Accession Number:



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

Descriptive Note:

Congressional rept.

Corporate Author:


Personal Author(s):

Report Date:


Pagination or Media Count:



The United States began to deploy long-range ballistic missiles in the late 1950s and early 1960s. These missiles - land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles ICBMs and sea-based submarine-launched ballistic missiles SLBMs have served as the backbone of the U.S. strategic nuclear deterrent for more than 40 years. They provided the United States with the ability to threaten targets throughout the Soviet Union, and, if necessary, in other nations, from the United States or from submarines patrolling at sea. When the Cold War ended in the early 1990s, these missiles carried more than 8,000 nuclear warheads. The United States has reduced its strategic forces during the past 15 years, but it still has approximately 4,816 warheads deployed on 982 ICBMs and SLBMs. All the missiles still carry nuclear warheads. In recent years, analysts both inside and outside the government have suggested that the United States consider deploying conventional warheads on its long-range ballistic missiles. The Bush Administration, in the 2001 Nuclear Posture Review, called for the integration of precision conventional weapons with strategic nuclear forces in a new category of offensive strike weapons. Ballistic missiles armed with conventional warheads are one possible option for a new type of precision conventional weapon. In addition, the Pentagon identified a new mission prompt global strike PGS - that would allow the United States to strike targets anywhere on earth in a matter of hours, without relying on forward based forces. Many analysts believe that long-range ballistic missiles armed with conventional warheads would also be an ideal weapon for this mission. Both the Navy and Air Force have studied concepts and technologies that might allow the deployment of conventional warheads on long-range ballistic missiles. The Administration has requested funding for these initiatives for the past few years.

Subject Categories:

  • Military Operations, Strategy and Tactics
  • Government and Political Science

Distribution Statement: