Home » News & Analysis » Navy Conducts Flight Test to Support Conventional Prompt Strike From Ohio-Class SSGNs


Navy Conducts Flight Test to Support Conventional Prompt Strike From Ohio-Class SSGNs

The ballistic-missile submarine USS Henry M. Jackson (SSBN 730) arrives home at Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor following a strategic deterrent patrol on May 5, 2015. US Navy photo.

This post has been updated to note that SSGN submarines, not SSBNs, would likely take on the conventional prompt global strike mission, if the Pentagon were to continue with this capability development.

The Navy Strategic Systems Program and the Department of Defense this week tested a conventional prompt strike capability that could one day be fielded from guided-missile submarines.

The Pentagon’s conventional prompt global strike capability would allow the U.S. to hit any target on the planet with precision-guided weapons in less than an hour, supplementing the comparable nuclear strike capability and serving as another deterrence effort.

Strategic Systems Program (SSP) Director Vice Adm. Terry Benedict said on Nov. 2 that “I’m very proud to report that at 0300 on Monday night SSP flew from Hawaii [Pacific Missile Range Facility] … the first conventional prompt strike missile for the United States Navy in the form factor that would eventually, could eventually be utilized if leadership chooses to do so in an Ohio-class tube. It’s a monumental achievement.”

The admiral spoke at the Naval Submarine League’s annual symposium in Arlington, Va. He credited his organization for, in addition to working on the nuclear weapons that support the Ohio-class boomers and their Columbia-class replacement in development now, “we have supported the OSD AT&L defense-wide account for technology demonstration, and on our first go out of the box a very successful flight of a conventional prompt strike maneuvering reentry body.”

Four Ohio-class SSBNs were previously converted to guided-missile submarines (SSGNs) to carry conventional weapons. These four subs — or future Virginia-class attack submarines with the Virginia Payload Module that inserts additional missile tube capacity into the smaller boat — would likely be the ones contributing to conventional prompt global strike, if Pentagon leadership were to pursue the idea being tested now, the Strategic Systems Program office told USNI News.

An unarmed Trident II D5 missile launches from the Ohio-class fleet ballistic-missile submarine USS Maryland (SSBN 738) off the coast of Florida on Aug. 31, 2016. US Navy photo.

When asked about the test during a question and answer session, Benedict said he could not comment further and had to refer all questions to the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics (OUSD(AT&L)), which manages the conventional prompt strike capability.

Pentagon spokesman Cmdr. Patrick Evans told USNI News today that “the Navy Strategic Systems Program (SSP), on behalf of the Department of Defense, conducted an Intermediate Range Conventional Prompt Strike Flight Experiment-1 (CPS FE-1) test on Oct. 30, 2017, from Pacific Missile Range Facility, Kauai, Hawaii. The test collected data on hypersonic boost-glide technologies and test-range performance for long-range atmospheric flight. This data will be used by the Department of Defense to anchor ground testing, modeling, and simulation of hypersonic flight vehicle performance and is applicable to a range of possible Conventional Prompt Strike (CPS) concepts.”

In addition to Navy and AT&L assets, the Missile Defense Agency participated in tracking and data collection activities, he added.

Evans added that AT&L “is investigating technologies and concepts that are potentially useful for developing intermediate-range conventional capabilities through modeling and simulation, ground tests, and flight test experiments. OUSD(AT&L) uses a national team, comprised of Navy, Army, Air Force, national research laboratories, and university affiliated research centers, to pursue technology development objectives. The Navy was assigned to lead the Flight Experiment 1 (FE-1).”

  • Marauder 2048

    Scaled AHW on which SLBM?

    In any event, congrats to all involved.

  • Duane

    Hey, Kim … you can run, but you can’t hide from the very long arms of the US Navy!

  • Hsrris

    USE NUKES NOT TROOPS

  • Yeah the enemy will wait till the conventional warhead explodes before firing back a nuclear-armed SLBM/ICBM.

    • Jerome Barry

      Prompt strike doesn’t actually explode. It’s a maneuvering Mach 5+ device which delivers a sufficient kinetic punch to make a big hole in anything. The question is, can it be maneuvered to precisely hit a missile before launch? If Kim is smart, he’ll actually get the SLBM capability before the U.S. gets precise targeting of prompt strike. As national spending projects go, NK has a bigger hill to climb than U.S. does.

      • Phaeton

        Making holes in things is pretty useless.

    • PolicyWonk

      None of this is new. The idea got floated almost 20 years ago by the GWB administration. What killed the idea, was that the Russians said that since they had no way of determining if the ballistic missile was nuclear armed or otherwise, they’d have to assume the former and act accordingly.

      We didn’t bother giving that same message to the ChiComs, so now we’re stupidly lurching down that same path again.

      • Marauder 2048

        Which is why this effort flies a substantially non-ballistic trajectory over an intermediate range using a missile that is sub-strategic and a glide body that is distinctly different than any RV/RB in US service.

    • uman nizami

      so will us wait weather chinese df 21 is conventional or nuclear before attacking back ? What about cruise missiles ? US and Sovit both had nuclear and conventional cruise missile .

  • Rick Bennett

    One would hope the new Virginia payload tubes are the intended repositories for such weapons; the Ohio SSGNs are not long for this world and finessing the identifiable differences between SSBN and SSGN launches is fraught with the danger that we simply are giving up indicators that make SSBN operations less secure.
    On a different note, I think that we should not perfect this tool for the delivery of deadly force until we improve the process by which our government decides upon its victims. Our citizenry is under assault because we lost sight of the nature of war and thought we were the only ones designating combat zones. The DOD resembles the German General Staff in the run-up to the Great War in its culpability for this – allowing frustration with the niceties of sovereignty to precipitate greater violence.

  • John33

    Is it wise to use a missle that mimics a ballistic strategic nuclear missle? If it were agains a peer adversary, I.e. China or Russia, they would think we were nuking them, right? The conventional warhead delivery isn’t worth an appearance of a nuke. I am not sure why this is a good thing. Perhaps I am misunderstanding it.

    • If China shoots a bunch of DF-series conventional warhead missiles at Guam, should we launch Nukes before they land? Not doing anything that they have not been doing for years, save for using a sub. Russia has done their share of skirting the treaty too on intermediate range missiles. Just saying…..

    • Jerome Barry

      Understand it as the dissolving of a stable bipolar MAD system into an unstable multipolar system in which AD is not M. Following that logic, if one power, let’s call it the stronger, is not assured of destruction when making a first strike against another power, which we’ll call the weaker, the stronger need not tolerate the risk of assured destruction from the weaker. While you do have a point about the possibility that a conventional prompt strike launch could be misinterpreted by another strong power, I must believe that any strong power considering a launch which might be mistaken for a nuclear strike would carefully inform other strong powers that this is a conventional strike directed against a weaker power. It’s a dangerous game we ask our leaders to play, and more dangerous still if we ask them to refrain.

    • Matthew W. Hall

      Does the U.S. have a military “peer”?

    • NavySubNuke

      1) That is why this is a boost glide missile – so it doesn’t.
      2) It doesn’t matter anyway – back in the day we had nuclear TLAM and nuclear ALCM but we would have used both conventional TLAM and conventional ALCM in a war with Russia because we would have needed them to win the war. If we really get in a war with China or Russia we will need missiles like this and others to win as well.
      This is simply the way it works. Besides no one starts a war with one or two nuclear missiles — if they see a few of these coming in and see that it is aimed at a military target there isn’t any greater chance they will start a nuclear war then they would already just by us already being at war.

  • Leatherstocking

    Prompt Global Strike – to hit any target within the hour requires a suborbital trajectory and the throw weight is certainly more than a W80-1 for example. Such a weapon would fall under START and have to come out of the US nuclear launcher budget. I know we’re reducing the Minuteman force by 40 launchers (running out of missiles and parts) so maybe there is headroom for that. The treaty also calls for 24-hour advance notice to the clearinghouse in Moscow to prevent inadvertent interpretation of an attack.

  • Desplanes

    Is this a D-5 acting as booster for a hypersonic glide vehicle ?

  • Chesapeakeguy

    So how expensive will THESE be? From everything I’ve read this is basically a non-nuclear tipped Trident missile. It might have a maneuverable, terminal element as the actual ‘kill’ component. But if we are going to be notifying certain folks when they are launched, which some on here have certainly suggested, what will keep them from notifying the intended target? We saw that in play earlier this year when some dozens of cruise missiles were fired at an airfield in Syria. I guess the relevant question to ask is this: how will WE react if such weapons are fired at bases or other targets of ours? ‘React’ is the key term here because ‘thinking through’ the situation will probably not be a luxury the Command Authorities will have. Think we can count on a ‘call’ from anyone telling us not to worry, it’s ‘only’ a conventional missile? Or missiles? Would we believe that? And is this capability really necessary?