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Air Force Envisions Mid-Term, Prompt Global Strike Missile

By | July 10, 2006

      By Michael Sirak

      KEYSTONE, Colo.–The Air Force is drafting the design of a long- range strike missile that eventually would succeed the conventionally armed Trident D-5 submarine-launched missiles that the Department of Defense would like to field within the next several years, according to the colonel overseeing the effort.

      Provisionally called the Conventional Strike Missile (CSM), this land-based system would be much more capable than the modified Trident missiles, said Col. Rick Patenaude, chief of the deterrence and strike division within Air Force Space Command (AFSPC).

      It could be available roughly between 2013 and 2015 if the funding is available to pursue it starting within the next few years, he said.

      Patenaude made his comments in an interview with Defense Daily, sister publication of Space & Missile Defense Report. He said that AFSPC has begun exploring the attributes of this new strike missile at the request of U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM). The latter command is interested in a conventionally armed Prompt Global Strike (PGS) system to attack difficult-to-access targets, both fixed and moving, essentially anywhere on the globe with precision from thousands of miles away in less than one hour.

      The goal is to be able to hit vexing targets, such as terrorists fleeing in a vehicle or a hidden facility producing weapons of mass destruction deep behind an enemy’s border, without the constraints imposed today by basing and overflight rights or an adversary’s defenses like sophisticated anti-aircraft systems.

      The CSM is seen as a mid-term option, while the converted Trident missiles are eyed as a capability that could be available within several years. The Department of Defense (DOD) is also in the midst of launching an analysis of alternatives (AoA) to identify the best PGS system to pursue in the far term, with its fielding envisioned at around the end of the next decade.

      While details have not been fully flushed out yet, Patenaude said the CSM would “significantly” build upon the capabilities anticipated in the converted Trident missiles with its ability to carry much heavier payloads and go after a wider variety of targets.

      AFSPC envisions a payload shroud that is dubbed the hypersonic glide vehicle (HGV) at the front end of the CSM, Patenaude said. It would be able to accommodate much larger blast-fragmentation warheads than on the D-5, and perhaps even optimized bunker-buster warheads, he said.

      “We would like to put a penetrator in there eventually,” Patenaude said. “But that requires a pretty advanced glide vehicle because it has to be very accurate and it has to impact within a very tight set of specifications, like angle of attack.”

      The HGV will leverage the hypersonic shroud technologies being developed under the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency-led Falcon program, he said.

      “We want to take what we learn there and apply it,” he said.

      The CSM will likely be based on the multi-staged booster stack called the Minotaur III, he said. Orbital Sciences [ORB] supplies this rocket, which uses decommissioned Minuteman II motors for its first and second stages.

      “That is a likely outcome,” Patenaude said. “It could be something else. I just don’t see anything cheaper on the horizon.” This booster stack is readily available and expected to be “quite reliable,” he said later on the same day while appearing on a strike panel during the Air Force Association Space Warfare Symposium 2006 here.

      The Air Force put forward near-term PGS concepts based around the Minotaur III and without the HGV, but the Navy Trident idea won out among STRATCOM and the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD).

      Under the latter initiative, which is known formally as the Conventional Trident Modification (CTM) program, the Navy would modify 24 Trident D-5 nuclear-tipped missiles to carry conventional warheads over the next few years. Two of the converted D-5 missiles would be carried on each of the Navy’s 12 Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines and operated together with the vessels’ existing load of nuclear-tipped Tridents missiles.

      To support this fielding schedule, the Pentagon requested $127 million next year for the CTM. However, lawmakers on the defense oversight committees slashed the spending request in their markups of the FY ’07 defense authorization and appropriation bills and inserted language that allows for research and development activities to support the concept, but bars work on actual conversions or fielding of the modified missiles.

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