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U.S. Conventional Prompt Global Strike: Issues for 2008 and Beyond I The Minuteman Option Early in the course of this study, the Committee on Conventional Prompt Global Strike Capability was indeed puzzled that the Department of Defense’s (DOD’s) list of actively considered options did not include putting a conventional warhead on the Minuteman III missile, since those missiles and operational procedures exist, are well understood, and have significant payload. Moreover, various possible applications for the missiles have been suggested over the years by scientific panels; conventional global strike seemed to be another natural application to consider. Upon further inquiry, however, the committee independently concluded that for reasons described below, the Minuteman option is not as attractive as the sea-based alternatives for the near term, and that it is not as attractive as a number of the longer-term options. The salient points are best read sequentially: The Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) of 1991 may well be extended, in which case using the Minuteman for conventional prompt global strike (CPGS) would probably require treaty modifications that would have to be negotiated with Russia and other countries, raising the possibility of complications, delays, and uncertainties. If treaty issues did not exist, the Minuteman launched from current installations in California or Florida would often have to overfly Europe, Russia, or China, creating nontrivial risks of international incidents and possible ambiguities during crisis. Deploying the Minuteman elsewhere, such as in Hawaii, which the committee analyzed, could largely avoid the overflight problems, but the political, economic, and procedural difficulties of introducing a new and secure operational
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U.S. Conventional Prompt Global Strike: Issues for 2008 and Beyond base for strategic missiles, even if the missiles are few in number and conventionally armed, might prove considerable and cause delays. Even if the basing difficulties could be resolved quickly, the Minuteman option proves not to have any particular attractions relative to the submarine-based approaches. Indeed, it would probably have to be modified to use something very similar to the Conventional Trident Modification’s (CTM’s) front end in order to achieve adequate accuracy and to build conservatively on past technology. Moreover, such a modification would take time and testing and would incur the difficulties that arise when one organization is asked to use technology developed by another (e.g., technology tested in a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency [DARPA] program). The difficulties are not merely parochial, but also technical: organizations have rich infrastructures developed over decades, which include people with a great deal of tacit knowledge that must also somehow be captured and transferred. The Air Force might find it necessary or expedient to develop its own version of a CTM-like front end, in which case additional years might be required. Further, development risk would be higher than in the Navy’s incremental approach within a mature organization that has a long-term record of success with almost precisely the same components as in the CTM or CTM-2. The committee reasoned, nonetheless, that if concerns about ambiguity problems in time of crisis were a dominant consideration, then perhaps the Minuteman option would nonetheless have some advantages. It should be possible to provide on-site inspections and persistent instrumentation that would provide nations such as Russia with a reasonably high level of assurance that any launches would contain conventional weapons (“reasonably high” because nearly any system of assurances could probably be defeated with sufficient cunning and lapses of diligence by the observer). However, the committee’s analysis concluded that with only modestly more creative measures, such assurances could be provided with submarine-based options (see Appendix H). For all of these reasons, then, as well as the fact that the DOD had earlier considered the option and rejected it, the committee did not analyze the Minuteman option to the same extent that it did the others.