Global Strike Zone

By Dan Dupont / August 29, 2014 at 6:09 PM

The Congressional Research Service this week completed an updated report on conventional prompt global strike weapons and long-range ballistic missiles, giving lawmakers a typical CRS-style rundown on various issues and posing possible questions for Congress to ask:

When Congress reviews the budget requests for CPGS weapons, it may question DOD’s rationale for the mission, reviewing whether the United States might have to attack targets promptly at the start of or during a conflict, when it could not rely on forward-based land or naval forces. It might also review whether this capability would reduce U.S. reliance on nuclear weapons or whether, as some critics have asserted, it might upset stability and possibly increase the risk of a nuclear response to a U.S. attack. This risk derives, in part, from the possibility that nations detecting the launch of a U.S. PGS weapon would not be able to determine whether the weapon carried a nuclear or conventional warhead. Congress has raised concerns about this possibility in the past.

Inside the Pentagon this week took a look at an element of CPGS in the aftermath of a test failure:

The recent termination of the Advanced Hypersonic Weapon test flight shortly after liftoff will be a setback to the faster-than-the-speed-of-sound program designed to strike faraway and fleeting targets, according to experts and officials tracking the program.

The Army Space and Missile Defense Command was unable to evaluate the AHW during its Aug. 25 test because a booster rocket experienced an anomaly after liftoff, and caused authorities to terminate the flight for safety reasons (DefenseAlert, Aug. 25). James Acton, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment, told Monday that the test termination "appears to say more about the booster than anything about the glider."

Although the test failure can't be blamed on the AHW itself, the whole program faces a setback, said aerospace consultant Leon McKinney, who tracks hypersonics programs. Because the test was terminated shortly after launch, no test data was able to be recovered.

"While the saying 'you learn something with every flight, even failed flights' is always true, this sort of failure doesn't provide much positive learning related to AHW," McKinney said, suggesting that the only lesson learned relates to more carefully checking the launch vehicle used.