICBMs 1
and SLBMs. All the missiles still carry nuclear warheads.
In recent years, analysts both inside and outside the government have suggested that the United
States consider deploying conventional warheads on its long-range ballistic missiles. The Bush
Administration, in the 2001 Nuclear Posture Review, called for the integration of precision
conventional weapons with strategic nuclear forces in a new category of “offensive strike” 2
weapons. Ballistic missiles armed with conventional warheads are one possible option for a new
type of precision conventional weapon. In addition, the Pentagon identified a new mission—
prompt global strike (PGS)—that would allow the United States to strike targets anywhere on
earth in a matter of hours, without relying on forward based forces. Many analysts believe that
long-range ballistic missiles armed with conventional warheads would also be an ideal weapon
for this mission.
Both the Navy and Air Force have studied concepts and technologies that might allow the
deployment of conventional warheads on long-range ballistic missiles. The Administration has
requested funding for these initiatives for the past few years. These requests have thus far
received a mixed reception in Congress. In FY2007 and FY2008, the Administration requested
funding for both the Air Force and the Navy. In FY2008, Congress did not approve the requested
funding for the separate services, but combined the funding in a new category that would explore
a wider range of options for the prompt global strike mission. This funding—$100 million—falls
well short of total of the separate amounts requested by the Administration. As a result, Congress
and the Bush Administration are likely to continue to debate the alternative programs and to
discuss the best way for the United States to proceed, if at all, with the deployment of
conventional warheads on long-range ballistic missiles.
This report provides an overview of the Administration’s rationale for the possible deployment of
conventional warheads on long-range ballistic missiles. It then reviews the Air Force and Navy
efforts to develop these systems. It summarizes congressional reaction to these proposals, then
provides a more detailed account of the issues raised by these concepts and programs.
U.S. Department of State, START Aggregate Numbers of Strategic Offensive Arms. Fact Sheet. Bureau of Arms
Control, October 1, 2007. These numbers reflect the counting rules outlined in the 1991 START Treaty, and include the
warheads that could be carried on the deactivated Peacekeeper missiles. Hence, it overstates the actual number of
deployed forces by about 50 missiles and 500 warheads.
2 U.S. Congress, Senate Committee on Armed Services. Hearing on the Nuclear Posture Review. Statement of the
Honorable Douglas J. Feith. Under Secretary of Defense for Policy. February 14, 2002. p. 4.
The Bush Administration’s Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), released in early January 2002, calls
for the deployment of a “new triad” of capabilities that would contribute to deterrence and U.S. 3
national security in the coming years. During the Cold War, the United States deployed a “triad”
of forces comprised of the three types of delivery vehicles for strategic nuclear weapons—land-
based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), submarine launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs),
and long-range bombers. In the “new triad,” these nuclear-armed delivery vehicles would
combine with precision-guided conventional weapons and become known as “offensive strike” 4
In the Administration’s view, offensive strike weapons with conventional warheads could address
some missions now assigned to long-range nuclear forces. While some critics claim that this
concept would blur the distinction between conventional and nuclear weapons and increase the
likelihood of a U.S. use of nuclear weapons, the Administration has argued that the availability of
precision conventional weapons would, possibly, provide the President with more options in a
crisis, and, therefore, reduce the likelihood of the use of nuclear weapons. In testimony before the
Senate Armed Services Committee in April 2005, General James Cartwright, then the commander
of STRATCOM, noted that “the New Triad concept will enable more precisely tailored global 5
strike operations.” Furthermore, some have argued that, by replacing some nuclear weapons with 6
conventional weapons in the U.S. strategic war plan the United States might be able to further 7
reduce its number of deployed strategic nuclear weapons.
General Cartwright and others have asserted that the substitution of conventional warheads for
nuclear warheads in the U.S. war plan would require significant improvements in the accuracy of
U.S. long-range ballistic missiles. If missiles can deliver their payloads more precisely to their
targets, then, for some categories of targets, they may not need the explosive yield of a nuclear
weapon to destroy the target. General Cartwright has sought a study that will allow him to
determine what proportion of the targets in the U.S. war plan could be attacked with conventional
weapons. An industry analyst has estimated that his proportion could be between10% and 30% of
U.S. Department of Defense. “Special Briefing on the Nuclear Posture Review,” News Transcript. January 9, 2002.
4 The other two legs of the new triad are missile defenses, which the Administration has stated will contribute to
deterrence by complicating an adversary’s attack planning and undermining his confidence; and a “responsive
infrastructure” which would allow the United States to maintain and, if necessary, expand its nuclear arsenal in
response to emerging threats. These three legs are joined together by “command and control, intelligence, and planning
capabilities,” which, according to the Administration, will provide the United States the ability to identify targets and
plan nuclear or conventional attacks on short notice, in response to unexpected threats. See U.S. Congress, Senate
Committee on Armed Services. Statement of the Honorable Douglas J. Feith, Under Secretary of Defense For Policy.
February 14, 2002.
5 U.S. Congress, Senate Committee on Armed Services. Subcommittee on Strategic. Testimony of Admiral James E.
Cartwright, Commander, U.S. Strategic Command. Hearing, April 4, 2005.
6 The war plan that outlines options for the use of nuclear weapons was known as the SIOP (Single Integrated
Operational Plan) throughout the Cold War. It is now known as OPLAN 8044 and it reflects changes in U.S. targeting
plans and priorities that resulted from the Bush Administration’s nuclear posture Review.
7 Grossman, Elaine M. “U.S. General: Precise Long-Range Missiles may Enable Big Nuclear Cuts,” Inside the
Pentagon, April 28, 2005.
the existing targets.8 Both the Navy and the Air Force are exploring advanced guidance and
targeting technologies, such as the use of GPS guidance, that might provide their missiles with
these improvements in accuracy. This effort has been underway for more than a decade.
Throughout the Cold War, the United States maintained military bases overseas so that it could
position its troops to deter, and if necessary, respond promptly to an attack from the Soviet Union
or its allies. These forward bases were located, for the most part, in Europe and Asia—regions
where conflict seemed most likely to occur. These overseas bases and forces were believed to not
only increase preparedness, but also deter conflict by their very presence in unstable regions.
However, with the demise of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, analysts argue that
the United States must now be prepared to fight a wider range of potential adversaries in
unexpected areas who may possess a great variety of military capabilities. And, although the
United States continues to deploy its military forces at bases around the world, it can no longer be
certain that these bases will be located close to the theater of operations if a conflict occurs. As a
result, the United States not only plans to restructure, and, in some cases, reduce, its forces based
overseas, it has also sought to improve its ability to move military forces into a region quickly
when and if a conflict occurs.
At the same time, many analysts and military officials have argued that the United States must
maintain and enhance its long-range strike capability so that it can strike anywhere in the world 9
with forces that are based in or near the United States, or with forces that have the range to reach
targets across the globe from wherever they are deployed. This would not only allow the United
States to pursue an adversary without relying on forward bases, it would also allow the United
States to reach targets deep inside an enemy’s territory. Further, some argue that the United States
must be able to attack targets, across the globe, in a matter of hours, or less, either at the start of a
conflict or during ongoing operations. This is because, as some have argued, U.S. adversaries
could to adapt to the U.S. precision-strike capability by withholding targeting information with
concealment techniques or mobility, leaving the United States with little time to attack after it
identified relevant targets. Finally, many have noted that adversaries could seek to protect their
assets by deploying them in buried or hardened facilities, leading to a requirement for
improvements in the U.S. ability to defeat hardened and deeply buried targets.
The need for prompt long-range, or global, strike capabilities has been addressed both in more
general defense policy studies, such as the 2001 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), which
noted that the U.S. defense strategy “rests on the assumption that U.S. forces have the ability to
project power worldwide,” and also in more specific service reports on Air Force doctrine, which
have noted that “rapid power projection based in the continental United States has become the
predominant military strategy.” In May 2003, the Air Force issued a formal Mission Need
Statement for the Prompt Global Strike (PGS) Mission. This document was written by Air Force
Grossman, Elaine M. “U.S. General: Precise Long-Range Missiles May Enable Big Nuclear Cuts,” Inside the
Pentagon, April 28, 2005.
9 See, for example, Watts, Barry D. Long-Range Strike: Imperatives, Urgency, and Options. Center for Strategic and
Budgetary Assessments. April 2005.
Space command, coordinated with officials in the Joint Staff and the Office of the Secretary of
Defense, and validated by the Joint Requirements Oversight Council (JROC). This statement
indicates that the United States needs to be able to strike globally and rapidly with joint
conventional forces against high-payoff targets. The United States should be able to plan and
execute these attacks in a matter of minutes or hours, as opposed to the days or weeks needed for
planning and execution with existing forces, and it should be able to execute these attacks even 10
when it had no permanent military presence in the region where the conflict would occur. The
2006 Quadrennial Defense Review also highlighted the growing need for global strike
In October 2002, the U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM), which was in charge of plans and
operations for U.S. strategic nuclear weapons, merged with U.S. Space Command (SpaceCom),
which commanded military space operations, information operations, computer network 11
operations, and space campaign planning. This merger gave the new STRATCOM the “ability
to project power around the globe through space and information warfare.” Further, in late 2002
and early 2003, the Pentagon restructured the new STRATCOM so that it could take on new 12
missions, including the planning and execution of the prompt global strike mission. This change
in the command structure highlights a growing emphasis on long-range, strategic missions in
conventional warfighting doctrine.
Admiral James O. Ellis, the first Commander of the new STRATCOM, stated that the new
mission “extends our long-standing and globally-focused deterrent capabilities to the broader 13
spectrum of conflict.” He further indicated that “the incorporation of conventional, non-kinetic,
and special operations capabilities into a full-spectrum contingency arsenal will enable the
command to deliberately and adaptively plan for and deliver rapid, limited-duration, extended-
range combat power anywhere in the world (emphasis added).” This will “provide a wider range
of options to the President in responding to time-critical global challenges.” He also stated that
STRATCOM’s capabilities would “provide the nation an immediate ability to engage a select set
of targets by moving rapidly from actionable intelligence, through adaptive planning, to national-14
level decision-making and the delivery of effects across thousands of miles.” He stated that
data-gathering, decision-making, and execution must occur in minutes to support the PGS
mission, a standard that is not yet possible with existing technology.
General James Cartwright, the second commander of STRATCOM, defined the global strike
mission area by stating that “it provides to the nation the ability to rapidly plan and rapidly
Jumper, John, General, U.S. Air Force. Final Mission Need Statement. “Prompt Global Strike,” May 2, 2003.
11 U.S. Department of Defense. “DOD Announces Merger of U.S. Space and Strategic Commands,” June 26, 2002.
12 According to Admiral James O. Ellis, the Commander of STRATCOM, these missions included global strike
planning and execution; information operations; global missile defense integrations; and oversight of command,
control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (C4ISR) in support of strategic and
global operations. See Statement of Admiral James O. Ellis. Commander United States Strategic Command. Before the
House Armed Services Committee. March 13, 2003. p. 4.
13 Kinetic energy weapons are those that destroy their targets with blast or impact; non-kinetic weapons, such as lasers,
destroy their targets through electromagnetic or other forms of energy.
14 Statement of Admiral James O. Ellis, Commander, U.S. Strategic Command, House Armed Services Committee,
March 13, 2003.
deliver effect any place on the globe...” The capability would not necessarily be nuclear, and a
regional combatant commander could “tailor it for his target and deliver it very quickly, with very
short time lines on the planning and delivery, any place on the face of the Earth.” General
Cartwright also emphasized that the global strike capability involved much more than just the
delivery of a weapon to a target, stating that “it encompasses both the ability to plan rapidly, to
apply the precision to the intelligence and gather that intelligence in a very rapid manner, and 15
then to apply that intelligence to the target and understand the effect we want to create.” The
U.S. military is seeking to acquire the capabilities needed to meet this standard.
The intelligence requirements for the PGS mission are often overlooked, and may prove to be so
demanding as to affect the likelihood for success. As General Michael Hayden, the CIA director,
noted in mid-2007, the PGS mission will require “very convincing intelligence” before any 16
attacks occur. He further stated that “if you are going to strike suddenly ... it has to be based on
very powerful, very convincing intelligence.” Further, the intelligence may need to be released to
the public, to demonstrate both the military need and time restraints that made the attack
The United States might need to strike several categories of targets promptly, throughout the
spectrum of conflict. For example, if an adversary deployed air defense or anti-satellite weapons
that could disrupt the U.S. ability to sustain an attack, the United States might choose to strike
promptly at the start of a conflict with weapons that could penetrate and destroy the defenses. A
prompt strike against an adversary’s ballistic missiles or caches of weapons of mass destruction
(WMD) might allow the United States to destroy these weapons early before an adversary could
use them. Some targets could also appear quickly and remain vulnerable for short periods of time
during a conflict. These might include leadership cells that could move during a conflict or
mobile military systems that the adversary had chosen to keep hidden prior too their use.
The United States might use a number of different weapons systems, in the near term, in the PGS 17
mission. These could include medium- or long-range aircraft, cruise missiles launched from 18
bombers or submarines, and ballistic missiles based at sea or on land in the United States. But
conventional aircraft, even if they are based near the theater of operations, could take several
hours, or more, to reach their targets. Aircraft may also be vulnerable to enemy air defenses,
particularly if they tried to attack targets deep inside enemy territory. Similarly, aircraft or cruise
U.S. Congress, Senate Committee on Armed Services. Subcommittee on Strategic. Testimony of Admiral James E.
Cartwright, Commander, U.S. Strategic Command. Hearing, April 4, 2005.
16 Grossman, Elaine, M. Hayden: “Prompt Global Strike” Raises Bar for Intel Community. Inside The Air Force. June
17 In the longer term, the Air Force and Navy are both exploring the use of ramjets, or scramjets, for long-range attack
term. These hypersonic aircraft, which could fly at speeds of Mach 2-Mach 5, are still in the early stages of
development. The are envisioned to launch from air bases, like aircraft, but to travel at speeds that far exceed those of
U.S. aircraft and may approach the speeds of missiles. See, for example, Pincus, Walter. “Pentagon Has Far-reaching
Defense Spacecraft in Works,” Washington Post, March 16, 2005. p. 3.
18 In his testimony in 2003, Admiral Ellis specifically mentioned two systems that could contribute to this mission,
Trident submarines reconfigured to carry Tomahawk cruise missiles with conventional warheads and the proposed
Common Aero Vehicle, which could be used to deploy conventional munitions on long-range ballistic missiles. See the
statement of Admiral James O. Ellis, Commander, U.S. Strategic Command, House Armed Services Committee, March
missiles based at sea may be too far from the theater of operations to strike critical targets in a
Officials in the Air Force, at the Pentagon, and at STRATCOM, along with some analysts outside
government, believe that the United States could achieve the prompt global strike mission with its 19
long-range ballistic missiles (ICBMs and SLBMs). The Pentagon’s Defense Science Board
(DSB), in a study published in early 2004, asserted that land-based long-range ballistic missiles
have “unique, time-critical characteristics” that include “responsiveness, range, speed, precision, 20
lethality, and freedom of maneuver.” With these capabilities, they could attack targets anywhere
in the world within an hour of their launch, without relying on forward bases or supporting
military capabilities, such as the tanker aircraft needed to support long-range flights by bombers.
They would not be at risk from air defenses, and there would be no risk to flight crews. Further, if
the warheads could maneuver to slow their reentry and increase their angle of attack, they might
be effective against some types of hardened and deeply buried targets. The DSB study asserted
that these weapons could provide “a reliable, low-cost force on continuous alert with a high
readiness rate and the capability to immediately react under strict control of the National
Command Authority.” In other words, the high levels of reliability, readiness, and command and
control that were needed as a part of the U.S. strategic nuclear deterrent during the Cold War are
also valuable characteristics for a long-range conventional strike system in the post-Cold War era.
However, because U.S. long-range ballistic missiles have always carried nuclear warheads,
potential adversaries might misunderstand U.S. intentions if the United States employed ballistic
missiles armed with conventional warheads, possibly deciding, if and when they detect a launch,
that they are under nuclear attack from the United States. Accordingly, the Air Force has sought to
develop a concept of operations for conventional ballistic missiles, discussed later, that addresses
these concerns in an effort to mitigate the risks.
Both the Navy and the Air Force have studied the possible deployment of conventional warheads
on their long-range ballistic missiles in the past. The Air Force briefly studied the penetration
capabilities of conventional ICBMs in the mid-1990s. In August 1995 it launched an ICBM
armed with a “pointy” front end (and no explosive warhead) against a granite slab that had
characteristics similar to reinforced concrete. Press reports indicate that the warhead entered the
target at a 90 degree angle and penetrated to a depth of 30 feet, which is greater than the depth of 21
penetration of any existing U.S. weapon. The Navy also sponsored studies in the 1990s that
sought to develop a non-nuclear penetrating warhead for the Trident SLBM. These studies also
focused on questions about whether a reentry vehicle from a ballistic missile could penetrate a
hardened target, using only its speed and angle of reentry, without a nuclear explosion. Both the
See, for example, U.S. Department of Defense, Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition,
Technology, and Logistics. Report of the Defense Science Board Task Force on Future Strategic Strike Forces.
February 2004. See, also, Eric A. Miller and Willis A. Stanley. The Future of Ballistic Missiles. National Institute for
Public Policy, October 2003.
20U.S. Department of Defense, Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics.
Report of the Defense Science Board Task Force on Future Strategic Strike Forces. February 2004. p. 5-1.
21 Grossman, Elaine M. “Pentagon Eyes Bunker-Busting Conventional Ballistic Missile for Subs.” Inside the Pentagon.
June 27, 2002. p. 1.
Navy and the Air Force recognized that, without a nuclear explosion, the reentry vehicle from a
ballistic missile would have to be far more accurate than those deployed in the 1990s (and still
deployed today) to attack and destroy a buried target.
In FY2003, the Navy requested funding for research on a new type of reentry vehicle that could
significantly improve the accuracy of the Trident II (D-5) missiles. This program, known as the
Enhanced Effectiveness (E2) Initiative, included an initial funding request of $30 million, a three-22
year study, and a full-scale flight test in early 2007. Congress rejected the initial funding request
in FY2003 and FY2004, but Lockheed Martin Corporation, the contractor pursuing the study,
continued with a low level of research into this system.
The E2 reentry vehicle would integrate the existing inertial measurement unit (IMU) guidance
system (the system currently used to guide long-range ballistic missiles) with global positioning
system (GPS) technologies so that the reentry vehicle could receive guidance updates during its 23
flight. A standard MK4 reentry vehicle, which is the reentry vehicle deployed on many Trident
SLBMs, would be modified with flap-based steering system, allowing it to maneuver when
approaching its target to improve its accuracy and increase its angle of penetration. This steering
system, which the Navy has referred to as a “backpack extension,” would increase the size of the
reentry vehicle, making it comparable in size to the MK5 reentry vehicle that is also deployed on
Trident missiles. The E2 warhead could possibly provide Trident missiles with the accuracy to
strike within 10 meters of their intended, stationary, targets. This accuracy would not only
improve the lethality of the nuclear warheads but it would also permit the missiles to destroy 24
some types of targets with conventional warheads.
Lockheed Martin, has flown two reentry vehicles in test flights of Trident missiles.25 In a test
conducted in 2002, it demonstrated that the new reentry vehicle could steer towards a target and
strike with improved accuracy. In a test conducted in early 2005, a modified version of its reentry
vehicle demonstrated that it could not only steer towards a target with improved accuracy, but
also slow down and “control the impact conditions,” capabilities that would be needed for the
delivery of some types of conventional warheads to their targets. Lockheed estimated that, if the
program received funding from Congress beginning in FY2006, its reentry vehicle could enter
production in FY2010 and achieve an initial operational capability in 2011. The Navy, however,
did not seek funding for this program in FY2004, 2005, or 2006.
Norris, Robert S. and Hans M. Kristensen. “U.S. Nuclear Forces 2005,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.
January/February 2005. pp. 73-75.
23 According to the Defense Science Board Task Force on Future Strategic Strike Forces, the IMU would guide the
missile in its early phases, but the reentry body would receive a GPS update during its exoatmospheric flight; it would
then use the IMU and control flaps to steer the warhead with GPS-like accuracy during atmospheric reentry. See U.S.
Department of Defense. Report of the Defense Science Board Task Force on Future Strategic Strike Forces. February
2004. pp. 5-7.
24 Grossman, Elaine M. “Pentagon Eyes Bunker-Busting Conventional Ballistic Missile for Subs,” Inside the Pentagon,
June 27, 2002. p. 1. See also, Robert S. Norris and Hans M. Kristensen. “U.S. Nuclear Forces 2005,” Bulletin of the
Atomic Scientists, January/February 2005, pp. 73-75.
25 Krivich, David. Director, SMP Advanced Programs and Business Development. Lockheed Martin Space Systems
Company. Update on Precision Conventional Ballistic Missile Global Strike Capabilities. Briefing to the Defense
Science Board Task Force on Nuclear Capabilities. July 22, 2005.
The Lockheed reentry vehicle has, however, become a part of the plan to deploy conventional
warheads on Trident submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and has been included in the Navy’s
budget request for FY2007 and FY2008. The Navy began to speak publicly about its plans for the
Conventional Trident modification (CTM) in early March 2006, in anticipation of congressional
testimony by General Cartwright. The budget prepared for in FY2007 included a total of $503
million over five years, with $127 million for FY2007, $225 million for FY2008, $118 million 26
for FY2009 and $33 million for FY2010. As is noted below, Congress denied the funding
request in FY2007. The Pentagon has again sought funding for the program, requesting a total of
$175.4 million for FY2008, but Congress did not approve the specific funding again. Instead, as
is noted in more detail below, it provided research and development funding for a more general
category of “prompt global strike” initiatives.
The budget request for FY2008 indicated that most of the work needed to design and develop the
reentry vehicle for the conventional Trident would be completed in FY2008, with an additional 27
$20 million request planned for FY2009. The FY2008 funding would support, among other
things, efforts to finalize the guidance and flap system on the maneuvering body extension of the
reentry body, design an interface between the new guidance system and the missile system flight
controls, begin development of a conventional payload that could fit within the reentry body, and
initiate efforts to modify existing facilities so that they can test the CTM designs.
If it had received the requested funding in FY2008, and proceeded with the expected work plan,
the Navy could have conducted system development and demonstration activities in FY2008 and
FY2009, and could have planned to begin production and deployment in FY2010. With this
timeline, the system would reach its full operational capability by the end of 2012. The Navy is
now likely to adjust this schedule, however, in response to congressional action for FY2008. Such
adjustments may be evident in the budget submission for FY2009, which is likely to be released
in February 2008.
Press reports indicate that the CTM concept would plan for the Navy to deploy each of its 12
Trident submarines on patrol (2 would be in overhaul at any given time) with 2 missiles equipped
to carry 4 conventional warheads each. The remaining 22 missiles on each submarine would
continue to carry nuclear warheads, and the submarines would continue to patrol in areas that
would allow them to reach targets specified in the nuclear war plan, although the patrol areas
could be adjusted to accommodate targeting requirements for the CTM. Only four submarines
would be within range of their targets, with two in the Pacific Ocean and two in the Atlantic
ocean. Consequently, only eight conventional missiles would be available for use at any time, and
only one or two of the submarines would likely be within range of the targets specified for attack 28
with conventional ballistic missiles.
The Navy has considered two types of warheads for the CTM program in the near-term. One
warhead would be designed to destroy or disable soft, area targets, using a reentry vehicle loaded
with tungsten rods—known as flechettes—that would rain down on the target and destroy
Grossman, Elaine. Pentagon Wants Early Start on Conventional Missiles for Subs. InsideDefense.Com, January 20,
2006. See also, Grossman, Facing Doubts, Pentagon Readies Pitch for New Sub-launched Missile. Inside the Pentagon.
March 9, 2006.
27 Department of the Navy. Fiscal Year 2008/2009 Budget Estimates. Justification of Estimates. February 2007.
Research, Development, Test, and Evaluation, Navy Budget Activity 4.
everything within an area of up to 3,000 square feet. The other might be able to destroy hardened
targets if it were accurate enough to strike very close to the target. Each would be deployed
within the reentry body developed and tested under the E2 program. The Navy is also exploring,
for possible future deployment, technologies that might be able to penetrate to destroy hardened,
If Congress approved the program and the funding, these warheads would provide the Navy with
the ability to contribute to the prompt global strike mission in the near term, a goal that was
identified in the 2006 QDR. The report indicated that the Navy would seek to deploy an “initial
capability to deliver precision-guided conventional warheads using long-range Trident” missiles 29
within two years, although many expect it to take four years to field the full complement of 96
warheads. The capability, even when fully deployed, would be limited by the small number of
available warheads. Hence, it seems likely that the Pentagon would only plan to use these
missiles in limited circumstances to meet specific goals.
The Air Force is pursuing two initiatives related to the deployment of conventional warheads on
long-range ballistic missiles. The first of these is known as the Conventional Strike Missile
(CSM), or Conventional Ballistic Missile (CBM), and would serve as a mid-term follow-on to the 30
Conventional Trident Modification (CTM) Program. It would draw on existing missile
technologies and reentry technologies developed under the FALCON (Force Application and
Launch From Conus [Continental United States]) program, a joint Air Force/DARPA
demonstration that is developing, among other things, both near-term and far-term capabilities for 31
the prompt global strike missions. The second is an Air Force Analysis of Alternatives (AOA)
study, which began in 2006, that is reviewing technologies and programs that could meet the
requirements of the prompt global strike mission. Although led by the Air Force, reports indicate
that the Navy and Air Force are collaborating on the study. Personnel reportedly have been
exchanging information on “service-specific” platforms, and are thinking broadly, across service 32
lines, to consider a range of alternative platforms for the long-term PGS option.
For its mid-term option, the CSM concept, the Air Force has outlined a notional architecture and
concept of operations. Unlike the Trident plan, which would deploy nuclear and conventional
warheads on the same submarines, the Air Force plan would segregate the missiles armed with
conventional warheads and deploy them far from bases with nuclear warheads. The missiles
could be deployed “on mobile launchers or in semi-buried silos or berms on each coast, ready to 33
launch on short notice.” The two potential bases include Vandenberg Air Force Base on the West
Coast and Cape Canaveral on the East Coast.
U.S. Department of Defense. Quadrennial Defense Review Report. February 6, 2006 p. 50.
30 Grossman, Elaine M. “Conventional Strike Missile” Proposed as Midterm Global Option. Inside Defense. April 6,
31 DARPA, “FALCON (Force Application and Launch from CONUS) Technology Demonstration Program,” Fact
Sheet. November 2003.
32 Munez, Carlos. Services Collaborate on Long-Term Prompt Global Strike Study. Inside the Navy. September 10,
33 Air Force Space Command. Common Aero Vehicle White Paper.
Although it could build a new missile in the future, the Air Force has indicated that it could
modify both Minuteman II missiles and Peacekeeper (MX) missiles to carry conventional
warheads in the near term. The Minuteman II missile was first deployed in 1965 and was retired
in the early 1990s. The Air Force deployed 450 of these missiles. Each carried a single nuclear
warhead and had a range of over 7,000 miles. The Air Force has already modified some of these
missiles, using five as target vehicles in tests of missile defense technologies and a few in a
space-launch configuration. The Peacekeeper missile was first deployed in 1986; the Air Force
began to deactivate these missiles in October 2002 and is to complete the process by the end of
FY2005. The Air Force deployed 50 of these missiles; each carried 10 warheads and had a range
greater than 6,000 miles.
The Air Force has designated these modified missiles as the Minotaur II and Minotaur III
missiles. It has stated that the modifications can be made at a relatively low cost and low level of
technical risk. They would use the missiles’ existing rocket motors. The avionics and guidance
systems could rely, primarily, on existing technologies, with some modifications to allow the
upper stages of the missiles and their reentry vehicles to maneuver for improved accuracy. The
Air Force has noted that it could deploy its ballistic missiles with conventional warheads as a
“mid-term” solution, between 2013 and 2015, for the PGS mission. The Air Force has indicated
that this option, using a modified Peacekeeper missile, would be able to carry much larger 34
payloads than the Trident missile.
The modified Minuteman II missiles might each be able to carry a single warhead that weighed
between 500 and 1,000 pounds; a modified Peacekeeper could possibly carry between 6,000 and 35
According to some estimates, these missiles could even destroy some targets without an explosive
warhead, using the “sheer force of impact of a reentry vehicle moving at 14,000 feet per 36
second.” They could also carry a single conventional warhead with a reentry body that had been
modified to improve accuracy by allowing for the maneuverability of the warhead, like the
maneuvering warhead the Navy has considered for the Trident modification. Reports indicate that
the Air Force is also considering deploying some of these missiles with specialized warheads that
could be designed to destroy selected categories of targets.
One of the leading options for a reentry package, and a central focus of the FALCON study noted 37
above, is the proposed Common Aero Vehicle (CAV). The CAV would be an unpowered,
maneuverable hypersonic glide vehicle capable of carrying approximately 1,000 pounds in
munitions or other payload. According to the Air Force, these payloads might include a “fuzed
penetrator” warhead that would hit its targets with impact speeds of approximately 4,000 feet per
second. With this high impact speed, the CAV should be able to attack and destroy some types of
hardened or buried targets. The CAV could also carry several small smart bombs to destroy
Sirak, Michael. Air Force Envisions Mid-Term, Prompt Global Strike Missile. Defense Daily, July 7, 2006.
35 Report of the Defense Science Board Task Force on Future Strategic Strike Forces. February 2004. p. 5-3.
36 Schmitt, Eric. “U.S. Considers Conventional Warheads on Nuclear Missiles,” New York Times, February 24, 2003.
37 This has recently been renamed the “hypersonic glide vehicle (HGV).
facilities and infrastructure above ground, wide area autonomous search munitions (WAASM) to
destroy dispersed targets, and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that could gather intelligence in
the target area.
The FALCON study indicates that the proposed CAV, based on a modified ICBM or other launch
vehicle, should be able to travel at 5 times the speed of sound (Mach 5) so that it can deliver a
substantial payload from the continental United States to anywhere in on Earth in less than two 38
hours. The study has identified a number of objectives for the CAV system, in addition to the
possible range of munitions loadings, that would allow it to achieve these goals. For example, to
meet the “prompt” needs of the mission, the CAV and its delivery vehicle should achieve alert
status, which would make it ready to launch, in under 24 hours. Further, it should then be able to
launch from this alert status in less than 2 hours, once it has received an execution order. It should 39
then be able to reach its target within one hour of its launch. These characteristics would 40
provide it with the capabilities needed to attack time-sensitive targets.
To meet the “global” portion of the PGS mission, the CAV should not only have the range to
“strike throughout the depth of an adversary’s territory,” it should also have a cross-range
capability of 3,000 nautical miles. The cross range measures the ability of the CAV to maneuver
and vary from a standard ballistic trajectory after its release from its launch vehicle. This ability
to maneuver would allow the CAV to adjust to new information so that it could attack mobile
targets, if timely and accurate information became available and were communicated to the CAV
during its flight. Further, it would provide the CAV with a high degree of accuracy, allowing it to
deliver its weapons within a planned 3 meters of the intended target. The CAV would also have to
be linked to “complete, timely intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance information.”
Consequently, the ability of a missile armed with a CAV, or one armed with a single conventional
warhead, to deliver its weapons to targets across the globe within hours of a decision to launch an
attack presumes several interrelated capabilities. The United States would need the intelligence,
surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capability that would allow it to identify a target precisely
and quickly. It would also need the command and control capability to review the targets, plan the
attack, target the CAV vehicles, and order the launch within a short amount of time. Finally, it
would need the continuing reconnaissance capability to verify that the intended target remained
available and that the CAV reached and destroyed that target. The requirements would exist for
both land-based and sea-based missiles.
DARPA, “FALCON (Force Application and Launch from CONUS Technology Demonstration Program,” Fact
Sheet. November 2003. See, also, Pincus, Walter. “Pentagon has Far-Reaching Defense Spacecraft in the works. Bush
Administration Looking to Space to Fight Threats,” Washington Post, March 16, 2005, p. 3.
39 Report to Congress on the “Concept of Operations” for the Common Aero Vehicle. Submitted in response to
Congressional Reporting Requirements, by Peter B. Teets, Under Secretary of the Air Force. February 24, 2004. p. 2.
40 This implies that the U.S. command and control system would have the capability to identify potential targets, plan
the mission, and prepare to launch the CAV within this time frame. These capabilities would be needed for the PGS
mission, regardless of the munitions package on the ballistic missile.
Congress first considered the Administration’s plans to develop conventional warheads for
possible deployment on long-range ballistic missiles in FY2003. Since then, it has demonstrated
some support, and some skepticism, about the plans.
As was noted above, the Navy requested $30 million for its E2 program in FY2003 and FY2004.
In each case, this was to be the initial year of funding in a three-year study. Congress refused the
Navy’s request in both years; the Navy has not requested additional funds for research and
development on conventional warheads for SLBMs in subsequent years.
The Bush Administration requested $12.2 million in research and development funding for the
CAV program in FY2004. The House, in its version of H.R. 1588, the FY2004 National Defense
Authorization Bill, nearly doubled the authorized funding to $24.2 million. The Senate provided
the requested amount, and the Conference Committee split the difference, authorizing $17.025
million. Although Congress supported the Administration’s request for funding, the House had
shown concerns about the possibility that U.S. launches of ballistic missiles armed with
conventional warheads could be misinterpreted as non-conventional launches by nations who
might monitor U.S. military activity, a concern, particularly, to Russia and China. Hence, the
House required that the Air Force submit a report on the concept of operations for the CAV that
would address questions about the potential for misinterpretation of the launches. This reporting
requirement remained in the final version of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal
Year 2004 (P.L. 108-136).
The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2004, (P.L. 108-136, Sec. 1032) also
contains a requirement for an annual report describing “an integrated plan for developing,
deploying, and sustaining a prompt global strike capability.” Congress mandated that the plan
should include information on, among other things, the types of targets for long-range strike
assets, the capabilities desired for these assets, an assessment of the command and control,
intelligence, and surveillance capabilities necessary to support the PGS mission, integration with
tactical missions, and cost and schedule for achieving the mission. In the Conference report
(H.Rpt.108-354), Congress noted that its interest in these issues derived from the Nuclear Posture
Review and its focus on integrating nuclear and conventional strike capabilities to reduce reliance
on nuclear weapons. It indicated that it saw a need for further analysis of future system
requirements, along with a comprehensive effort to link planning and programs in a PGS
roadmap to achieve a coherent force structure. Hence, although the Air Force considers the NPR
objective of integrating nuclear and conventional strike forces as a separate mission and separate
concept from PGS, Congress, initially at least, blended both into the request for a new report.
The Air Force submitted its report on the CAV concept of operations to Congress in February
2004. This report offered several suggestions for measures the United States could take to reduce
the possibility of misinterpretation if the United States were to deploy, and employ, ballistic
missiles with conventional warheads. Many of the measures discussed in this report are reviewed
below, under “Issues for Congress.”
The Bush Administration requested $16.4 million for research and development on the CAV in
FY2005. Congress again increased this funding level, appropriating $21.6 million for the
development of the CAV. However, in July 2004, with passage of the FY2005 Defense
Appropriations Act (H.R. 4613, P.L. 108-287), Congress repeated its concerns about the potential
for misinterpretation. In the report on the Defense Appropriations Bill, Congress questioned
whether there were safeguards in place to guarantee that other nuclear weapons states did not
misinterpret the intent or use of ballistic missiles armed with CAV. In response to these concerns,
the report states that funds provided for CAV could only be used for non-weapons related
research on hypersonic technologies, including studies into microsatellites or other satellite
launch requirements. Congress specified that the funds could not be used to “develop, integrate,
or test a CAV variant that includes any nuclear or conventional weapons.” Congress also
indicated that the funds could not be used to “develop, integrate, or test a CAV for launch on any
ICBM or SLBM.” Congress would consider expanding the scope of this program in future years 41
if safeguards negotiated among international partners were put into place.
The Bush Administration requested $27.2 million for CAV in FY2006. In response to the
restrictions in the FY2005 Defense Appropriations Act, it restructured the program, and
redesignated the CAV as the Hypersonic Technology Vehicle. This new program excludes any
development of weapons capabilities for the CAV. Congress approved the requested funding in
the FY2006 Defense Appropriations Act and did not impose any new restrictions. The Bush
Administration requested, and Congress appropriated, an additional $33.4 million for CAV in its
FY2007 budget. Congress also appropriated $12 million for the Air Force to Conventional
Ballistic Missile (CBM) program, which is exploring the possible use of a modified Minuteman
missile as a mid-term option for the PGS mission.
The budget projections in the FY2006 budget request demonstrate how costs could increase if the
Air Force continues to pursue the CAV program. The budget requests were projected to be
between $31 and $39 million each year for the next three years, but they were then projected to
rise to $92 million in FY2010 and $94 million in FY2011. This sharp increase reflects an
expected change in the program from research and development to production and deployment at
the end of the decade. This change would require that the Air Force address and resolve
congressional concerns about the potential for misunderstandings with the launch of ballistic
missiles armed with conventional warheads. But it also indicates that the CAV would not provide
a near-term solution to the PGS mission needs, as might the Navy’s CTM program.
As was noted above, the Navy’s FY2007 budget included $127 million for the conventional
Trident modification. The request separated into three categories. The budget included $38
million for the CTM within the much larger ($957.6m) budget for Trident II missile
modifications; $12 million for strategic missile systems equipment to support the CTM; and $77
million for the development of an advanced strike capability that would demonstrate the
feasibility of the CTM concept.
U.S. Congress, House. Making Appropriations for the Department of Defense for the Fiscal Year Ending September
30, 2005, and For Other Purposes. Conference Report to Accompany H.R. 4613, H.Rept. 108-622. p. 240.
Neither the House nor the Senate Armed Services committees authorized the Administration’s
request in their versions of the FY2007 Defense Authorization Bills (S. 2766 and S.Rept. 109-
254; H.R. 5122 and H.Rept. 109-452). Both Committees noted their concerns about the
possibility that nations, such as Russia, might misunderstand the launch of a conventional Trident
missile and determine that it was under attack from U.S. nuclear weapons. Both committees
requested reports from the Administration that would address a range of issues raised by this
prospective program. The Senate Armed Services Committee withheld $95 million of the
Administration’s request, pending completion of the report. It authorized the use of $20 million
for the preparation of the report and $32 million for research and development on technologies
that would support the Trident modification. It specified that the money could not be used on the
CTM program itself. The full Senate accepted the Committee’s position. The House Armed
Services Committee eliminated the $38 million for CTM in the Trident II modification budget
and the $12 million for strategic missile systems equipment. It also reduced by $47 million the
Navy’s request for funding for the CTM program, leaving $30 million for this effort.
The Conference Committee, in its report (H.Rept. 109-702, Sec. 219) adopted the reporting
requirements included in the Senate Bill, but, instead of fencing the funding pending completion
of the report, accepted the House’s reduction in CTM funding. Therefore, as was the case in the
House bill, the Conference Report includes only $30 million for research and development into
an advanced strike capability that would support the CTM concept.
The House and Senate Appropriations Bills also rejected the Administration’s request for funding
for the CTM program. Following the HASC, the Defense Appropriations subcommittee in the
House eliminated all but $30 million in research and development funding. It also raised
questions about the feasibility of the proposed schedule for the program and questioned whether
the decision to move forward immediately would pre-judge the outcome of the PGS AOA study.
In the Senate, the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee eliminated all funding for the CTM
program, and provided $5 million for the National Academy of Sciences to analyze the mission
requirement and recommend alternatives. The Conference Report on the Defense Appropriations
Act (H.Rept. 109-676) retained the Senate provision that funded $5 million for a report from the
National Academy of Sciences. It also included $20 million in Research, Development, Test and
Evaluation funds for research that would focus on those “developmental items which are common
to all the global strike alternatives.”
The President’s budget request for FY2008 included continued funding of $32.8 million for the
CAV. Congress did not approve this request, but in both the Authorization and Appropriations
Bills, transferred this funding to a new, integrated account for Prompt Global Strike Research.
Congress also eliminated separate funding of $50 million for other elements of the FALCON
program, rolling them into the new account as well. As is discussed in more detail below, the total
funding for this new account was set at $100 million for FY2008, less than half of the requested
funding for all the programs that were combined in the new account. The Pentagon has objected
to this transfer, noting that the elimination of the specific line items and the overall reduction in
funding would lead to the termination of the FALCON program and the cancellation of several
planned flight test for the CAV. Although the Pentagon eventually accepted the idea of a
combined program for PGS research, it suggested that the total budget be set at $208 million, an
amount equal to the total proposed for the combined programs, so that each could continue to
receive the required level of investment.42 Congress did not accept this appeal, and the conference
reports on both the Authorization (H.R. 1585, H.Rept. 110-477) and Appropriations (P.L. 110-
The President’s budget for FY2008 also included a total of $175.4 million for the CTM program.
This request included $36 million, within the much larger budget of just over $1 billion for
Trident II modifications, to begin modifying the Trident II missiles to carry conventional
warheads. Congress had denied all funding for this purpose in FY2007. It also included $13
million in strategic systems missile equipment, which would be used to begin modifying Trident
submarines to carry the conventional missile. Congress had also denied this funding in FY2007.
Finally, the budget included $126.4 million to develop advanced strike capabilities under the
“Hard and Deeply Buried Target Defeat System Program” area. This funding is allocated to
continue research and development into reentry vehicle technologies for the conventional Trident
modification. Congress had appropriated only $20 million for this effort in FY2007, even though
the budget had requested $77 million.
The House Armed Services Committee, in its version of the FY2008 Defense Authorization Bill
(H.R. 1585, H.Rept. 110-146), supported continued research, development, testing, and
evaluation of the conventional Trident concept, but prevented funds from being obligated or
expended for the operational deployment of the system. Specifically, it approved the request for
$126.4 million for continued research and development on the reentry vehicle, and authorized
$16 million for procurement, but reduced the budget request by $33 million, withholding all
funds for long-lead procurement. The Strategic Forces Subcommittee noted that it supported, in
general, the pursuit of technologies for the Prompt Global Strike Mission, but also noted that
questions remained about the concept of operations and the possibility for misunderstandings.
Hence, it sought to slow the program until the National Academy of Sciences completed its
The Senate Armed Services Committee, in its version of the FY2008 Defense Authorization Bill
(S. 1457, S.Rept. 110-77), recommended that no funding be provided specifically for the CTM
program, and that all $208 million in PGS funding be transferred to PE 65104D8Z, to support
common prompt global strike concepts. The committee specifically indicated that this program
element should support a “coordinated look at a variety of kinetic non-nuclear concepts is
necessary to address the feasibility of a prompt global strike.” In its report, it noted that the
services are exploring several potential options for the PGS mission, and that research funded
through this program element could support, “in a coordinated fashion,” technologies that could
be common to several of these concepts. The committee also indicated that it believed any
resulting PGS capability should be clearly, and unambiguously, non-nuclear.
The Conference Committee adopted the Senate’s approach to combining the funding in a single
account, but, as the Appropriations Committee had done, limited the funding to $100 million
(H.Rept. 110-477). The Conference Report also required that the Under Secretary of Defense for
Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics submit a plan describing how DOD would obligate the
FY2008 funds (H.Rept. 110-477, sec. 243). This funding profile indicates that Congress has not
rejected the Prompt Global Strike concept completely, even though it has not accepted the
Administration’s sense of urgency or its certainty in the need for the CTM program in the near-
Department of Defense Budget Appeal, FY2008 Defense Appropriations Bill. October 15, 2007.
The House and Senate Appropriations Committees followed the “combined funding” model
established by the SASC. The House Appropriations Committee eliminated the specific funding
for the CTM, directed DOD to create a “prompt global strike program element within the
Research, Development, Test, and Evaluation, Defense-Wide appropriation,” and moved $100
million into this new account to “further the Department’s prompt global strike initiative” without
“limiting the Nation to a single option” at this point in time. Some of these funds could be used to
support research and development on the CTM concept. The committee also mandated that DOD
submit a report “that discusses the technology thrusts and investment objectives and outlines the
allocation of funding towards achieving these objectives.” The Senate Appropriations Committee,
in its version of the Bill (H.R. 3222, S.Rept. 110-155) provided $125,000,000 for the Research,
Development, Test and Evaluation, Defense-Wide account for prompt global strike mission. It
noted that these funds should be used “for engineering and development of alternatives to the
conventional TRIDENT missile program.” The final version of the FY2008 Appropriations Bill
limited the funding to $100 million (P.L. 110-116, H.Rept. 110-134).
The Pentagon requested $117.6 million for the prompt global strike program element established
in the FY2008 Defense Authorization and Appropriations processes. The House Armed Services
Committee, following the lead of the Strategic Forces Subcommittee, approved this request. The
Senate Armed Services Committee, however, added $30 million to this amount, for a total of
$147.6, in its version of the FY2009 Defense Authorization Bill (S. 3001). It indicated that these
added funds, plus an additional $15 million in the budget request, were to be allocated to R&D on
an advanced hypersonic-glide vehicle—the CAV program described earlier in this report.
During the past few years, when reviewing Administration’s request for funding for these
programs, Congress has focused, primarily, on questions about the potential that
misunderstandings might arise if the United States were to launch long-range missiles during
crises or conflicts. Stepping back from the specific programs, however, Congress has also
reviewed the rationales offered by the NPR and PGS mission to determine whether the threats
and capabilities faced by the United States justify the pursuit of these programs. It has also begun
to question whether other military programs and capabilities can satisfy the emerging
requirements, without raising many of the questions about the potential for misunderstandings
associated with the deployment of conventional warheads on ballistic missiles. Further, Congress
could review the Air Force proposals for addressing the issues raised by the deployment of CAV
or other conventional warheads on ICBMs and the more recent proposals to meet the PGS
mission need with the near-term deployment of conventional warheads on Trident missiles.
Finally, U.S. obligations under the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) could
impinge plans for the deployment of long-range ballistic missiles with conventional warheads.
Those who believe that conventional ICBMs might contribute to this mission argue that, with
improvements in accuracy, conventional warheads could substitute for nuclear warheads in
attacking some sites now targeted by nuclear weapons. The Bush Administration and some
analysts have argued that this would provide the President with a wider range of options during a
crisis and, therefore, reduce the likelihood that he would have to use a nuclear weapon. Some
have questioned, however, whether the President needs more options or flexibility. Nuclear
weapons have always been reserved for the most extreme circumstances, serving particularly as a
deterrent against nuclear attack from other nations with nuclear weapons. In less extreme
circumstances, the President has never lacked for conventional options, they say, as is evidenced
by the fact that the United States has not used nuclear weapons since 1945.
Many analysts have also argued that the Bush Administration’s formula for integrating
conventional and nuclear capabilities into an “offensive strike” force could actually increase the
likelihood of nuclear war by blurring the distinction between nuclear and conventional weapons.
This new capability could allow the President to respond with conventional strikes against some
types of targets, but it is not clear that the adversary would know that the incoming weapons
carried conventional warheads. It is also not clear that the United States would be able to control
the adversary’s reaction or the escalation of the conflict, particularly if the adversary possessed
nuclear weapons. Hence, by making the start of the war “easier” the deployment of conventional
warheads on ballistic missiles might, in this view, actually make the eventual use of nuclear
weapons more likely.
The PGS mission’s requirements are based on the assumption that a future conflict would take
place far from existing U.S. bases overseas, and possibly far from ocean areas where the U.S. has
deployed most of its sea-based forces. They also assume that a future conflict could develop
quickly, allowing too little time for the United States to move its forces into the region, either by
acquiring basing rights on land or by moving sea-based forces closer to the theater of conflict.
Further, the concern about hidden or relocatable targets reflects an assumption that targets could
appear with little notice and remain vulnerable for a short period of time, factors that place a
premium on the ability to launch quickly and arrive on target quickly. The requirements also
assume that U.S. forces are likely to face an “anti-access” threat, or air defense capabilities that
would impede operations by U.S. aircraft.
Many of these characteristics were present in Afghanistan in 2001, when the United States
attacked al Qaeda training camps and the Taliban government after the September 11 terrorist
attacks. The attacks on the United States came without warning, and, although the United States
took several weeks to plan its response and acquire the needed intelligence information on target
areas, speed was of the essence if the United States hoped to trap and destroy leaders at the
training camps in Afghanistan. The United States had no military bases in the region, and had to
take the time to acquire basing rights in nearby nations and to move U.S. naval forces into the
region. Further, the mountainous terrain offered the enemy areas, deep within the country, where
it could conceal its leadership and hope to evade attack.
These characteristics, with the premium they place on prompt, long-range attacks, support the
view that the United States should deploy long-range ballistic missiles with conventional
warheads for the PGS Mission. In this view, other weapons systems cannot address all the
characteristics at the same time; bombers may be too slow to arrive and too vulnerable to air
defense systems, sea-based or air-launched cruise missiles may also be too slow too arrive and of
too short a range to reach remote targets, and sea-based systems, with the exception of long-range
ballistic missiles, may also be too far away to reach high priority targets promptly at the sudden
start of a conflict.
However, the presence of many of these characteristics in one recent conflict does not necessarily
mean that they will all be present in most, or even many, future conflicts. While each is certainly
possible, taken together, these characteristics describe a worst-case scenario that may occur
rarely, or not at all, in its entirety. This observation highlights several questions that Congress
could consider when reviewing the rationale for the PGS mission. How likely is it that the United
States would face a sudden, unanticipated conflict, with no time to build up its forces in the
region and with the requirement to strike some targets within hours of the start of the conflict?
Would a delay of several hours or even days undermine the value of attacking these targets at the
start of a conflict? Could other weapons systems provide the United States with the ability to
“loiter” near the theater of operations, allowing a prompt attack during the conflict if hidden or 43
concealed targets are revealed? A comparison of the likelihood of those scenarios that may
provide the most stressing environments with the likelihood of less stressful scenarios may lead to
the conclusion that other weapons systems can respond to many of these requirements in most
Long-range land-based ballistic missiles armed with conventional warheads would likely possess
many of the operational strengths associated with nuclear-armed ballistic missiles. They would
have extremely high rates of readiness and reliability, allowing military planners to expect more
than 90% of the missiles to be available for use at any given time; they could to respond promptly
after a decision to launch; and they have high degree of accuracy allowing for attacks across a
wide range of targets. Consequently, these systems would “free the U.S. military from reliance on
forward basing and enable it to react promptly and decisively to destabilizing or threatening 44
actions by hostile countries and terrorist organizations.” They would allow the United States to
“hold adversary vital interests at risk at all times, counter anti-access threats, serve as a halt phase
shock force, and conduct suppression of enemy air defense and lethal strike missions.” Further,
they address the need to “defeat time-critical, high value, and hardened and deeply buried
Barry Watts, an analyst expert in this subject has stated that, “for those rare occasions when it really is imperative to
be able to strike anywhere on the globe from the United States as quickly as possible, a long-range ballistic missile
solution is the most sensible near-term option in light of cost and technological risk.” But he has also asserted that it
may be “far more important to be able to dwell or loiter to await information and take advantage of opportunities” to
attack hidden or mobile targets during a conflict. Watts, Barry D. Long-Range Strike: Imperatives, Urgency and
Options. Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. April 2005.
44 DARPA, “FALCON (Force Application and Launch from CONUS Technology Demonstration Program,” Fact
Sheet. November 2003.
targets.”45 In other words, these weapons would address all the potential circumstances cited in
requirements for the PGS mission.
But the resemblance to nuclear-armed ballistic missiles would also raise questions and create
concerns. If the United States were to launch them during a conflict, nations with minimal launch
notification systems (such as China) or degraded launch notification systems (such as Russia) 46
could conclude that they were under attack with nuclear missiles. Further, because many
possible targets lie south of Russia and China, and the United States has historically planned to
launch its ballistic missiles over the North Pole, a conventionally-armed long-range ballistic
missile would likely fly over these to nations to strike its targets. For many minutes during their
flight patterns, these missiles might appear to be headed towards targets in these nations. The
potential for misunderstanding is compounded by the short time of flight of these missiles, giving
these nations little time to evaluate the event, assess the threat, and respond with their own forces.
There is precedent for the United States to deploy some types of delivery vehicles with both
nuclear and conventional warheads. For example, U.S. long-range bombers have always been
able to carry conventional weapons and all three of the current types of nuclear-capable
bombers—B-1, B-2, and B-52—have delivered conventional weapons during recent conflicts. In
addition, the conventional cruise missiles carried by the B-52 bomber were initially deployed as
nuclear air-launched cruise missiles and were later (during the early 1990s) converted to carry
conventional weapons. Unlike ballistic missiles however, bombers can change their course and
return to base if necessary. Further, the Tomahawk sea-launched cruise missiles (SLCMs) have
always been deployed in both nuclear and conventional versions. The United States has often
launched the conventional SLCMs during conflicts and has never experienced misunderstandings 47
about whether these missiles carried nuclear or conventional warheads. But these have never
flown over Russia in pursuit of their targets.
Long-range ballistic missiles with conventional warheads could be viewed with far more concern
than these other dual-capable systems because they were developed and deployed solely as a part
of the U.S. strategic nuclear deterrent force. Even if the United States were to convince other
nations that we had deployed some of these missiles with conventional warheads, they could still
question whether the missiles launched during a conflict carried conventional warheads or
whether the United States had converted them back to carry nuclear warheads.
The launch of land-based long-range ballistic missiles armed with conventional warheads could
present another type of problem for the United States and Canada. If these missiles were launched
from existing ICBM bases in the northern and central United States, they could drop their rocket
motor stages over populated areas of the United States or Canada. This may have been considered
a small price to pay during a global nuclear war with the Soviet Union, but it may be far less
acceptable within civilian populations under less trying and catastrophic circumstances.
46 For a description of ongoing problems with Russia’s early warning system for ballistic missile attack, see Mosher,
David E., et al. Beyond the Nuclear Shadow: A Phased Approach for Improving Nuclear Safety and U.S.-Russian
Relations. RAND Corporation, 2003. p. 5.
47 On the other hand, the Soviet Union, and Russia, have sought to contain U.S. cruise missile capabilities by
suggesting arms control limits on nuclear SLCMs that could also capture SLCMs armed with conventional warheads.
Soviet and Russian analysts have viewed these weapons as threatening to Soviet nuclear facilities, regardless of their
warhead, because of their high accuracy and relatively short time of flight.
As was noted above, the Air Force has said it would rename the retired Minuteman and
Peacekeeper missiles as the Minotaur II and Minotaur III missiles if it deploys them with the
conventional warheads or the proposed CAV system. This would allow the United States to
differentiate between the conventional and nuclear-armed versions of its ballistic missiles in its
operational plans, and possibly help provide other nations with a means to distinguish between
the two. The Air Force has also identified a concept of operation for the Minotaur missiles that
includes a number of “mitigating measures” that might ease concerns about the potential for
misunderstandings and damage arising from their launch. These factors fall into three general
categories: basing measures; cooperative measures; and operational measures.
The Air Force has stated that it would deploy ballistic missiles armed with CAVs or other
conventional warheads for PGS mission at bases far from missiles armed with nuclear warheads 48
and far from bases with storage facilities for nuclear warheads. The two potential sites include
Vandenberg Air Force base in California and Cape Canaveral in Florida. According to the Air 49
Force, “the new coastal basing sites would have no nuclear capability or association” as they
would lack the facilities and equipment needed to handle or store nuclear weapons. The coastal
basing plan would also address concerns about debris from missile launches falling on populated
areas in the United States or Canada. If the missiles were launched from the U.S. coast, rather
than from bases in northern, central states, then the debris would likely fall over the oceans rather
than over land.
The Air Force has also stated that it could deploy Minotaur missiles on mobile launchers,
horizontally in earthen berms, or above ground, rather than in the hardened, vertical silos used at
nuclear ICBM bases. The United States could then declare, to Russia or other nations, that these
new, modified launchers were equipped with conventional-only delivery vehicles. This
declaration would further demonstrate that the missiles at the two coastal bases were different
from nuclear ICBMs, even though it would not preclude the possible covert deployment of 50
nuclear warheads on the missiles. Further, their deployment with a CAV reentry vehicle, rather
than a standard post-boost vehicle and warhead present on a nuclear-armed missile, would 51
reinforce this designation.
The Air Force has proposed that the United States institute a number of cooperative measures
with other nations to add confidence to the U.S. declaration that the Minotaur missiles deployed
at coastal bases would carry conventional warheads. These measures could include military-to-
military contacts, high level political consultations, and ongoing discussions to keep Russia and
other nations informed about U.S. plans for these missiles and to make them aware of the
U.S. Air Force. Common Aero Vehicle White Paper. p. 7.
49 Report to Congress on the “Concept of Operations” for the Common Aero Vehicle. Submitted in response to
Congressional Reporting Requirements, by Peter B. Teets, Under Secretary of the Air Force. February 24, 2004. p. 4.
50 The United States uses a similar formula with its B-1 bombers. Although they were originally equipped to carry
nuclear weapons, they have been deployed at bases that do not house nuclear weapons and redesignated as
conventional bombers. Hence, their weapons delivery status is determined by basing and declaration, rather than by
their original nuclear capabilities.
51 Air Force Space Command. Common Aero Vehicle White Paper. p. 8.
observable differences between conventional and nuclear ballistic missiles. The Air Force has
referred to this process as a “strategic dialogue” that might, over time, answer questions and ease
concerns about the plans for and capabilities of long-range ballistic missiles armed with 52
The United States could also invite other nations to observe test launches of these missiles or to
participate in exercises that include simulations with these missiles. This might allow nations
such as Russia to become familiar with the operational procedures associated with ballistic
missiles armed with conventional warheads and to distinguish between these procedures and
those associated with nuclear-armed missiles. Further, the United States could allow Russia to
conduct short-notice inspections at the Minotaur bases, similar to, or even more intrusive than,
the inspections permitted at nuclear missile bases under the START Treaty, to confirm the 53
absence of nuclear weapons either on the missiles or in the storage facilities. Over time, these
measures would not only provide information about the missiles and their missions, but might
also build confidence and understanding between the parties. The increased level of cooperation,
and possibly decreased level of suspicion, might then reduce the likelihood of misinterpretation if
the United States were to launch ballistic missiles with conventional warheads.
The United States could also provide Russia with prior notification of planned launches of
ballistic missiles with conventional warheads, or the two nations could set up a dedicated “hot
line” for use after a launch, so the United States could inform Russia of the launch and assure it
that the missile did not carry a nuclear warhead and was not headed for targets in Russia. Further,
as has been discussed on many occasions over the years, the United States and Russia could share
early-warning data at a joint facility so that Russia would have the information it needed to
distinguish between the launch of a nuclear-armed ballistic missile from a northern base and the
launch of a conventional-armed ballistic missile from a coastal base.
The Air Force has also indicated that it could alter the trajectory of ballistic missiles armed with
conventional warheads so that they would not resemble the trajectories that would be followed by 54
nuclear-armed ballistic missiles on course for targets in Russia or China. As was noted above,
CAV is have the capability to travel 3,000 miles downrange and 3,000 miles cross-range, after
release from its ballistic missile delivery system. Hence, according to the Air Force, the missile
could travel on a “shaped trajectory” or, if launched from the East Coast towards the Middle East,
a southern trajectory, so that it would not fly over Russia or China, and make up for the added
distance by using the flight range of the CAV. The missile could also launch with a “depressed
trajectory,” then use the aerodynamic lift of the CAV to achieve the range it would need to reach
around the globe without flying over Russia.
Taken together, these three types of measures might help reduce the risks of misunderstandings.
But the accumulation of information during peacetime and frequent communications during
crises may not be sufficient address problems that could come up in an atmosphere of confusion
and incomplete information during a conflict. Specifically, the argument in favor of using long-
Ibid. p. 7.
53 Report to Congress on the “Concept of Operations” for the Common Aero Vehicle. Submitted in response to
Congressional Reporting Requirements, by Peter B. Teets, Under Secretary of the Air Force. February 24, 2004. p. 4.
54 Air Force Space Command. Common Aero Vehicle White Paper. p. 11.
range ballistic missiles for the PGS mission assumes that the United States might have little
warning before the start a conflict and might need to launch its missiles promptly at that time.
This scenario would allow little time for the United States to consult with, or even inform, other
nations about its intentions. If other nations are caught by surprise and fear they might be under
nuclear attack, they might also decide to respond promptly, before the United States had the
opportunity to convince them that the missiles carried conventional warheads.
Further, routine data exchanges and on-site inspections can provide confidence in the absence of
nuclear warheads on the missiles on a day-to-day basis in peacetime, but they cannot provide
assurances that the warheads could not be changed in a relatively short period of time or that the
warheads were not actually changed in the days or weeks since the last inspection. In addition,
changing the basing patterns or launch patterns of missiles to draw a sharper distinction between
conventional and nuclear-armed missiles assumes both that other nations can observe the
differences and that they believe the different appearances indicate different warheads. Finally,
these measures would do nothing to alleviate concerns among nations that did not participate in
the cooperative programs. As a result, while the measures described above can reduce the
possibility of misunderstandings, they probably cannot eliminate them.
As was noted above, DOD hopes to deploy conventional warheads on Trident long-range ballistic
missiles in the next 2-4 years. Although they would be based at sea, these missiles would share
many characteristics of land-based ballistic missiles that make them suited to the PGS mission.
As nuclear delivery vehicles, they have been deployed with the command and control systems
needed to allow for prompt decision making and prompt launch during a crisis. They have the
range to reach targets around the world and they would have the accuracy, particularly if the
reentry vehicles can receive GPS updates, to attack a wide range of targets on short notice.
Congress has offered modest support for this effort in the past, providing an additional $10
million in the FY2005 Defense Appropriations Act for “Advanced Conventional Strike Capability
Assessment.” And, as was noted above, the Navy requested $127 million for this effort in the
FY2007 budget, with funding to total $503 million in the next six years, but Congress rejected
this funding request, providing only $30 million for research on the reentry vehicle. It has
requested $162.4 million in FY2008.
SLBMs armed with conventional warheads could raise many of the same questions about
misunderstandings as land-based ballistic missiles, particularly if these warheads are deployed on
the same submarines that currently carry nuclear warheads. The Navy could not employ many of
the techniques identified by the Air Force to convince potential adversaries that the missiles
carried conventional warheads. Even if the United States did deploy SLBMs with conventional
warheads on submarines that did not carry nuclear warheads, it would be extremely difficult to
demonstrate these differences and assure other nations of the segregated deployments in a
submarine that is intended to be hidden and invulnerable when at sea. Further, according to some
reports, Russia’s ability to monitor U.S. SLBM launches is even more degraded than its ability to
monitor ICBM launches, so it might conclude that it is under nuclear attack if it observed an
SLBM launch from a U.S. ballistic missile submarine.
On the other hand, because the submarines are mobile and the missiles are long-range, the United
States could alter the patrol areas for Trident submarines so that, if they were to launch their
conventional missiles, they could use trajectories that did not require them to fly over these
nations on their way to their intended targets. Alternatively, the submarines could move prior to
launching their missiles, to avoid overflight of Russia or China, but this presumes that the United
States had the time to move its submarines to these new launch points prior to the start of the
conflict, a possibility that is inconsistent with the PGS mission’s assumption that the United
States could need to launch its missiles promptly at the start of an unexpected conflict.
The plan to deploy Trident missiles with conventional warheads on the same submarines as
missiles with nuclear warheads could also raise questions about the command and control of
those missiles. At the present time, submarine commanders can not launch their missiles until
they receive authorization from the National Command Authority (essentially, the President). It is
unclear whether the missiles with conventional warheads would be subject to the same stringent
command and control processes, or whether someone within the military chain of command
would be able to authorize their use without Presidential approval.
U.S. bombers—B-52s, B-2s, and B-1s—have the range and payload needed to deliver weapons to
targets across the globe. But they may not be suited to the PGS mission because they could take
hours or days to reach targets in remote areas, and they would require tanker support to refuel
during their missions. The long flight time could contribute to crew fatigue and air defenses could
deny the bombers access to some critical target areas. Conventional cruise missiles delivered by
B-52 bombers would allow the aircraft to stay out of the range of some air-defense systems, but
they could still take too long to reach their targets meet the objectives of the PGS mission. On the
other hand, the long time of flight could give the United States time to review and resolve the
situation without resort to military attacks.
At the present time, the Navy has the capability to attack targets at ranges of around 1,500
nautical miles with sea-based cruise missiles. These Tomahawk missiles have been employed
often in the conflicts in the past 15 years, providing the United States with the ability to reach
targets without risking aircraft or their crews. The Navy is currently modifying four of its Trident
ballistic missile submarines so that they can carry cruise missiles. These submarines are to be
equipped to carry up to 7 Tomahawk missiles each in up to 22 (out of 24) of their Trident launch
tubes, for a total of 154 cruise missiles per submarine. But these missiles may be limited in their
ability to contribute to the PGS mission. With a maximum speed of about 550 miles per hour and
a range of 1,500 nautical miles they can take 2-3 hours to reach their targets. Further, their reach
is limited, even if the ships or submarines carrying the missiles are deployed in the region of the
conflict. Consequently, the Navy has also explored alternatives that would allow it to reach its
potential targets more quickly.
Since the mid-1990s, the Navy has explored several options for the development and deployment 55
of an attack missile that could travel at speeds of Mach 3-Mach 5. These hypersonic missiles
55 For a summary of these programs see Statement of Ronald O’Rourke, Specialist in
National Defense, Congressional Research Service, before the House Armed Services
would allow the Navy to attack targets within 15 minutes from ships or submarines based within
500-600 nautical miles of their targets. Hence, they would provide the capability for prompt
strikes within the theater of operations, but they would not have the range sought for the PGS
mission. The United States would either need to keep its vessels on station near potential areas of
conflict, which it already does in certain areas, or it would need days or weeks to move its ships
or submarines into place.
The Navy is also studying the possible development and deployment of an intermediate-range
missile that could be launched from its ballistic missile submarines. It requested industry
participation in the study in mid-2003, and plans to conduct two static test-firings of a prototype 56
rocket engine in 2005. According to the Defense Science Board Task Force, this missile might 57
deliver a 2,000 pound payload over a 1,500 mile range, with an accuracy of less than 5 meters. 58
This would allow the missile to reach its target in less than 15 minutes. Reports indicate that this
proposed missile could carry either nuclear or conventional warheads, allowing it to contribute to 59
the missions requiring prompt, long-range strike capabilities. These missiles could also be
deployed on the modified Trident submarines, with two or three missiles each in up to 22 of the
submarine’s launch tubes, for a total of 66 missiles per submarine.
The proposed submarine-launched intermediate range ballistic missile would achieve many of the
objectives necessary for the PGS mission. It could attack targets quickly, both at the start of a
conflict if the submarines were within range, and during the conflict if new targets emerged. Its
speed and angle of attack might also make it capable of attacking some types of hardened or
buried targets. It would also be able to penetrate an adversary’s defenses without putting aircraft
or crews at risk. Further, by launching from submarines based close to the theater of conflict,
these missiles might avoid some of the overflight problems that would occur if a ballistic missile
launched from the continental United States. It would not eliminate all possibilities of
misunderstanding, however, because nations observing the launch might not be able to tell
whether the missiles carried nuclear or conventional warheads, and, with the short time-of-flight,
they might decide to assume the worst.
Congress earmarked $10 million for the SLIRBM in FY2005 and $7.2 million in FY2006. In the
House, the Defense Appropriations subcommittee has added $2 million for this effort in FY2007,
but the Conference Committee provided only $1.3 million. The Pentagon did not request any
additional funding for this program for FY2008, but it did indicate that prior-years funding would
be used to continue funding efforts that will demonstrate the affordability and feasibility of this
concept. Recent reports indicate, however, that the Pentagon has shown renewed interest in this
concept and may allocate $120 million in FY2008 and $140 million in FY2009 to pursue a
Committee, Subcommittee on Projection Forces. Hearing on Long-Range Strike Options.
March 3, 2004. pp. 10-11. 56
Norris, Robert S. and Hans M. Kristensen. “U.S. Nuclear Forces 2005,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists,
January/February 2005. pp. 73-75.
57 A Trident II (D-5) missile can deliver its warheads over a range of 4,000 miles.
58 Report of the Defense Science Board Task Force on Future Strategic Strike Forces. February 2004. p. 5-12.
59 Koch, Andrew. “U.S. Considers Major Changes to Strategic Weapons,” Jane’s Defence Weekly, September 27, 2003
medium-range “Submarine-launched Global Strike Missile” with a range of 2,000-3000 nautical 60
miles. This funding could come from the new account established in the FY2008 Defense
Appropriations Bills. This missile, however, would not provide a near-term alternative to the
CTM. Reports indicate that, with test launches beginning around 2012, the missile might become
operational between 2015 and 2018.
Analysts have also explored the option of deploying long-range land-based ballistic missiles at
bases outside the continental United States. For example, it might be deployed in Guam, Diego
Garcia, or Alaska. This system would use a two-stage rocket motor, with a payload of up to 1,000
pounds, a flight time to target of less than 25 minutes, and an accuracy of less than 5 meters. It
could employ many of the same reentry vehicle and warhead options as the CTM and CSM
systems. Because it would rely on existing rocket technologies, it might be available for
deployment by 2012, in roughly the same time frame as the CSM system. However, because it
would be launched from outside the continental United States, its trajectory would not resemble
that of a land-based ICBM. Hence, some analysts argue that it would solve many of the questions
about misunderstandings and misperceptions that plague the CTM and CSM systems. The
Defense Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee included $4 million for this effort
in the FY2007 defense appropriations bill, but the Conference Committee reduced this amount to
The Air Force has acknowledged that “depending on system design” long-range ballistic missiles
armed with conventional warheads could be covered by the provisions in the 1991 START 61
Treaty. This assessment, however, assumes that the START Treaty remains in force when the
missiles are deployed. START expires at the end of 2009, and, at this time, it seems possible that
the bulk of the Treaty will lapse, even though the United States and Russia may retain some of the
monitoring and verification provisions.
START limits the United States to a total of 4,900 “attributed” warheads on its land-based and
sea-based long-range ballistic missiles (ICBMs and SLBMs). The number of warheads attributed
to each type of missile is outlined in a memorandum of understanding that accompanies the
treaty. The Minuteman II missile, which would serve as the base for the Minotaur II missile, is
counted as carrying one warhead; the Peacekeeper, which could become the Minotaur III missile,
is counted as carrying 10 warheads.
The treaty specifies that all ICBM launchers and submarine launch tubes that can hold ballistic
missiles covered by the treaty will count against the treaty limits. This would presumably include
launchers for Minotaur missiles. However, even if the Minotaur missiles count against the START
Grossman, Elaine, M. Midrange Missile May be Backup to Modified Trident. Global Security Newswire. September
61 Report to Congress on the “Concept of Operations” for the Common Aero Vehicle. Submitted in response to
Congressional Reporting Requirements, by Peter B. Teets, Under Secretary of the Air Force. February 24, 2004. p. 4.
limits as if they were still Minuteman II or Peacekeeper missiles, it is unlikely that the United
States would exceed the START limit of 4,900 warheads. This is because the United States plans
to reduce its warheads to between 1,700 and 2,200 “operationally deployed warheads,” as it is
required to do under the 2002 Moscow Treaty between the United States and Russia. These
deeper reductions warheads on nuclear-armed ballistic missiles will mean that the United States
has the “room” to deploy missiles with conventional warheads without exceeding START limits.
The United States would not have to count missiles with conventional warheads against the limits
in the 2003 Moscow Treaty if it excludes these systems from its definition of “operationally 62
The START Treaty could, nonetheless, impinge on the Air Force plan to deploy ballistic missiles
with conventional warheads at coastal bases. The treaty indicates that new types of ICBMs, or
modified versions of existing ICBMs, must be deployed at ICBM bases in rail-mobile, road-63
mobile, or silo launchers. The United States could declare Vandenberg to be a new ICBM base,
but it would have to build new silos, or use mobile launchers for the missiles. The treaty does
allow the parties to locate “soft-site” launchers for ICBMs at test ranges or space launch facilities, 64
which would include Vandenberg and Cape Canaveral. But the treaty states that the parties
cannot flight test ICBMs equipped with reentry vehicles from space-launch facilities, which 65
would seem to preclude deployment at Cape Canaveral. The treaty further limits the aggregate
number of ICBMs and SLBMs located at test facilities (which would include Vandenberg) to 25 66
and the aggregate number of test launchers to 20. The United States has already declared that it
has 15 test launchers at Vandenberg, leaving little room for the deployment of additional
launchers for ballistic missiles armed with conventional warheads.
The START Treaty also allows on-site inspections at bases housing delivery vehicles limited by
the treaty, notifications prior to the launch of missiles limited by the treaty, and the provision of
telemetry generated during test flights of missiles limited by the treaty. These provisions could all
apply to the new Minotaur missiles, even if they are deployed with conventional warheads far
from bases that house nuclear warheads or nuclear delivery vehicles. These provisions,
particularly those calling for prior notification of missile launches, could help the United States
inform Russia or other nations of its intentions when it decides to use a Minotaur missile in a
conflict. On the other hand, these provisions could also complicate U.S. efforts to launch these
missiles promptly at the start of a sudden, unexpected conflict.
The United States could claim that, because the Minotaur missiles were deployed with
conventional warheads, they should not count under START or be subject to the deployment
restrictions and data exchange provisions in the Treaty. However, it is likely that the United States
would have to meet with Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan, the four former Soviet states
that are parties to the Treaty to work out how the provisions of the Treaty are to apply to these
missiles. Regardless, the relationship between these missiles and U.S. arms control obligations,
The Moscow Treaty does not define “operationally deployed warheads.” Each nation can do so on its own, and
declare which systems it will count under the limit of 2,200 operationally deployed warheads.
63 Treaty Between the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics on the Reduction and
Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (START Treaty). Article V, para 3. Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Belarus
succeeded the Soviet Union as parties to the Treaty.
64 START Treaty, Article V, para 9.
65 START Treaty, Article V, para 14.
66 START Treaty, Article IV, para 1(D).
along with Russia’s possible reaction to U.S. proposals to either apply or avoid these obligations
for the new Minotaur missiles, deserves further analysis.
The Navy has not yet addressed, publicly, arms control questions that might arise from the
deployment of conventional warheads on its Trident missiles. Many of the issues discussed above
for the Air Force stem from the plan to segregate missiles with conventional warheads from those
with nuclear warheads, and to have those with conventional warheads recognized as different
missiles. Because the Navy would deploy the missiles with conventional and nuclear warheads on
the same submarines, the Navy would not have similar concerns. It would, in all likelihood,
simply accept that the conventional warheads on Trident missiles count under the START Treaty.
The warheads would count against the Treaty limit of 4,900 ballistic missile warheads, and the
missiles carrying the warheads would be subject to short-notice inspections to confirm that they
did not carry more than the agreed number of 8 warheads (or 6 warheads if the missiles were
declared to be “downloaded.”) Because the DOD plan appears to call for the missiles to be
deployed with only 4 warheads each, and because the Navy would be under no obligation to
display the exact configuration of the missiles, but only to demonstrate that they carried fewer
than 8 warheads, these requirements apparently would not impinge on the CTM program.
The Moscow Treaty provisions also probably would not constrain the CTM program. That Treaty
limits the United States to 2,200 “operationally deployed” nuclear warheads. It does not define
this term and it does not outline any counting rules that the nations must use when determining
which warheads count under the limits. The United States likely would not count the warheads on
the CTM missiles under the limits and it would be under no obligation to reveal this to Russia; it
would simply have to inform Russia of the total number of warheads it was counting under the
Treaty. Further, the United States could deploy more warheads on its ICBMs, or on other SLBMs,
to make up for the 96 conventional warheads on the conventional Trident missiles. An arithmetic
method, multiplying deployed missiles by the number of warheads carried by those missiles, like
the one used in START Treaty, might then put the United States over the 2,200 warhead limit, but
the Moscow Treaty does not use such a method to count deployed warheads.
Russia may object to the CTM plan on arms control grounds, insisting that the warheads on the
conventional Trident missiles should count against the Treaty limits and that the United States
should have to reduce the number of warheads on other systems to accommodate these missiles.
However, this view is not consistent with the provisions or requirements of the Moscow Treaty.
Consequently, even if the missiles raised issues for bilateral discussions about arms control
implementation, it is unlikely that the United States would have to alter its plans to accommodate
the Moscow Treaty.
The Air Force, and many analysts outside government, have argued that long-range land-based
ballistic missiles armed with conventional warheads can provide a low-cost, near-term solution to
the meet the demands of the prompt global strike mission. They have demonstrated, during their
many years on alert during the Cold War, that they have high levels of reliability and readiness,
along with a robust and responsive command and control structure. They were also designed to
perform with and a great degree of accuracy, which may improve in the future if they are
deployed with new guidance technologies. Many experts argue that these characteristics are
invaluable for a long-range conventional strike system in the post-Cold War era.
But these weapons might provide the United States with more capability than it needs under most
circumstances, while, at the same time, raising the possibility that their use might be
misinterpreted as the launch of nuclear weapons. For example, as would be true for any weapon
seeking to achieve this mission, the ability to attack targets across the globe on short notice
depends on the U.S. ability to acquire precise information about the locations of potential targets
and to translate that information into useful targeting data. If it takes longer for the United States
to acquire and use that information than it would take for it to launch and deliver a ballistic
missile, or, as has often been the case, if such precise information is unavailable, then the United
States may not be able to benefit from the unique characteristics of long-range ballistic missiles.
Bombers would take longer to reach their targets, but this added time might provide the United
States with the opportunity to acquire the needed intelligence. A recent report by the Government
Accountability Office (GAO) identified this particular problem, noting that many of the ongoing
studies into global strike and prompt global strike have not addressed the need for critical 67
enabling capabilities along with the weapons systems that would be used in the attacks.
In addition, long-range ballistic missiles would have an advantage over sea-based systems if the
United States did not have naval forces near the conflict region, or did not have time to move
these forces to the area, or if the target area were out of range for the sea-based systems. But the
U.S. Navy deploys its force around the world and maintains capabilities near likely areas of
conflict. A few targets may be out of range for these weapons, but bombers armed with cruise
missiles might be able to reach them. Land-based long-range ballistic missiles would only be
needed in the rare circumstance where the United States had no warning, needed a prompt attack,
and had to reach too far inland for sea-based systems. But even in these circumstances, the
benefits of the use of long-range ballistic missiles might not outweigh the risks.
Most analysts recognized, during the Cold War, that long-range land-based ballistic missiles
could prove destabilizing in a crisis, when nations might have incomplete information about the
nature of an attack, and too little time to gather more information and plan an appropriate
response. Faced with these circumstances, a nation who was not an intended target, such as
Russia, might choose to respond quickly, rather than to wait for more information. The same
could be true for the adversaries who are the intended targets of U.S. ballistic missiles. If the
United States hoped to destroy a nation’s military forces or weapons of mass destruction at the
start of a conflict, before they could be used against U.S. troops, the other nation might choose to
use these weapons even more quickly during a crisis, before it lost them to the U.S. attack.
Some have argued that the possible crisis instabilities associated with long-range ballistic missiles
should not eliminate them from consideration for the PGS mission because the United States can
work with Russia, China, and other nations to reduce the risks and because no other weapons, at
least in the short term, provide the United States with the ability to attack promptly anywhere on
the globe, at the start of an unexpected conflict. Yet the question of whether the United States
should accept the risks associated with the potential for misunderstandings and crisis instabilities
can be viewed with a broader perspective. How likely is the United States to face the need to
U.S. Government Accountability Office. Military Transformation. DOD Needs to Strengthen Implementation of its
Global Strike Concept and Provide a Comprehensive Investment Approach for acquiring Needed Capabilities. GAO-
08-325. April 2008. p. 5.
attack quickly at great distances at the start of an unexpected conflict? How much would the
United States lose if it had to wait a few hours or days to move its forces into the region (or to
await the intelligence reports and precise targeting data needed for an attack)?
If the risks of waiting for bombers or sea-based weapons to arrive in the theater are high, then
long-range ballistic missiles may be the preferred response, even with the risk that other nations
might misunderstand U.S. intentions. On the other hand, if the risks of waiting for other forces to
arrive in theater are deemed to be manageable, and the risks of potential misunderstandings and
crisis instabilities associated with the launch of long-range ballistic missiles are thought to be
high, then the United States can consider a broader range of alternative weapons systems to meet
the needs of the PGS mission.
Amy F. Woolf
Specialist in Nuclear Weapons Policy