Conventional Prompt Global Strike (CPGS), still under development, is a weapons system designed to provide the military with the option to strike fast, even on the other side of the world. It affords the speed of nuclear intercontinental ballistic missiles, but without nowhere near the destructive power of a nuclear warhead.
I know, it’s odd that intercontinental missiles have never been developed without warheads, or that they weren’t developed first. Even though it’s not nuclear, CPGS comes with its own set of problems. Foremost among them: that a state targeted might experience difficulty determining if the incoming is a CPGS or a nuclear warhead – with the retaliation decisions the latter would entail. At Global Security Newswire, Elaine Grossman outlines its other problems.
“Non-ballistic CPGS weapons, which are highly maneuverable, could possibly lead an observing state [that is, one that’s not targeted – RW] to wrongly conclude that an incoming weapon was heading for its territory,” states a Carnegie Endowment analysis, explaining how so-called “conventional prompt global strike” arms might pose what it terms “destination ambiguity.”
A foreign nation with advanced early-warning intelligence capabilities — such as Russia fields today and China may have in the future — also might be uncertain whether a U.S. maneuverable, fast-strike weapon is on the verge of taking out its own atomic weapons, according to James Acton’s report, “Silver Bullet? Asking the Right Questions About Conventional Prompt Global Strike.”
“A state could mistakenly believe that its nuclear forces were under attack when its conventional forces were really the target,” a situation that the author calls “target ambiguity.”
… “A state that feared its critical weapon systems — particularly nuclear weapons — were vulnerable to a preemptive CPGS strike could feel pressure to use or threaten to use those weapons first, [creating] crisis instability,” according to the report.
“Destination ambiguity,” “target ambiguity” … talk about putting the “big” in ambiguity. Acton’s suggestion?
… “there needs to be a comparison of whether non-prompt alternatives might be more cost effective.”
Presumably, he means human cost, as well. Ideally, as with nuclear weapons, in the words of George Gershwin, “Let’s call the whole thing off.” Failing that, as with launch-ready, high-alert nuclear weapons that encourage a quick decision about whether to respond: “Let’s slow the whole thing down.”