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US readies missile that can hit anywhere in 60 minutes

As the White House pushes for cuts in the US nuclear arsenal, the Pentagon is developing a weapon to help fill the gap: missiles armed with conventional warheads that could strike anywhere in the world in less than an hour.

world Updated: Apr 09, 2010 00:26 IST

As the White House pushes for cuts in the US nuclear arsenal, the Pentagon is developing a weapon to help fill the gap: missiles armed with conventional warheads that could strike anywhere in the world in less than an hour.

US military officials say the intercontinental ballistic missiles, known as Prompt Global Strike weapons, are a necessary new form of deterrence against terrorist networks and other adversaries.

As envisioned, the conventional missiles would give the White House a fresh military option to consider in a crisis that would not result in a radioactive mushroom cloud.

The Prompt Global Strike program, which the Pentagon has been developing for several years, is already raising hackles in Moscow, where Russian officials predict it could trigger a nonnuclear arms race and complicate President Obama’s long-term vision of ridding the world of nuclear weapons. US military officials are also struggling to solve a separate major obstacle: the risk that Russia or China could mistake the launch of a conventional Prompt Global Strike missile for a nuclear one.

“World states will hardly accept a situation in which nuclear weapons disappear, but weapons that are no less destabilizing emerge in the hands of certain members of the international community,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters on Tuesday in Moscow.

The White House says that development of Prompt Global Strike is not affected by the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), which Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed in Prague on Thursday.

Analysts say, however, that any conventional ballistic missiles would count the same as nuclear ones under the treaty, which places new limits on each country’s stockpile.

Deployment of a conventional ballistic missile is not expected until 2015 at the earliest. But the program has received a recent boost from the Obama administration, which sees the missiles as one cog in an array of defensive and offensive weapons that could ultimately replace nuclear arms.

The administration has asked Congress for $240 million for next year’s Prompt Global Strike development programs, a 45 per cent increase from the current budget. The military forecasts a total of $2 billion in development costs through 2015 — a relative bargain by Pentagon standards.

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