Prompt Global Strike will transform U.S. Naval Power:

by Craig Hooper on July 8, 2010

As many of you know, I’m occasionally contributing to the universe as their resident Naval Analyst.  In today’s post, I wonder what will happen if, over the next two years, the 7,804 Vertical Launch System (VLS) cells in the surface fleet suddenly acquired a Prompt Global Strike capability?

It’s just a DARPA project now, but barring the risk of technical overreach and bad management, there’s a lot of good reasons why this is gonna happen.

But the more interesting aspect of adding PGS into the VLS mix is conceptual.  What happens when a platform that has long been a “defensive” tool goes into an “offense” role?  It’s an interesting question to ponder–and as I wrote over there:

Putting PGS into the VLS does something far more interesting than just “add capability”. It changes everything. PGS on a surface ship transforms the largely “defensive” nature of the U.S. surface combatant/carrier escort to, well, “offense”.

And that shift from the “Missile Defense” destroyer or “Air Defense” cruiser of old to a “Global Strike Combatant” will pose a real conceptual challenge for everybody–from those walking Aegis deckplates to any potential adversaries.

The idea that America’s 7,804 VLS cells may soon gain the ability to rain almost instant havoc on targets some 2,000 nm away should put a bit of a damper on those who counted on overwhelming a hunkered-down and relatively passive “defense-oriented” AEGIS fleet. It’s a big deal.

You heard it here first–A shift of the U.S. surface combatant fleet from defense to offense is a real game changer.



Flymarines July 12, 2010 at 11:04 am

Mr Hooper,

I just found your blog by reading your Olympia article in Proceedings. Great article, by the way, and I enjoy the site. Thanks!

Blacktail July 11, 2010 at 6:13 am

Discussions of the technical practicality of an ICBM tipped with a conventional warhead aside, nobody seems to have considered the possibility of nuclear retaliation — if (read as, “when”) a future hostile with nuclear-tipped ICBMs detects a “Prompt Global Strike” launch, do you REALLY think they’ll “wait and see” what the missile’s trajectory is? Recall that during the Cold War, nuclear attacks were almost initiated by meteor impacts and computer glitches.

Or maybe we’ll tell every ICBM-using power (to include Iran and North Korea) about the attack in advance, and they’ll pass a warning onto the target, giving them AT LEAST a 30-minute warning? Recall that Osama Bin Laden missed a Tomahawk-plastering by about 30 minutes in Sudan.

Of course, if the enemy has ICBMs, we can take them all out in a jiffy with PGS!… right? Wrong.
ICBMs can be MOBILE, like China’s DF-31;
Recall that despite the use of U-2 and SR-71 spyplanes, and dozens of spy satellites, not a single kill against a Mobile Scud launcher was ever confirmed, and only one launch out of more than 100 was ever witnessed (and the vehicle that fired it was seen again!);

And how about the 300 bombs that cost $4 Billion, which we threw at Serbia in 1999, in an attempt to decimate their tanks and artillery pieces? We got 14 of 1300+, along with just 560 of Serbia’s 140000 troops, after FOUR MONTHS of bombing.

What the survival of 100 untouched-by-air Scud Launchers and 1300 untouched-by-air tanks and artillery pieces attests to is that continuously-mobile and/or well-camouflaged targets are untouchable by airpower, and a missile blindly launched from the other side of the planet CAN’T do any better. If a potential target has them, all a PGS strike will accomplish is a retaliation against the US.

There’s simply no point in PGS.

Lastly, if our target has Mobile ICBM Launchers, missing even ONE in our “prompt global strike” could mean a missile on our doorstep. Tor those of you who’ve been frothing at the mouth at the thought of having PGS — and thus have obviously forgotten what a Nuclear Warhead is — here’s a few hints of what the use of PGS invites to happen to us;

G Lof July 10, 2010 at 11:34 pm

It seem a bit premature to talk about a weapon system that arn’t pass the materials testing stage. What if this bright idea burns up when they can’t find a material that can survive Mach-5+ that is cheap enought for an function weapon system?

Chuck58 July 9, 2010 at 11:30 am

Dang, I forgot about that – good one, Craig!

Craig Hooper July 9, 2010 at 11:24 am

And the LRASM (Long Range Anti-Ship Missile) is still in DARPA’s clutches too…

Chuck58 July 9, 2010 at 11:01 am

To me, this is about adding options.

Sure, a 100-200 pound payload COULD be larger in terms of a more useful payload on target, but the key here is, FOR THIS PROJECT, it has to fit into a VLS cell. So, can you get a larger warhead, and still keep to ~ hypersonic flight, and still fit into a VLS cell?

No? What tradeoffs become acceptable? In this case, 100-200 lb payload @ Mach 9 flight over roughly 2,000 NM, fittable into VLS. That might be of some value…..

Alpha, VLS offensive punch? I know the TASM is in the process of being re-worked into a sort-of latter-day TLAM [guessing conventional; SALT had something to say about TLAM-N]. What else am I forgetting, Comrade? SLAM-ER? I, too, am curious to see where this leads, but from my viewpoint, it’s an option, and options are good things to have. Even expensive ones 🙂

DPT July 8, 2010 at 10:14 pm

Very, very interesting post – I have to admit that I have been something of a skeptic of PGS, but perhaps that was more due to its championing as a deterrent against nuclear attacks. Establishing PGS as simply an offensive weapon outside the nuclear calculus, however, is a bold idea. It definitely helps undercut the fatalism some people have about the ability of countries such as China or Iran to effectively implement A2/AD and end the era of power projection.

Of course, it might be more difficult for other countries to trust that a missile launched from a VLS cell on a vessel they can’t verify, like a submarine, isn’t nuclear. But I imagine that using these weapons primarily from surface vessels would mitigate most of those concerns.

Moose July 8, 2010 at 9:22 pm

Hypersonics, Railguns, and Free-Electron lasers for point-defense. The 2020s Navy is going to be an interesting place.

Craig Hooper July 8, 2010 at 2:41 pm

Sure, there’s lots of interesting things in VLS. For land attack a good portion of the “offensive” loadout is not exactly cutting-edge or PGS-appropriate.

2,000 nm Covers just as much ground as the (larger payload) medium-range sub-launched missiles that a few folks have been tinkering with for PGS. Not as much as a Tactical Trident. Problem is that Congress won’t fund ’em due to concerns over misinterpretation.

2,000 nm from the sea offers plenty of global coverage.

And 100-200 lb payload can do a lot–particularly to stationary installations. Then, you know, the payload doesn’t necessarily have to be kinetic!

Comrade Misfit July 8, 2010 at 2:25 pm

I tracked back through the links and learned that ArcLight will be capable of delivering a 100-200lb payload.

So it will have the striking power of a single 8″ shell (or a 5″ EGRM)? At the cost of how much per round, exactly?

Color me “very skeptical”.

Alpha Check July 8, 2010 at 2:17 pm

Couple Thoughts:
2,000 miles isn’t global and if you think VLS lacks offensive capability, you’re very wrong.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: