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Obama To Decide On New Weapons 409

Posted by Soulskill
from the i'll-order-a-dozen dept.
krou writes "Buried within the New Start treaty, which saw the decommissioning of nuclear warheads, was an interesting provision as a result of Russian demands: the US must 'decommission one nuclear missile for every one' of a new type of weapon called Prompt Global Strike 'fielded by the Pentagon.' The warhead, which is 'mounted on a long-range missile to start its journey,' would be 'capable of reaching any corner of the earth from the United States in under an hour. ... It would travel through the atmosphere at several times the speed of sound, generating so much heat that it would have to be shielded with special materials to avoid melting. ... But since the vehicle would remain within the atmosphere rather than going into space, it would be far more maneuverable than a ballistic missile, capable of avoiding the airspace of neutral countries, for example, or steering clear of hostile territory. Its designers note that it could fly straight up the middle of the Persian Gulf before making a sharp turn toward a target.' The new weapon is in line with Obama's plans 'to move towards less emphasis on nuclear weapons,' and rather focus on conventional ones. The idea is not new, having been first floated under the Bush administration, but was abandoned, mainly because 'Russian leaders complained that the technology could increase the risk of a nuclear war, because Russia would not know if the missiles carried nuclear warheads or conventional ones.'"
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Obama To Decide On New Weapons

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  • He's just Bush with a tan...

    Continuous and unbroken policy record in every single, meaningful area. Except where it really doesn't count - you know, the non-Constitutional stuff.

  • by ProdigyPuNk (614140) on Monday April 26, 2010 @01:30PM (#31986190) Journal
    FTFA: The idea is not new: President George W. Bush and his staff promoted the technology, imagining that this new generation of conventional weapons would replace nuclear warheads on submarines. In face-to-face meetings with President Bush, Russian leaders complained that the technology could increase the risk of a nuclear war, because Russia would not know if the missiles carried nuclear warheads or conventional ones. Mr. Bush and his aides concluded that the Russians were right. Partly as a result, the idea “really hadn’t gone anywhere in the Bush administration,” Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who has served both presidents, said recently on ABC’s “This Week.” But he added that it was “embraced by the new administration.”

    First time I've seen something like this, where Obama is more hawkish on a military matter than Bush ? Man that seems wierd...
    • by Daniel Dvorkin (106857) * on Monday April 26, 2010 @02:11PM (#31986728) Homepage Journal

      First time I've seen something like this, where Obama is more hawkish on a military matter than Bush ? Man that seems wierd...

      It shouldn't really be a surprise, generally speaking; Democratic Presidents since Truman have responded to the Republican "soft on defense" dog whistle by acting like kids on a playground who can't back down from a dare.

      In this case, though, I'm not sure the "more hawkish" label really sticks. This is about replacing one weapons system with another, not about using either weapon in any particular war. We have such a horror of using nuclear weapons that we're always looking for ways not to use them, and I don't see anything more or less hawkish in destroying an area with a rain of tungsten rods vs. destroying the same area with a nuke. The hawk vs. dove aspect applies more to whether or not we launch a strike at all.

    • by 99BottlesOfBeerInMyF (813746) on Monday April 26, 2010 @02:15PM (#31986786)

      First time I've seen something like this, where Obama is more hawkish on a military matter than Bush ? Man that seems wierd...

      I'd actually say he's more capable than Bush was. Bush couldn't deploy this because it risked war with Russia. Obama has skill as a diplomat and convinced them they could inspect the launch site and we'd remove a nuke from our arsenal for each one. Partly this was possible because Obama has a good diplomatic relationship with the Russians. So now we theoretically have another military option. This is why all those hardliners who think diplomacy is weakness are dead wrong.

  • After all, if the warhead contains more than 3 ounces of fluid in any one container, or won't fit in a one liter zip-lock bag, there is no way that the TSA will allow the launch...

    If the TSA's word isn't sufficiently reassuring, we could always stencil "No nukes here, we're saving them for Ivan" on all conventional ordnance...
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by ProdigyPuNk (614140)

      After all, if the warhead contains more than 3 ounces of fluid in any one container, or won't fit in a one liter zip-lock bag, there is no way that the TSA will allow the launch... If the TSA's word isn't sufficiently reassuring, we could always stencil "No nukes here, we're saving them for Ivan" on all conventional ordnance...

      Only problem is that the TSA will want to scan the nukes first... Then we'll have pictures of naked nuke internals getting passed around the 'net!

  • Translation (Score:4, Insightful)

    by characterZer0 (138196) on Monday April 26, 2010 @01:34PM (#31986256)

    The US does not want to build nuclear weapons that can only be used defensively (for political reasons), and therefore which act primarily as a deterrent. It wants to build weapons that can be used now.

    The US does not only want other countries to be scared to attack the US; it wants other countries to be scared not to do what the US wants them to, as the US may attack tomorrow.

    • I don't doubt that to be the motivation, but even then it seems overkill since we have military bases all over the world. If a country decides to...misbehave...there's sure to be a base just across the border and also intelligence operatives already working inside the border.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        The problem with using ground troops is that casualties make for terrible press. Plus, although we've been working hard to change this, there is only so much profit that defense contractors can wring out of sending some kid to get shot in dustymudholistan.

        Gigantic explosions, on the other hand, make every red blooded American's cock stand just a little straighter, and very-high-performance sophisticated single-use delivery vehicles are delightfully expensive...
    • Re:Translation (Score:4, Interesting)

      by imemyself (757318) on Monday April 26, 2010 @01:56PM (#31986528)
      No...realistically it would be extremely difficult to use nuclear weapons as a response to anything other than a nuclear attack. This system would give us a conventional response that might deter more than just a nuclear attack.
      • by AndersOSU (873247)

        a conventional response ... that looks a whole lot like a nuclear response.

        This is idiotic, why develop a conventional weapon that looks like a nuke - you know you're never going to be able to use it in any situation that wouldn't warrant a nuke - and in that case, just use the nuke.

        It's an almost-balistic-missle based in California ... can you imagine any part of the world we might hit that wouldn't result in frenzied meetings in Moscow where Russia has to decide if this is a nuke or not? Juarez maybe? D

    • The US doesn't 'want' anything, you've anthropomorphized a country. Different people in the US want different things. In this case, it seems Bush did not want these weapons. Obama does. Some people in the US don't want us to have any weapons. Others, (like this guy [slashdot.org]) seem to think the US should be more violent. These people are apparently the ones you are referring to.
  • by BadAnalogyGuy (945258) <BadAnalogyGuy@gmail.com> on Monday April 26, 2010 @01:35PM (#31986278)

    Russia really needs to be put at ease about nuclear attack. We simply aren't going to do it. We develop advanced weaponry, but for all intents and purposes, these weapons are just stockpiled, never to be used.

    Agreeing to decommission existing missiles is an easy agreeable point. We don't need them anymore. Realistically, there isn't a country in the world that America is politically ready to bomb back to the stone ages. We just like having this stuff because it makes us feel better.

    This type of concern isn't new, either. Russia was worried that Reagan's Star Wars missile defense shield would allow America to attack with impunity, but we never had good reason to bomb anyone, much less Russia.

    My sincere hope is that Obama can navigate these treacherous waters. It's really his first true test of foreign policy on a global scale. If he can soothe the Russians here, he'll have made huge progress that future generations will reap the benefits of for decades.

    • by Rix (54095) on Monday April 26, 2010 @01:49PM (#31986448)

      Only capabilities matter.

      If the US can nuke Russia, Russia has to plan for the possibility that the US will nuke Russia. If the US launches missiles that could be aimed at Russia, and that could have nuclear payloads, Russia has to assume that they are and they do. Because they're fucked if they assume good faith and are wrong.

      Better never to launch such a missile and best not to have them at all.

    • Realistically, there isn't a country in the world that America is politically ready to bomb back to the stone ages. We just like having this stuff because it makes us feel better

      Well now, there's a whole lot of ways to attack people. Nukes are nasty because they destroy everything in sight and leave it inhabitable for a little while. Chemical weapons are usually more desirable because all the infrastructure is left in place and you can clean it up with specialized teams. Conventional weapons allow you to get the thoroughness of destroying a building without the downsides of destroying a whole city.

      Politically, there are a few countries the US would love to clear out and Annex. It's

      • by jitterman (987991)

        Politically, there are a few countries the US would love to clear out and Annex. It's just the rest of the world thats keeping them from doing so.

        I imagine this is actually true of just about any country that has a military of reasonable capability, relative to the country(ies) it wants to conquer/control.

    • Re: (Score:2, Offtopic)

      by Alinabi (464689)

      Russia really needs to be put at ease about nuclear attack. We simply aren't going to do it. We develop advanced weaponry, but for all intents and purposes, these weapons are just stockpiled, never to be used.

      Repeat after me: HI-RO-SHI-MA. See, that wasn't so hard. And now you know.

    • by anarkhos (209172)

      >never to be used

      Except we did

    • Indeed, the one country that actually used nuclear weapons says 'we won't ever use them... promise'.
      Not to mention America doesn't just stockpile weapons. Last I checked, they bombed the crap out of Afghanistan and Iraq.
      I'm not here to debate the morality of the bombings... just that they happened.

      I'm not here to debate whether or not the nuking of Hiroshima was warranted or not, but the rest of the world has a slightly longer memory than to think weapons are just kept around...
      They are used.

      I don't know i

    • by AndersOSU (873247)

      Imagine the shoe is on the other foot. Say there's a separatist movement in Kamchatka that's seized some statigic Russian base - maybe even one that has nuclear material. The Kremlin decides the best response is to launch something in a westward direction that looks-like-but-isn't-really a ballistic missile from the caucuses. Do you think that Gates is going to just ho-hum assume that the Russians wouldn't possibly launch a strike on us?

  • infrared (Score:3, Interesting)

    by TheSHAD0W (258774) on Monday April 26, 2010 @01:42PM (#31986344) Homepage

    It would travel through the atmosphere at several times the speed of sound, generating so much heat that it would have to be shielded with special materials to avoid melting...

    Wouldn't that make it an easy target for a heat seeking ABM? Even as fast as it's moving?

    • Re:infrared (Score:4, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 26, 2010 @01:46PM (#31986408)

      yes, but that heat-seeking ABM will need to move even faster, thus generating even more heat, thus making it an easy target for a heat seeking AABM.

    • by Imrik (148191)

      Easy to target but at the moment I don't think there are any ABMs capable of reaching mach ~30. (which is about how fast it would have to be able to go to do what they say it can)

    • by chill (34294)

      Not that it is totally relevant, but your comment reminded me of a cartoon I once saw in a book when I was too young to understand what I was reading.

      Heavy googling brings back that Bill Mauldin was probably the artist, but I can't find the actual cartoon.

      It was one heavily decorated, pompous military type telling another one "We call it our anti-anti-missile-missile". They were standing in front of a missile mounted on a launcher. There was a little arm off it with another missile pointing at the first.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Nuclear arms have formed the backbone of US deterrence strategy for six decades and although the strategy worked during the Cold War, military leaders say they need weapons in their arsenal to deter adversaries who assume that the United States would refrain from taking the extreme step of ordering a nuclear strike. Now the Washington Post reports that as the White House pushes for cuts in the US nuclear arsenal, the Pentagon is developing a powerful nonnuclear weapon to help fill the gap as a new form of d [washingtonpost.com]

  • Not Nuclear (Score:3, Informative)

    by molafson (716807) on Monday April 26, 2010 @01:44PM (#31986368)
    From the article:

    In theory, the weapon will hurl a conventional warhead of enormous weight at high speed and with pinpoint accuracy, generating the localized destructive power of a nuclear warhead.

  • by BlueKitties (1541613) <bluekitties616@gmail.com> on Monday April 26, 2010 @01:45PM (#31986380)
    It took us nearly a week to export Democracy to Iraq, now we could do it in less than two hours. Sounds like a good deal.
  • Terrible Idea (Score:3, Insightful)

    by infalliable (1239578) on Monday April 26, 2010 @01:46PM (#31986394)

    This idea is bad on many levels.

    1. It looks like a nuclear ballistic missile launch. Every time you fire one, you're risking nuclear war. Russia, China, and any other enemy will see the launch and has to make a very quick decision on what to do. Chances are, it probably wont' be misidentified as a nuclear first strike. Do you really want to take that risk though??? If you have to notify them first, the entire quick strike goes out the window and the entire point of the technology is lost.

    2. It's fucking expensive. Having a 1 time use ballistic missile is going to cost 100s of millions to a billion dollars a shot. That figure doesn't even count the R&D money for the program. To allow for quick strike capability, they have to be manned at all times, and ready to fire, so the ongoing "maintenance costs" on it are very high. This is going to be an insanely expensive system.

    3. Why? Who are you realistically going to strike with it. Anywhere in the middle east, North Korea, and most of Europe is currently within fighter range and can be hit in relatively short time from conventional fighter/bombers.

    • Re:Terrible Idea (Score:5, Informative)

      by oodaloop (1229816) on Monday April 26, 2010 @01:57PM (#31986542)
      North Korea has the air defense to shoot down our aircraft. So does China, with a few more thousand miles of hostile territory to navigate. An unmanned non-nuclear weapon with quick strike capability would be useful there. I don't think we can afford it, but that's another story.
      • No, you're right. A ballistic weapon is going to be much harder to intercept and nobody can reliably do it currently (or is really trying). That's it's primary benefit balanced out with a ton of negatives.

        There are methods of infiltrating enemy airspace that are moderately reliable though.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      It looks like a nuclear ballistic missile launch.

      Well, no not really, But there's no reason these things can't be made nuclear and I'm sure the air force already has a version with a warhead, so for the most part your concern is valid. Other nations won't know if we fired a nuke or not, although if we fire them one at a time, any nation we're worried about can wait it out without compromising a MAD strategy.

      It's fucking expensive. Having a 1 time use ballistic missile is going to cost 100s of millions to a billion dollars a shot.

      An SR-71 went mach 3, had stealth capabilities, could fly anywhere on a tank of fuel, and had to have life support for pilots. They cost about 35 mill

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Tryle (1159503)

      1. The US agreed in the Bush era that it could be misinterpreted as a nuclear ICBM, however in nuclear war (especially in a preemptive strike scenario), there is not tactical advantage to launching a SINGLE missile at your nuclear foe. So the notion this could be misinterpreted is ridiculous.

      2. The military has a blank check, therefore a blank budget. We've long surpassed the millions mark of military toys. Not to mention, do you really think you have a say in what the military wants?

      3. The point was t

    • Re:Terrible Idea (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Jeian (409916) on Monday April 26, 2010 @02:13PM (#31986754)

      1. The sites would most likely be located away from the current nuclear sites in Montana/North Dakota/Wyoming. Possibly by repurposing one or more of the old Cold War nuclear sites in Missouri or South Dakota, or by using one of the space launch sites in California or Florida.

      2. We already have nuclear ICBMs on alert 24/7. Keeping conventional ICBMs really wouldn't take that much extra effort, particularly since most AFBs already have a round-the-clock maintenance group.

      3. Say we find out where bin Laden is hiding. Odds are he's not going to be there for long, and 30 minutes is a much better window than the time it would take to scramble a fighter/bomber/UAV and get it into firing range.

    • I'll say "terrible idea" as well, and add:

      Is this even possible? How much fuel would such a thing need to carry to get there at that speed?

      Why would you need it? Presumably there's going to be some sort of build-up to the kind of situation where this is needed a you can have an aircraft carrier full of cruise missiles off somebody's coastline in less than a day.

      Seems like just another military wet dream/waste of taxpayer money.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by anarkhos (209172)

      Sorry, but this is a *great* idea.

      It's fucking expensive. That means military contractors get more and you get less. Politics caters to special interests, NOT YOU!

  • by cryfreedomlove (929828) on Monday April 26, 2010 @01:47PM (#31986416)
    There are lots of high tech workers that read slashdot. I'm one of them. I decided, while at university, that I was not going to spend my life building weapons. Working on weapons certainly was an opportunity that presented itself when I was getting my degree in the late 80s. I do not want to create weapons because I would have no direct control over whether those weapons were limited to truly righteous causes.

    Do you work on weapons? Do you share my concerns?
    • I was offered a job with a mid-level defense contractor when leaving school (mid 80s), but decided against it on moral grounds. I know a few others who made similar decisions, but unfortunately not enough of them...

       

    • I work with them.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by SparkEE (954461)

      As an EE, I've had a couple jobs where I worked on weapons. In fact, I've worked on the Conventional Trident Modification program referenced by TFA. It can be a bit of a struggle to deal with the fact that you're building a weapon. There's one rational that got tossed around quite a bit:

      The weapons will be built by someone. Would you really want the weapon design to fall only to engineers that couldn't get other jobs? Given that I worked on the guidance parts, I could be glad that I was involved in makin

    • by smellsofbikes (890263) on Monday April 26, 2010 @02:18PM (#31986862) Journal
      More specifically, I know several people who are working on the anti-ballistic-missile missiles. The two that I've talked to about the system both are uncomfortable with its potential for destabilizing deterrence, but both are basically okay with working on the missiles themselves because they're both convinced that the system will never work.

      But in the broader context, what you're talking about is a continuum of engineer responsibility: engineers who design guns have no control over whether people use them to shoot people, engineers who design cars have no control over whether people use them to run over people, and engineers who design garbage bags have no control over whether people use them to asphyxiate other people. Unless your job is designing large shapeless soft foam objects, you're always going to risk someone using your creation to hurt someone else, and at each point along the continuum from plastic bag designer to nuclear weapon designer, at least a few people are going to say they're not comfortable with doing that, and at least a few people are going to say they are. I'm not sure how one would draw a line at any given point and make a decision that beyond that point, other people were Bad People for continuing to work on those designs.

      With all THAT said, I've noticed that a couple of friends who work in weapons systems drink. A lot. A lot more than most people, and a lot more than they used to when they were working on launch systems for satellites or modelling asteroid impact crater formation.

      • by mmustapic (1155729) on Monday April 26, 2010 @02:35PM (#31987110)

        Unless your job is designing large shapeless soft foam objects, you're always going to risk someone using your creation to hurt someone else, and at each point along the continuum from plastic bag designer to nuclear weapon designer, at least a few people are going to say they're not comfortable with doing that, and at least a few people are going to say they are.

        Oh please, weapons are built with the purpose of hurting, or forcing someone do something you want (under threat of hurting him). Cars and garbage bags have many other uses besides killing.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by smellsofbikes (890263)

          Unless your job is designing large shapeless soft foam objects, you're always going to risk someone using your creation to hurt someone else, and at each point along the continuum from plastic bag designer to nuclear weapon designer, at least a few people are going to say they're not comfortable with doing that, and at least a few people are going to say they are.

          Oh please, weapons are built with the purpose of hurting, or forcing someone do something you want (under threat of hurting him). Cars and garbage bags have many other uses besides killing.

          Speaking as a person who is in favor of gun control legislation, I use guns as tools for protecting my workshop from having holes punched in it by woodpeckers. (Stupid woodpeckers. I build them birdhouses, but they'd rather cut holes in the siding.) In a similar way, peace through strength, or "if we don't have a weapons system, they'll roll in and take us over", has clearly been an effective tactic for North Korea. As such, I believe it's incorrect to say that weapons are built with the purpose of hurt

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Green Salad (705185)

        "Unless your job is designing large shapeless soft foam objects, you're always going to risk someone using your creation to hurt someone else."

        I wonder if the foam egg-crate lining of a sniper rifle's protective case counts as a "designed, large, shapeless foam object"

    • by Bakkster (1529253) <Bakkster@man.gmail@com> on Monday April 26, 2010 @03:18PM (#31987796)

      While I don't work on weapons themselves, I do work on systems used in conjunction with weapons used in war.

      My belief: advanced sensors, radars, targeting, intelligence, etc saves more lives than it costs. If the military has a cost-effective way to ensure when they fire a weapon that they are killing enemy combatants and not civilians, and before the enemy can get a shot off, it's a good situation for all but our enemies. It's good for civilians who have a reduced fear of accidentally being bombed or shot. It's good for our servicemen (of which I have 2 cousins and several friends) who can rest more easily knowing that they no longer need to walk a razors edge between killing innocents and waiting to be fired upon first.

      At the end of the day, I can't stop a war. I can make that war safer for our troops and civilians around the world, though, so you can bet your ass that's what I'm going to do.

  • Its designers note that it could fly straight up the middle of the Persian Gulf before making a sharp turn toward a target
    Geeze.. if the 'designers' are going to be that un-subtle, they should just say it already: Iran/Afghanistan.

    (unless they honestly want to suggest that the sharp turn being made is to the left, toward UAE/Qatar/Saudi Arabia)

  • by kalirion (728907) on Monday April 26, 2010 @02:07PM (#31986684)

    capable of avoiding the airspace of neutral countries, for example, or steering clear of hostile territory.

    So if it will avoid neutral countries, and steer clear of hostile territories, by process of elimination that leaves the target to be our allies?

  • Partly Ballistic? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by florescent_beige (608235) on Monday April 26, 2010 @03:28PM (#31987958) Journal

    ...capable of reaching any corner of the earth from the United States in under an hour...It would travel through the atmosphere at several times the speed of sound...

    Something is not the right order of magnitude here. 12,500 miles/1 hour = 12,500 mph = Mach 16. To me, 16 is more than "several".

    I don't know of anything operational (SCRAM isn't) other than a rocket that can propel something that fast. And a rocket with enough thrust and low enough weight wouldn't be able to fire for an hour.

    From that I suspect the entire flight profile isn't in the atmosphere. Something like: an ICBM delivers a ramjet-powered cruise missile somewhere in the vicinity of a target. The missile then flies the rest of the way.

    As someone else pointed out...jeez. How expensive is that? Why not fire a missile from a B52 or a ship? Last I heard the US still had lots of both of those all over the globe. A Mach 5 ramjet could go 3840 miles in an hour so your platform wouldn't even have to be that close. Way out in the middle of the Indian Ocean is within that distance from Kabul, for example.

  • I wonder... (Score:3, Funny)

    by feepness (543479) on Monday April 26, 2010 @05:27PM (#31989368) Homepage
    ...if he'll use his Peace Prize award money to fund them?

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