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I understand a significant risk for a conventional ICBM is that a nuclear power could mistake it for a nuclear armed weapon.

A Falcon 9 class of rockets could loft 18-25 tons into LEO depending on reuse or fully expended, and when taking into account a suborbital trajectory, a MIRV bus and ablative heat protection for the projectiles you can expect anywhere from 12-20 warheads equivalent to 2,000 lbs JDAM or 50-80 SDB equivalent warheads.  Upfront cost of the rocket is 50 million with around 15-20 million to turn it around if used in reusable config.

A squadron of 12 in reusable configuration could therefore send 144-440 warheads (2,000 lbs or 250 lbs respectively) with GPS terminal guidance, 432-1,320 for a wing of 36 at a procurement cost of 1.8 billion for the rockets themselves (not counting infrastructure or payload)  with $540 million to turn around and prepare them again with a turnaround time of several days.  As liquid fueled rockets they would also need to be fueled prior to launch. 

Are these costs reasonable for the capability?  Would we have to divest one arm of the nuclear triad (no land based nuclear missiles, only submarine and aircraft) and allow inspections under some treaty to assuage fears by Russia and China if used, or would ballistic path projection and a hotline to inform prior to launch be sufficient?  How would we respond, and would we be okay with Russia and China having equivalent capabilities?

Edited by Burncycle360
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Sounds like a very destabilizing move. Russia and China might even agree to build their own capacity. Announcing a launch is insufficient to defuse misinterpretations. Such a rocket would have to be considered a threat until the trajectory is confirmed and the MIRVs would be outside of their envelope to change course. Provided that we truthfully disclose their capability. Even then, targeting something close to the borders of Russia or China (like, the northeastern border region of Pakistan) would for a very long time cast doubts whether the announced target actually is the real target, or just a diversion, to help a first strike and to delay the response.

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  • 4 weeks later...

A liquid fueled weapon could never be prompt. And what is described here is a super heavy conventional ICBM with all of the inherent problems associated.

The actually CPS program is a single warhead solid fuel hypersonic weapon to be carried on SSGNs.

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There was a plan to use the first stage of a Saturn 5 as a conventional strike platform. They calculated that even if it carried a solid warhead, the amount of energy generated would cause extreme damage to East German airfields. They didnt go ahead with it, presumably for all the reasons described. Its destabilizing, open to interpretation, and I guess they had more than enough knowledge of operating Titan to realise they didnt really want to go back to a liquid fuelled rocket, even for a conventional mission.

If you are going to do PGS, it really needs to be aircraft launched. You get less of a foot print from the launch, its nearer the target, and by the time it hits they cant really misinterpret it as a nuclear strike.

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If you really want prompt, then just use a FOBS with conventional warheads. Advances in technology enable them to be guided to the target and the current launchers can probably put the bus in orbit.

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Although FOBS is one approach, it's not the flavour of the month, which prefers hypersonics that are manoeuvrable in the atmosphere and significantly harder targets. Air breathers can use storable liquid propellants, you don't need cryogenic propellants for ram/scram jets.

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11 hours ago, Stuart Galbraith said:

There is no current treaty about placing conventional weaponry in space im thinking? After all both Russia and China have experimented with ASAT weapons, and any weapon being used from orbit is just doing the same thing the other way.

Practically, once you put something in orbit it is hard to make it come down exactly where and when you want in a timely fashion. FOBS worked because it exploded in low orbit and had an effect measured in thousands of miles. For conventional weapons, orbital mechanics would make it far easier to simply use a ballistic missile with a guided RV; the US has experimented with this and it is easily workable. In fact I think one test used an add attachment to an inert mk4 (W76) re-entry vehicle; it is an easy mod. The problem is differentiating from a regular ICBM launch. Hence the US building hypersonics that are pretty much deliberately too small to host a nuclear weapon.

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