PENTAGON STUDIES NEW MOBILE ICBM
The Air Force is nearing completion of plans for the next generation landbased strategic nuclear missiles that could be deployed on difficult-to-locate mobile launchers or in tunnels.
According to an updated Congressional Research Service report published last week, the road- and railmobile missile concepts were outlined in a contract proposal two years ago produced by the Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center.
“The Mobile concept employs a new ICBM on a transporter erector launcher (TEL),” the Air Force contracting document says. “The systems would be located on government land and be capable of deploying on- or off-road.”
The new missiles are needed to replace the arsenal of 450 Minuteman IIIs and would put the United States in the same league with China and Russia. Both countries are deploying new and more advanced road-mobile missiles with multiple warheads.
The Air Force is considering development of a new missile that would be silo-based but designed so that it could be deployed on a mobile launcher in the future, a congressional defense expert said.
The Air Force and the contractor Orbital ATK conducted a ground test of a new solid rocket motor for use in the future ICBMs, the company said in a statement Wednesday, noting that the motor test demonstrated “new advanced technologies.”
The U.S. government in the past rejected deploying mobile missiles, a basing mode considered more survivable in a nuclear conflict than the current silo-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).
The new road-mobile ICBM would be built so it could move to avoid being targeted and “therefore, a key feature will be the speed at which the TEL can depart the operating base when required,” the proposal reads.
The new ICBM will be armed with one or two existing warheads and the transporter must be capable of traveling on roads and unpaved surfaces. The control system for the missile would be either fixed or mobile.
The Air Force also considered a rail-mobile ICBM that would be stored in tunnels.
“The tunnel concept mode operates similar to a subway system but with only a single transporter/launcher and missile dedicated to a given tunnel,” the Air Force said. “The vehicle moves at random down the length of the tunnel. The tunnel is long enough to improve survivability but leaving enough room to permit adequate ‘rattle space’ in the event of an enemy attack.”
The missile rail cars would be selfpropelled and remotely-controlled, with launch portals inside the tunnels at regular intervals that could be used to raise the missile and fire it through an opening.
“During an attack, the launcher vehicle will need protection from ground shock,” the document says.
Other options call for upgrading current Minuteman IIIs, or building a new silo-based ICBM to replace it.
However, Air Force spokesman Ed Gulick said in news reports last summer three options were being considered: keeping Minuteman IIIs through 2075; building a new silo-based ICBM; and deploying a mix of upgraded Minuteman IIIs and the new road-mobile missile.
The project is called the Groundbased Strategic Deterrent (GBSD) and the outline of the future ICBM will be announced in the coming weeks.
U.S. Strategic Command commander Adm. Cecil Haney told reporters Oct. 22 the Minuteman III replacement current is the focus of an “analysis of alternatives” study that will then produce a request for proposal to industry, possibly before the end of the year.
The congressional report said the government will spend $348 billion between 2015 and 2024 on nuclear forces.
A Minuteman III booster is lowered into the tube at a launch facility in February. Air Force spokesman Ed Gulick said three options were being considered: keeping Minuteman IIIs through 2075; building a new silo-based ICBM; and deploying a mix of Minuteman IIIs and road-mobile missile.