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New missile could replace nuclear weapons

April 29th, 2010

A new breed of weapons system is currently being considered for deployment by the Obama administration. Prompt Global Strike is a missile capable of reaching any inch of the earth within an hour of launch with such accuracy and force that it would greatly reduce the possibility of having to use nuclear weapons.

This system would hurl a 1,000 pound conventional warhead that would create the same localized destructive power of a nuclear weapon. It is a part of Pres. Barack Obama’s pledge to reduce the United States’ reliance on nuclear arms.

Russia was so concerned about these weapons that the Obama administration agreed to decommission one nuclear warhead for every one Prompt Global Strike missile put in to service. This provision was buried in the new START agreement signed by both Obama and Russian Pres. Dmitri Medvedev a few weeks ago. The treaty will significantly reduce the nuclear arsenals of both countries.

According to The New York Times, Prompt Global Strike is designed for tasks like picking off a top al-Qaida leader in a cave, taking out a North Korean missile while it’s being rolled to the launch pad or destroying an Iranian nuclear site – all without crossing the nuclear threshold. The idea, however, is not purely Obama’s.  President Bush pondered these weapons as a possible replacement for nuclear warheads carried on submarines.  However, after Russian leaders complained that these would, in fact, increase the risk of nuclear war rather than hinder it, the former president put them on the back burner.

The key is to make sure that Russia, China and other nuclear powers know that the dot they see on their radar screen is not a nuclear weapon. Under Obama’s plan, this will not happen because it will allow inspectors from Russia or other countries to regularly make sure the system is not armed with nuclear warheads.

Another benefit of the system is the ability to control its flight pattern. Because it does not leave the Earth’s atmosphere, the military would be able to avoid restricted airspace such as allied countries or hostile territory. According to The New York Times, the system would most likely initially be based at Vandenberg Air Force Base on the West Coast and would travel through the atmosphere at several times the speed of sound. It would also have to be shielded with special materials in order to protect it from melting due to the heat it produces.

Planning for the new system is being headed by Gen. Kevin P. Chilton of the Air Force. Chilton told The New York Times that the system would give the president more choices.

“Today, we can present some conventional options to the president to strike a target anywhere on the globe that range from 96 hours, to several hours maybe four, five or six. If the president wants to act on a particular target faster than that, the only thing we have that goes faster is a nuclear response,” said Chilton.

The Pentagon has plans to deploy an early version of the system by 2014 or 2015, however, complete versions of the system are not expected to be ready until 2017 or 2020.