Abstract. This paper examines the current stage in the development of US strategic nonnuclear missile weapons. It offers an analysis of likely military strategic objectives for using these weapons and looks at the existing and prospective development of weapons that can be used in a conventional prompt global strike, as well as analyzing problematic issues of support for CPGS.

As nuclear weapons progressed, nuclear powers realized that their massive use, far from making one of the parties victorious, would spell disaster for all of humanity. In today’s international conditions, the states campaigning for their sovereignty in relations with those superior in terms of military might, regard nuclear weapons as a unique instrument for making sure that large-scale aggression be contained. * In this context, the United States is doing its utmost to reduce the danger from the nuclear weapons of the states that are potential victims of US aggression. A case in point can be contractual reduction and limitation of nuclear weapons, hybrid warfare, deployment of the US global ABM defense system, etc. At the same time, in the long term, one can suppose that the United States will arrive at the strategy of surprise resort to conventional prompt global strike, which may devalue the nuclear potential of the aggression victim state.

* Large-scale aggression implies the kind of aggression that aims at changing the state system of the victim country.

Analyzing the purpose of delivering the conventional prompt global strike. The current stage in armaments development in the interests of delivering a prompt long-range or global strike with conventional weapons dates back to 2001 in the four-year documents under the common heading of US Nuclear Posture Review. The documents point out that the US armed forces are to be able to project power throughout the world, and that conventional prompt global strike weapons (CPGS) will make for a wider range of activity by the US presi- dent in response to time-sensitive global challenges to the state’s national security. Analysis of the said documents, which state issues of US national security, points to the chief requirements set for CPGS. These are ability to deliver strikes in minimum (set) time (no more than one hour within issuing an order to hit the target); to hit mobile assets and facilities with a high degree of engineering security anywhere in the world.

Proceeding from these requirements, it is possible to formulate the purpose of developing CPGS systems in the United States, namely, to ensure ability to strike at previously discovered remote targets with nonnuclear weapons anywhere in the world. If successful, the United States will get a new instrument that can be used to disrupt or delay employment of nuclear weapons by the aggression victim state.

Planning and using CPGS. In late 2002 and early 2003, the Pentagon reorganized its STRATCOM Strategic Command in order to plan and use CPGS in carrying out combat missions previously envisaged for strategic nuclear weapons. In July 2006, STRATCOM set up a joint functional component command for planning and dealing a global strike (JFCCGS) involving both nuclear and conventional strategic weapons.

Potential conditions of CPGS employment. Analysis of ways to achieve the objective of delivering CPGS prompts the likely conditions for using these weapons in case of the aggression victim state. They can emerge for achieving the military-political goal of aggression, e.g., create conditions for changing the state power system in the nuclear power that is a political adversary, and in these interests deal a preemptive strike that will devalue the nuclear potential of the victim state.

Analyzing the means of CPGS delivery. In the short term, CPGS can only be achieved with air- or seaborne medium- to long-range missiles, cruise missiles mounted on strategic bombers or submarines, and intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM), either seaborne or ground-based in the United States. An aircraft, if located within a hitting distance of the targets, can strike a few hours after entering the cruise missile launching area. Besides, it is vulnerable to the air defense (AD) of the aggression victim, particularly if the targets are located deep inside the state’s territory. Similarly, seaborne cruise missiles can be too far away from the targets and unable to ensure a rapid attack.

Intercontinental ballistic missiles possess unique time-critical characteristics, such as the time of preparation and launch, range, time, reliability, and precision of delivering munitions to the targets, the resource of allowing warhead maneuvers. Conventional ICBM can hit targets anywhere in the world within an hour of their launch, regardless of forward bases or support from other forces and assets of the US AF. Proceeding from this, the best weapons for CPGS in the near future will be ICBM and submarine-based ballistic missiles. The United States raised the issue of conventional strategic missiles in the 2001 Nuclear Posture Review when it introduced the New Triad concept. The idea was to unite strategic nuclear missiles and precision-guided long-range conventional weapons under the heading of offensive strike weapons.

Financial support of making munitions for CPGS. US Congress has been allocating money for developing CPGS weapons for the Ground Forces, Navy. and Air Force since 2001. Since 2008, a general CPGS program has been in force on the Defense Department scale, which covers research and technology development that could ensure the program implementation.1 According to the program, funding is released to design, develop, and purchase guidance systems and combat equipment capable of maneuvering and gliding in the atmosphere. The DoD earmarks a certain amount of money for research into modern conventional warheads.

The main programs given financial backing in the Air Force are CSM; in DARPA/US Air Force, HTV-2; in the Ground Forces, AHW.

The CSM program. In 2008, the US Air Force started developing the conventional strike missile (CSM) as a medium-range item under the program of conventional Trident modification, CTM. After Congress refused to fund its development, it was decided to focus on the CSM option. In this case, it was planned to use CSM as a means of demonstrating how CPGS weapons could be used.2

The ground-based CSM missile system with a boost-glide conventional warhead can cover intercontinental distances hitting targets within several minutes to several hours of the launch. Once detached from the launch vehicle, the combat load in the form of a flight vehicle can maneuver unrestrictedly on the flight trajectory toward the target. This will help make it not only impervious to AD-AMD systems, but will also prevent it from violating the air space of neutral countries.

According to Air Force plans, CSM can combine the Minotaur IV carrier rocket with a hypersonic flight vehicle. Under the programs of work on CPGS, the first flight vehicle with combat equipment was the DARPA/USAF HTV-2. The initial plans provided for the CSM missile system of three rockets to have been deployed by 2012, with one rocket on combat duty and two in the reserve. Later, they contemplated shifting the time of its deployment to 2015. At the moment, the deployment date for this system remains open. The Department of Defense is yet to complete research, development, and testing of hypersonic gliding flight vehicles. Nor has the problem of the combat equipment type been settled; this will have to wait until it has been tested in at least five trial flights. Successful trial flights are not expected to start until 2025.

The HTV-2 prototype hypersonic flight vehicle. The purpose of the HTV-2 program is to develop a flight vehicle that can fly in the upper layers of the Earth atmosphere at over 13,000 mph During trials, it is to fly from the Vandenberg Air Force base to the conventional target on Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific in 30 minutes. Lockheed Martin Corp. developed HTV-2 falling back on the R&D reserve obtained while designing the nonnuclear warhead for the Trident missile (E2). The DARPA Agency planned purchasing and testing two such vehicles. The Air Force also signed a contract for purchasing from Lockheed Martin a third vehicle to be tested as combat equipment for the CSM missile system.3

  • The first trials of the HTV-2 vehicle occurred on April 22, 2010, at the Vandenberg Air Force base in California; it involved the Minotaur IV carrier rocket in a reduced configuration. The trial results showed expected parameters of the vehicle flight in the atmosphere during the first nine minutes after launch while telemetric information continued to come to the control assets. Separation of the vehicle from the carrier rocket was likewise successful, although it failed to cover the required distance of 4,100 nautical miles on its own within the planned 30 minutes. DARPA managed to gather a considerable amount of data and conduct additional research needed for further testing.
  • The second trial of the HTV-2 vehicle took place on August 10, 2011. It successfully left the carrier rocket, reached the planned trajectory, and flew at a speed of 20 M. Yet the DARPA control assets lost contact with the vehicle after it started gliding in the atmosphere.

The DoD completed work on the final design of the CSM missile system in 2011 and approved the Minotaur space launch vehicle for taking up CPGS flight vehicles. However, too few successful trials combined with lack of proper funding puts a question mark over the deployment of this system.

The AHW program. The Ground Forces are likewise developing combat equipment known as AHW, which is a hypersonic flight vehicle for taking a conventional charge to the target. It can be deployed on a missile with a smaller range than that of HTV-2, and so has to be located closer to the front line. When approaching the target the warhead will be able to maneuver and aim at the target thanks to a special homing system.4

Congress started funding this program in 2006, and the successful trial flight took place on November 17, 2011. The vehicle was launched from the Pacific missile testing range in Hawaii involving STARS strategic target systems, which are a set of launch vehicles derived from the Polaris ballistic missile of the Navy. According to media reports, the vehicle covered 2,400 miles, from the Pacific missile testing range in Hawaii to Kwajalein Atoll. The test yielded data about the work of the hypersonic air-breathing rocket engine and the chances of attaining the declared flight range. Another thing tested was the heat-resistant coating of the flight vehicle. The second flight trial of the system was on August 25, 2014, in the course of which the vehicle was launched from the Kodiak launch complex on the Alaskan shore to be carried to the testing range of Kwajalein Atoll in the Southern Pacific. However, four seconds into the liftoff, the blowup sensors were activated and the vehicle was destroyed. The reason for the failure was the outer heat-resistance cover of engine temperature regulation crossing the carrier rocket control motors.

The AHW program was originally intended to reduce the risk of technical implementation in support of the AF project. But after the failed trial of HTV-2, the AHW program turned out to be in the lead of developing the combat equipment of missile systems for conventional prompt global strike. At the moment, flight trials of the scaled AHW version have been scheduled for 2018 and 2019.

Problem issues of translating CPGS into practice. The main thing when implementing the CPGS idea is the matter of removing the risk of mistaking the launch of a conventional rocket for that of a nuclear one. The United States is trying to solve the problem, for instance, by declaring certain positional areas of conventional missile deployment or informing other states of the flight trajectories of nonnuclear rockets. At present, the issue has not been agreed with any state.

The United States is contemplating use of medium-range missiles for CPGS outside the continental part of the country. If their range is under 5,500 km, they come under the limitations stipulated in the 1987 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which will aggravate talks with other countries on deploying similar weapons.

Thus the US announcing its program of conventional prompt global strike heralds the contemporary stage in the strategic nonnuclear weapons development. Even though the program has been around for over ten years, the results are fairly modest. The trials of the HTV-2 hypersonic glider vehicle ended in a failure; the other vehicle, AHW, has a chance of success, but it is yet to undergo the full set of trials. The amount of money Congress earmarks for the program grows by the year, yet compared to the US national AMD system, it is still dozens of times less. A weapon item for CPGS is unlikely to be made before 2025, and full-scale deployment, provided problem issues have been successfully solved, will have to wait until 2030 at the earliest.

Nevertheless, the United States sticks to the idea of making CPGS weapons. To create technologies for guided hypersonic boost-glide vehicles international cooperation is now in operation. Eventually, after 2030, one can expect further development of this program. It is necessary to be prepared for an adequate response to the potential scope of the program.


1. Akton, James M., Serebryanaya pulya? Pravilniye voprosy o “neyadernom bystrom globalnom udare” [Silver Bullet? Asking the Right Questions about Conventional Prompt Global Strike.] Translated from the English. Ed. by Ye. Myasnikov, Moscow Carnegie Center. Moscow, 2014, xxvi, p. 228; A.F. Woolf, Conventional Prompt Global Strike and Long-Range Ballistic Missiles: Background and Issues. Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service, February 13, 2012, pp. 21-24. (CRS Report for Congress; R41464); for the latest version of the report, see http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/nuke/R41464.pdf

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid.

4. Ibid.

Translated by Margarita Kvartskhava