recommended reading

Air Force eyes return of mobile nuclear missiles

Mid-80s “Midgetman” mobile missile launcher

Mid-80s “Midgetman” mobile missile launcher // U.S. Air Force

The Air Force has dusted off plans more than two decades old to place fixed nuclear missiles on rail cars or massive road vehicles to protect them from a surprise attack.

The service also wants to explore alternatives to traditional missiles to carry nuclear warheads, which could include hypersonic aircraft capable of crossing the Atlantic Ocean in an hour, said Phillip Coyle of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, a former associate director for national security and international affairs in the Obama administration’s Office of Science and Technology Policy.

On Monday, the Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M., kicked off a study on modernizing or replacing its current fleet of Minuteman III nuclear missiles housed in underground silos in Montana, North Dakota and Wyoming. The work includes potential upgrades to the command and control system.

The center said it wants industry and academic help in analyzing the future of its Minuteman III nuclear missiles. The options include no upgrades, incremental fixes, new missiles stored in silos, and new mobile or tunnel-based systems.

In 1984, the Air Force began developing a small intercontinental ballistic missile called the “Midgetman,” which was carried on a massive, blast-resistant 200,000-lb. wheeled vehicle. The project was canceled in 1992 after the Cold War ended.

In the late 1980s, the Air Force also hatched a plan to place 50 missiles formerly stored in silos on rail cars deployed to seven states. This project was canceled in 1991 after the Air Force shifted funding to nuclear bombers.

In September 2011, the Center for Strategic and International Studies reported that China had developed a mobile missile system, the same month Russia indicated it planned to revive its rail car based missile program, which began in 1983 but was  scrapped in 2006.

Coyle said he was concerned that proliferation of mobile missile systems could lead to another arms race. “The Air Force will need to be careful that they don't stir up a hornets nest with proposals for mobile basing or advanced concepts other than the traditional booster and reentry vehicle. The former could cause Russia or China to redouble their efforts on mobile basing of ICBMs, set off a new kind of arms race, and weaken U.S. defenses,” Coyle said.

He added that if the Air Force decides to pursue hypersonic aircraft to deliver nuclear warheads, this could confuse nuclear armed countries such as Russia, which would not be able to determine if supersonic aircraft traveling at 4,000 miles per hour were carrying conventional or nuclear warheads, and potentially react with a nuclear strike.

Threatwatch Alert

Thousands of cyber attacks occur each day

See the latest threats

JOIN THE DISCUSSION

Close [ x ] More from Nextgov
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from Nextgov.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Modernizing IT for Mission Success

    Surveying Federal and Defense Leaders on Priorities and Challenges at the Tactical Edge

    Download
  • Communicating Innovation in Federal Government

    Federal Government spending on ‘obsolete technology’ continues to increase. Supporting the twin pillars of improved digital service delivery for citizens on the one hand, and the increasingly optimized and flexible working practices for federal employees on the other, are neither easy nor inexpensive tasks. This whitepaper explores how federal agencies can leverage the value of existing agency technology assets while offering IT leaders the ability to implement the kind of employee productivity, citizen service improvements and security demanded by federal oversight.

    Download
  • Effective Ransomware Response

    This whitepaper provides an overview and understanding of ransomware and how to successfully combat it.

    Download
  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

    Download
  • IT Transformation Trends: Flash Storage as a Strategic IT Asset

    MIT Technology Review: Flash Storage As a Strategic IT Asset For the first time in decades, IT leaders now consider all-flash storage as a strategic IT asset. IT has become a new operating model that enables self-service with high performance, density and resiliency. It also offers the self-service agility of the public cloud combined with the security, performance, and cost-effectiveness of a private cloud. Download this MIT Technology Review paper to learn more about how all-flash storage is transforming the data center.

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.