Bear with me here for some politics
Caught an interesting article last night regarding increased investment in a new weapons program to complement the decrease in the nuclear arsenal.
The administration has asked Congress for $240 million for next year's Prompt Global Strike development programs, a 45 percent increase from the current budget. The military forecasts a total of $2 billion in development costs through 2015 -- a relative bargain by Pentagon standards.
Nuclear arms have formed the backbone of U.S. deterrence strategy for six decades. Although the strategy worked during the Cold War, military leaders say they need other powerful weapons in their arsenal to deter adversaries who assume that the United States would refrain from taking the extreme step of ordering a nuclear strike.
"Deterrence can no longer just be nuclear weapons. It has to be broader," Marine Gen. James E. Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and a leading proponent of Prompt Global Strike, told a conference last month.
Some U.S. military officials say their current non-nuclear options are too limited or too slow. Unlike intercontinental ballistic missiles, which travel at several times the speed of sound, it can take up to 12 hours for cruise missiles to hit faraway targets. Long-range bombers likewise can take many hours to fly into position for a strike.
"Today, unless you want to go nuclear, it's measured in days, maybe weeks" until the military can launch an attack with regular forces, Cartwright said. "That's just too long in the world that we live in."
This is encouraging and I like it. After reading some of the comments on CNN.com on the new START treaty, I started to wonder if some of those posters lived in the same reality. A lot of folks seem to be stuck in the Cold War mentality. Today, our economy is deeply intertwined with that of China and our European allies depend heavily on Russia for oil, natural gas, and Russia's vast diamond supply (well, and hot women, too).
The problem with a nuclear arsenal as a deterrent is that it has no effect in an asymmetrical war against a stateless, nationless, enemy; the enemy already knows that we can't and won't use them due to the collateral damage to civilian populations and nuclear fallout that would result. Prompt Global Strike gives us the ability to deliver munitions with the same expediency as ICBMs do without all of the nasty side effects. Effectively, it becomes a weapon that we can actually deploy and use rather than a stockpile of nuclear arms that I simply cannot foresee us ever using.
However, it's not without its own dangers (at least until a proper protocol is designed):
Although it is technically simple to replace nuclear warheads on a missile with conventional ones, Prompt Global Strike has been dogged by a significant problem: how to ensure that Russia could tell the difference if a launch occurred.
Because it's basically a modified ICBM with a non-nuclear warhead, new protocols are needed to ensure that launching one of these isn't going to trigger an accidental nuclear response. The article mentions some options on the table including lower trajectories, higher trajectories, pre-launch communication with nuclear powers, etc.
Many have decried the START treaty as "weakening" the US. However, this fails to consider that the US and Russia today hold over 90% of the worlds nuclear armaments and the new START treaty reduces this from 2200 to only 1550 - still plenty to flatten most of the world's major cities. Ultimately, as Air Force General Kevin Chilton says, the Prompt Global Response missile system gives "an additional weapon in the quiver of the president to give him options in time of crisis today, in which he maybe only has a nuclear option for a timely response."
The wiki article has some pretty gnarly details on how it can be deployed:
- Ballistic missiles, based on either the ICBM or SLBM
- Hypersonic cruise missiles, such as the Boeing X-51
- Air launched missiles
- Space based launch platforms
Very interesting indeed. As a Command in Chief, working in concert with Gates to realign our military spending and investments in addition to changing our international persona (especially in predominantly Muslim nations and with our European allies), Obama has been miles ahead of Bush in my book.