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Prompt Global Strike (PGS) is a United States military effort to develop a system that can deliver a precision conventional weapon strike anywhere in the world within one hour, in a similar manner to a nuclear ICBM. In April 2010, Marine Corps General James Cartwright explained the system's rationale, stating that "Today, unless you want to go nuclear, [the conventional military response time is] measured in days, maybe weeks". A PGS system could also be useful during a nuclear conflict, potentially replacing nuclear weapons against 30 percent of targets. The PGS program encompasses numerous technologies, including conventional surface-launched rockets and air-launched hypersonic missiles, although no specific PGS system has yet been finalized.
The PGS system will be designed to complement existing American rapid-response forces, such as Forward Deployed Forces, Air Expeditionary Groups (which can deploy within 48 hours) and carrier battle groups (which can respond within 96 hours). Possible delivery systems include:
In 2010, the United States Air Force prototyped a PGS system based on a modified Minuteman III ICBM. In March 2011, Air Force Major General David Scott stated that the service had no plans to use a sea- or land-based ICBM system for Prompt Global Strike, as they would be expensive to develop and potentially "dangerous." Instead, efforts would focus on a hypersonic glider. However, the following day, Air Force Chief of Staff Norton Schwartz said that an ICBM-based PGS system was still an option.
The administration of George W. Bush considered developing such a weapon in the 2000s but rejected the idea because of fears that an ICBM-launched weapon would trigger the Russian nuclear-launch warning system, potentially provoking a nuclear war. However, the Obama administration continued development of the system later in the decade.
A potential enemy cannot be certain that a launched ICBM contains only a conventional warhead, not a nuclear one. It is thus currently unclear what design features or precautions could convince China and Russia, two countries with launch-detection systems and nuclear ICBMs, to ignore their early-warning systems. Current ideas include a low-trajectory missile design, or allowing Russian and Chinese inspection of PGS missile sites.
On 11 April 2010, United States Secretary of Defense Robert Gates indicated that the United States already had a Prompt Global Strike capability. This coincided with the New START disarmament treaty signed on 8 April 2010, which set new, lower limits on ballistic missiles and their warheads. The treaty does not distinguish between conventional and nuclear versions of weapons, meaning any ballistic PGS missiles and warheads would count toward the new limit. However, the U.S. State Department has stated that this does not constrain plans for PGS deployment, since current plans do not come near the limits.
On 18 November 2011, the first Advanced Hypersonic Weapon (AHW) glide vehicle was successfully tested by the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command as part of the Prompt Global Strike program. The missile was launched from the Pacific Missile Range Facility in Hawaii, and struck a target at the Reagan Test Site on Kwajalein Atoll, over 3,700 kilometres (2,300 mi) away, in under 30 minutes. The prototype, which incorporated technologies developed by Sandia National Laboratories, was used to gather data to assist the development of future hypersonic warheads. The AHW followed an endo-atmospheric non-ballistic trajectory. This is a crucial design feature, as following a depressed trajectory that is much lower and flatter than a normal ICBM prevents other nations from mistakenly thinking it is a nuclear-tipped missile.
The second AHW test flight occurred on 25 August 2014 from the Kodiak Launch Complex in Alaska. The mission was terminated shortly after liftoff due to an anomaly in the launch vehicle. Operators triggered a self-destruct sequence four seconds after launching, with eyewitnesses claiming the weapon had veered off trajectory just as it took off. An "extensive" investigation is being conducted to determine the cause of the failure.
In January 2012, the Pentagon stated that the platform would be submarine-based. However, practical efforts to develop the PGS system were delayed by fears of accidentally starting a nuclear conflict. In February 2014, the U.S. Navy solicited proposals for two-year industry trade studies to test the feasibility of developing a hypersonic submarine-launched intermediate-range conventional prompt global strike weapon. The Navy has specified that the effort is a study to evaluate technology options, not to develop a system-level specific CPGS solution. The Navy is interested in awarding one or two $5 million 13-month contracts.
In December 2010, Russian military experts indicated that the forthcoming S-500 missile defense system would include anti-hypersonic defenses. In December 2012, commenting on the development of a replacement for its R-36M2 Voevoda ICBM, the commander of the Russian Strategic Missile Forces, Sergey Karakaev, stated that the missile will allow Russia "to realize such opportunities as the creation of high precision strategic weapons with non-nuclear warheads and a practically global range. Russia can create non-nuclear, high precision weapons based on intercontinental rockets in the event that the USA also works on designing such a weapon".
On 11 December 2013, Vice Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin has warned that Russia will use nuclear weapons if it comes under an attack, adding that this possibility serves as the main deterrent to potential provocateurs and aggressors.
"One can experiment as long as one wishes by deploying non-nuclear warheads on strategic missile carriers. But one should keep in mind that if there is an attack against us, we will certainly resort to using nuclear weapons in certain situations to defend our territory and state interests", Rogozin, the defense industry chief said on Wednesday speaking at the State Duma, the lower house.
Russia's Fund of Perspective Researches (FPI) will develop a military response to the American Conventional Prompt Global Strike (PGS) strategy, Rogozin told the State Duma. So far, the FPI has already looked at over a thousand proposed ideas and plans to work on 60 projects, eight of which are top priority, the politician said. He refused to disclose any details, but said that one of those projects is focused on preparing a response to the PGS, which is the "main strategy" that the Pentagon is nurturing. As Rogozin explained earlier, the strategy would give America an advantage over a nuclear state, thanks to their better technical capabilities with weaponry, including the speed, RIA Novosti cited.
President Vladimir Putin considers PGS among several "new threats appearing" to Russia along with US GMD in Alaska, BMD in Europe, and increased NATO activity in eastern Europe. On 10 September 2014, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin once again warned "Our response to the prompt global strike strategy is upgrading our strategic nuclear forces and resources -- the strategic rocket forces and the naval ones -- and also developing air and space defence resources according to the plans we have finalised,". RIA Novosti news also quoted Deputy Defence Minister Yury Borisov saying "We may be forced to do this, but we will develop systems in order to counteract these new types of weapons, because the main credo of our country is defensive and we do not plan to change that,".