HomeNews & PublicationsFeatured StoriesCreating a Conventional Prompt Global Strike Capability for the Nation 

April 18, 2011

Creating a Conventional Prompt Global Strike Capability for the Nation

Global Strike CapabilityThe United States has a robust strategic nuclear deterrent system that, if ever called upon, could respond to a hostile enemy strike quickly, reliably, and accurately. What is not in place, however, is a flexible, conventional (non-nuclear) capability that could be used promptly against high-priority targets anywhere in the world. In an effort to close that gap, the Department of Defense Unified Command Plan tasked the U.S. Strategic Command in 2005 with providing integrated global strike planning and command and control support to deliver rapid, extended-range, precision kinetic (nuclear and conventional) and non-kinetic (including elements of space and information operations) effects in support of theater and national objectives. APL is playing a key role in this effort, which includes identifying, characterizing, and understanding the challenges and risks associated with new concepts and the technology needed in a conventional prompt global strike system. Although the obvious weapon system challenges are promptness and global reach, other critical issues must also be resolved.

Planning for a limited long-range strike on a global basis currently may take days or weeks to accomplish; this planning time must be shortened to durations that are measured in hours. This will require sophisticated processes for decision making and the development of an infrastructure that can deliver necessary and sufficient information to the decision makers.

To accomplish the global-reach objectives, alternatives for basing and delivery are being evaluated. Should the nation use a single base or multiple bases for deployment, and what are the operational concepts for each? What are the issues associated with boost-glide, which will likely be leveraged for conventional prompt global strike, such as long-duration hypersonic glide?

Planning for the development of such a capability raises other questions. What will be the ultimate scope, in terms of both numbers of weapons and the industrial base to support them? Can this state-of-the-art weapon be produced in sufficient numbers? Will resources be available for adequate testing to provide confidence for the planners? Will the weapon be able to penetrate enemy defenses? Will the warhead be sufficiently lethal for a large class of targets? These are some of the questions that APL engineers and scientists have been asked to help answer.

An effective system would need to meet stringent timelines for mission planning and execution, deliver desired effects with confidence and high accuracy while minimizing collateral damage, and comply with treaties and rules of engagement. To meet the challenge of identifying such a system, APL is developing and exercising models, simulations, and visualization tools that can be used to characterize proposed concepts and mission options. These tools will be used to determine system effectiveness and the system's ability to perform given physical, environmental, and political constraints, such as the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty.

APL is applying expertise gleaned from more than five decades of developing and fielding missile systems and working as a trusted agent for the defense community to determine the viability of various concepts. That expertise includes a comprehensive knowledge of missile system design, navigation and guidance, reliability and accuracy modeling, and component development. On a broader scale, it is the Laboratory's systems engineering expertise that gives it the critical perspective needed for this type of end-to-end evaluation.

Potential systems must include flexibility and maneuverability in order to provide a wide range of options for mitigating environmental factors and maximizing effectiveness while operating within accepted limits. This wide range of options and the associated technology make evaluation significantly complex, as do the stringent performance requirements. Because APL's weapons system expertise includes design, development, and fielding for all military services, it has a vital ability to evaluate the range of candidate systems. Its systems engineering approach gives it a valuable perspective with which to make critical observations that will be crucial to determining which system will best meet conventional prompt global strike system requirements.

Today, the Laboratory is working with government partners to understand and identify system requirements and evaluate potential technology. As conventional prompt global strike concepts evolve and mature, future work is likely to include refinements to basing strategy, the concept of operations, system accuracy, effectiveness, and reliability. All of these are necessary inputs to future acquisition decisions—inputs that will, in many ways, be possible because of APL's modeling and simulation tools, in-depth expertise, and systems capabilities.