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Conventional Warheads for Long-Range Ballistic Missiles: Background and Issues for Congress

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Congressional rept.

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The United States has deployed long-range ballistic missiles as a part of its strategic offensive nuclear forces for more than 40 years. In recent years, analysts both inside and outside the government have suggested 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 United States could use medium or long-range aircraft or sea-based cruise missiles or ballistic missiles to contribute to the prompt global strike PGS mission. However, only long-range ballistic missiles have the range and prompt attack capability needed to strike suddenly at the start of an unanticipated conflict. The Air Force and Navy have both studied the possible deployment of conventional warheads on their long-range ballistic missiles. The Navy sought funding, in FY 2003 and FY 2004, for research into a reentry vehicle that would be able to maneuver when approaching its target. The FY 2007 Defense Budget contains 127 million to pursue the deployment of conventional warheads on Trident missiles. The Air Force is pursuing, with DARPA, research into a number of technologies that might enhance the U.S. long-range strike capability. In particular, it is developing a hypersonic glide vehicle, known as the Common Aero Vehicle CAV, that could carry conventional munitions and be deployed on modified Minuteman II or Peacekeeper missiles. 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.

Subject Categories:

  • Guided Missiles
  • Ammunition and Explosives

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