21 December 2006 at 12:14:05 PM
The X-51 Hypersonic Cruise Missile-bringing fear and terror to all parts of the earth. But it's okay as long as it's the United States doing it, just not some other country. Were it someone else or we at least *think* mistakenly it's someone else, we'd have to go invade their country, right?
When the order comes, the sub shoots a 65-ton Trident II ballistic missile into the sky. Within 2 minutes, the missile is traveling at more than 20,000 ft. per second. Up and over the oceans and out of the atmosphere it soars for thousands of miles. At the top of its parabola, hanging in space, the Trident's four warheads separate and begin their screaming descent down toward the planet. Traveling as fast as 13,000 mph, the warheads are filled with scored tungsten rods with twice the strength of steel. Just above the target, the warheads detonate, showering the area with thousands of rods-each one up to 12 times as destructive as a .50-caliber bullet. Anything within 3000 sq. ft. of this whirling, metallic storm is obliterated.
If Pentagon strategists get their way, there will be no place on the planet to hide from such an assault. The plan is part of a program — in slow development since the 1990s, and now quickly coalescing in military circles — called Prompt Global Strike. It will begin with modified Tridents. But eventually, Prompt Global Strike could encompass new generations of aircraft and armaments five times faster than anything in the current American arsenal. One candidate: the X-51 hypersonic cruise missile, which is designed to hit Mach 5 — roughly 3600 mph. The goal, according to the U.S. Strategic Command's deputy commander Lt. Gen. C. Robert Kehler, is "to strike virtually anywhere on the face of the Earth within 60 minutes."
Article questions whether the United States could deploy such a missile without triggering WWIII.
Almost immediately, congressional critics and outside analysts attacked the missile plan. Everyone seemed satisfied that, technically, modified Tridents could meet Global Strike's requirements. But the Pentagon can't explain how the weapon will be deployed and who will be its intended target. "I just don't think they've got a plan for using these things," says a frustrated senior congressional aide.
First, there's the matter of intelligence. If a president is going to launch the first intercontinental ballistic missile attack in history, he'll need overwhelming evidence. Our ability to nail down that kind of quality information is patchy, at best. On March 19, 2003, the United States launched 40 cruise missiles at three locations outside Baghdad in hopes of killing Saddam Hussein and other senior military officials. It turned out the former Iraqi leader wasn't in any of the locations; the strikes killed at least a dozen people, although it's not clear if they were civilians or leadership targets.
Yup. And he didn't have overwhelming evidence to go attack Iraq, either.
The mission failed even though friendly forces controlled the area. At the heart of Prompt Global Strike is a much darker scenario: American troops are far from their intended target — or the enemy's air defenses are too tough to penetrate. "So let me get this straight," says Jeffrey Lewis, a Harvard University nuclear energy and weapons analyst. "We've got exquisite, fleeting intelligence in an area of immediate concern, but no forces nearby and, miraculously, a sub in just the right spot to attack. I suppose there's some chance of that. But it's pretty small."
And here's an echo of "Dr Strangelove"
Traditionally, the U.S. strategy is to shoot missiles over the North Pole. But the current, most likely Prompt Global Strike targets, North Korea and Iran, lie south of China and Russia — which would put those countries right under a pole-launched flight path. "For many minutes during their flight patterns, these missiles might appear to be headed towards targets in these nations," a congressional study notes.
You'll laugh, with a semi-hysterical irony to your voice, when you read what Rumsfeld (who thankfully is GONE) said
Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, in a press conference, didn't seem that concerned. "Everyone in the world would know that [the missile] was conventional," he said, "after it hit within 30 minutes."
Congress is decidedly less blasé. The House and Senate have ordered the Pentagon to come up with something more certain before they'll provide the $127 million requested in this year's budget for conventional Trident modification.
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