The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitics -

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.

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