The Pentagon is asking the US Congress for US$ 500 million to set up a new force of conventionally armed, long-range missiles capable of striking anywhere in the world within an hour after an order is given, The Washington Post reported Wednesday.
The initiative will convert 24 Trident missiles armed with nuclear warheads into rockets carrying conventional warheads and begin fielding them by 2008, according to the report.
The missiles will be launched from submarines and could hit targets 8,500 to 11,000 km away.
Pentagon officials said a primary advantage of the plan is that it will offer US leaders a conventional alternative to nuclear weapons in a distant crisis where the speed is essential.
But they also acknowledged a major risk of it, that is, that other nations could conceivably misinterpret a conventional missile attack as a nuclear strike.
Nevertheless, the officials said that the proposed plan, called "prompt global strike" is needed to address threats-- such as terrorist groups and underground weapons stocks and military facilities -- that have proliferated and for which nuclear weapons are "not appropriate" because they are too powerful and inflict high civilian casualties.
They said the conventional ballistic missiles could penetrate the ground deeper than other conventional weapons, making it a possible alternative to another proposal for building a "bunker buster" nuclear weapon designed to go deep into the earth and propagate a shock wave.
With estimated flight times of 12 to 24 minutes, the conventionally armed missiles could be used quickly against a remote and fleeting "terrorist stronghold" or against a nation threatening a neighbor with a missile attack -- targets that could take many hours, days, or weeks to reach with cruise missiles, bombers or ground forces.
(Xinhua News Agency March 9, 2006)