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Pentagon To Try Again With Non-Nuclear Ballistic Missile Plan February 5, 2007

Posted by notapundit in Military News, US News.

By Rebecca Christie

WASHINGTON (Dow Jones)–The Pentagon plans to resurrect its quest for a long-range missile that can quickly attack a target on the other side of the world, without using a nuclear warhead, according to Defense Department officials.

The new plan will come up in the next round of budget hearings, which start this week. By changing their approach, defense officials hopes to win over skeptical lawmakers.

Congress nixed past plans to convert submarine-launched Trident missiles into conventional weapons, in part because of fears that they might be misidentified and accidentally start a nuclear war. Last year, lawmakers approved only a fraction of the White House’s funding request, primarily to fund studies.

The Defense Department now seeks to accommodate that concern, said the Pentagon’s Lisa Marie Cheney, deputy assistant secretary for legislative affairs. This new approach will take longer and cost more than adapting an existing weapon, Cheney said. But she said the Defense Department is willing to search for a new weapon without ties to the Cold War.

“We need to look at something that is based on a commercial foundation that doesn’t have a nuclear platform as its basis, that will provide the ability that we and the war fighters are looking for,” Cheney said last week at a Precision Strike Association conference outside Washington.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates and other senior officials will include this proposal in upcoming discussions with Congress, amid a series of budget-related hearings, Cheney told reporters. She said lawmakers understand the need for this kind of weapon, but want an alternative to the previous proposal.

It will probably take about 10 years to develop the new weapon, Cheney said. Still, she said, the Defense Department hasn’t wavered in its support for some type of long-range, non-nuclear missile for “prompt global strike.”

Analysts said industry already is working on possible options. For example, Alliant Techsystems Inc. (ATK) has offered a ballistic missile that doesn’t look like a Trident missile but could also be launched from a submarine, said Loren Thompson, a defense consultant at the Lexington Institute think tank.

Last year’s plan was known as the conventional Trident modification, or CTM plan. It called for converting some, but not all, of the Lockheed Martin Corp. (LMT)-made Trident missiles carried on Ohio-class submarines. The Defense Department had estimated the conversions would cost about $503 million, according to documents on the Defense Department Web site.
-By Rebecca Christie, Dow Jones Newswires


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