U.S. Navy Developing Hypersonic Weapons and Low-Yield Nuclear Warheads
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U.S. Navy Developing Hypersonic Weapons and Low-Yield Nuclear Warheads


WASHINGTON, DC – November 26, 2018

According to SSP Director Vice Admiral Johnny Wolfe, who spoke this month at the annual Naval Submarine League symposium, each service will field some sort of hypersonic capability to contribute to conventional prompt global strike.

The Vice Admiral also spoke about the beginning of the creation of a low-power nuclear warhead W76-2. According to the US Naval Institute (USNI), the Navy has set up a program office within its Strategic Systems Programs (SSP) to address the conventional prompt global strike mission handed by the Defense Department to the sea service.

“We have a program, we are funded, and we’re moving forward with that capability, which is going to be tremendous to allow our Navy to continue to have the access they need, whether it be from submarines or from surface ships,” the admiral noted.

Wolfe noted that the decision on whether to use this weapon on submarines, destroyers or other platforms will come from the Navy High Command. But it will be developed in such a way that the missile and the combat unit are universal, and in the future they do not have to be altered for any specific platform.

The Vice Admiral also said that at the beginning of the new financial year (starting from October 1) funds were received to begin the development of a small number of low-power nuclear warheads W76-2, which, according to him, will be built to contain Russia. Wolf stated that the Pentagon would not need to test these warheads because they were based on the W76-1.

In turn, the report of the Congressional Research Service says that the White house included a request to create a modification of the W76-2 in the amount of $65 million in April 2018 in an amendment to the budget. It is also noted that during the extension of the W76 program, experts had a number of questions. Thus, some experts have expressed doubts that the warhead is designed appropriately to be sure that it does not detonate before reaching the goal.

The sea service is to spearhead the effort by developing the hypersonic glide body that all the services will use. The platforms are yet to be determined as the Navy is intentionally keeping its options open.

The idea is to have a booster going up to the upper atmosphere or outer space and a hypersonic glide vehicle able to maneuver while descending to defy air defenses and strike moving targets. With the Avangard operational, Russia is the only country to have such a weapon today.

Unlike the US Air Force, the Navy has been doing its research in high hush-hush mode for a number of years. The first conventional global strike missile test to collect data on hypersonic boost-glide technologies was conducted by the service on October 30, 2017. Initially, it was planned to be held by the end of 2016 but had to be postponed. The glider flew about 2,000 nautical miles (3,800 km) from Hawaii to the Marshall Islands, fired from a ground-based launcher. The $160 million test was a success. The Navy could eventually deploy the conventional strike system on either Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines that have been converted to launch cruise missiles (known as SSGNs) or Virginia-class attack submarines equipped with the Virginia payload module.

The DOD budget request for FY2019 indicates that it will conduct a second flight test by the end of FY2020. The funding for the program goes to the Navy. The Congressional Research Service report says, “The funding for the program is expected to increase significantly, from a request for $278 million in FY2019 to a request for $478 million in FY2022, for a total of $1.9 billion between FY2019 and FY2022. This is more than twice the amount expected over a five-year period in the FY2018 budget request.”

If attack submarines can accommodate the weapon, US Navy’s destroyers and cruisers can do it too. One can imagine the number of sea-based PGS weapons in service when the mass production process starts running smoothly.

Installed on Virginia–class boats, the missile will be excluded from the verification procedures in accordance with the New START Treaty. The weapon under consideration is sea-based. At first glance it has no relation to the INF Treaty, but not so fast. The Defense Department said the Navy is responsible for a universal weapon to be used by all services, including the Army. The Hawaii missile was launched from land.

As noted by ZeroHedge, by announcing the plans to arm attack submarines with the new weapon, the US military actually admits a violation of the INF Treaty because the Romania-based Aegis Ashore uses the same VLS Mk-41 launching pad as ships and submarines. If the PGS weapon is small enough for the MK-41 launcher or the Virginia Payload Module, it can be installed on a mobile ground platform in open violation of the INF Treaty.

The range of 2,000 nautical miles allows the PGS system to cover most of Russia’s territory, reaching as far as the Arctic archipelago of Novaya Zemlya or the Siberian city of Omsk, about 1,675 miles east of Moscow. Deployed in Japan, the land-based version of the weapon can also threaten China, provided Tokyo gives consent. On July 30, Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera announced a plan to deploy the Aegis Ashore missile-defense system by 2023. The military training grounds in the Akita and Yamaguchi prefectures are prospective sites.

This is a threat to China and Russia. With the Mk-41 used, one can never tell what missile is going to be launched—an interceptor or a prompt global strike missile reaching as far as Russian Primorski Krai  (Primorye), the Kamchatka Peninsula where the Pacific Fleet SSBNs are based, and Krasnoyarsk, the third-largest city in Siberia, where Russia plans to deploy its new silo-based heavy ballistic Sarmat missiles.

With all land-based deployments in place, the entire Russian territory will be covered by US PGS weapons. Add to it the naval and aircraft-based PGS component. One can only imagine how strong the temptation to deliver the first strike to knock out Russia’s key infrastructure and strategic nuclear weapons sites will be, leaving the US strategic nuclear arsenal intact! The missile might have delivered a 2,000- pound payload over a 1,500-mile range, with an accuracy of fewer than 15 feet. This would allow it to reach its target in less than 15 minutes. The payload is enough to fulfill the mission. True, the increased 2,000 nautical miles range will require a less powerful warhead but the US is working on a low-yield nuclear weapon.

As a result, the strategic balance will be tilted in US’s favor to give it the advantage of the first conventional strike. Moscow will not sit by idly. The weapons President Putin talked about in March were a response to the US’s land- and air-based intermediate range advantage. Russia will do it again if it needs to catch up. With the INF Treaty no longer valid, an unfettered arms race will start and there is no guarantee the US will be the winner. It has already started.

Author: USA Really