Pentagon pressing for new rapid-strike weapon

Published: Sunday May 28, 2006

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"The Pentagon is pressing Congress to approve the development of a new weapon that would enable the United States to carry out nonnuclear missile strikes against distant targets within an hour," reports The New York Times in a story slated for the front page of Monday's edition.

"The proposal has set off a complex debate about whether this program for strengthening the military's conventional capacity could increase the risks of accidental nuclear confrontation," writes Michael R. Gordon.

This "nonnuclear version of the submarine-launched Trident II missile" could "add to the president's options when considering a pre-emptive attack," The Times reports.

"There is great concern this could be destabilizing in terms of deterrence and nuclear policy," Senator Jack Reed (D-R.I.), an Armed Services Committee member, tells The Times. "It would be hard to determine if a missile coming out a Trident submarine is conventional or nuclear."

Excerpts from the article:


Gen. James E. Cartwright, the chief of the United States Strategic Command, said the system would enhance the Pentagon's ability to "pre-empt conventionally" and precisely while limiting the "collateral damage." The program would cost an estimated half a billion dollars over five years, and the Pentagon is seeking $227 million in its current spending request to Congress to begin work.

But the plan has run into resistance from lawmakers who are concerned that it may increase the risk of an accidental nuclear confrontation. The Trident II missile that would be used for the attacks is a system that has long been equipped with a nuclear payload. Indeed, both nonnuclear and nuclear-tipped variants of the Trident II missile would be loaded on the same submarines under the Pentagon plan.