The USAF is (rightly) considering whether to develop rail- or road-mobile launchers for its future ICBMs (which will have to replace old, 1970s’ vintage Minuteman-III missiles by no later than the 2020s). MissileThreat.com reports:
“The Air Force has dusted off plans more than two decades old to place fixed nuclear missiles on rail cars or massive road vehicles to protect them from a surprise attack.
The service also wants to explore alternatives to traditional missiles to carry nuclear warheads, which could include hypersonic aircraft capable of crossing the Atlantic Ocean in an hour…”
Pacifists, including those at the so-called “Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation”, a part of the pacifist and extremely leftist “Council for a Livable World” (which advocates America’s unilateral nuclear disarmament), are predictably opposed to any improvement of the survivability of America’s nuclear deterrent while not opposing such improvements to Russia’s or China’s arsenals. The Center’s Philip Coyle, a former Obama Administration official, claims that:
“The Air Force will need to be careful that they don’t stir up a hornets nest with proposals for mobile basing or advanced concepts other than the traditional booster and reentry vehicle. The former could cause Russia or China to redouble their efforts on mobile basing of ICBMs, set off a new kind of arms race, and weaken U.S. defenses.”
It’s been quite some time since I last heard that kind of nonsense. No, improving the survivability of America’s ICBMs would not weaken US defenses – FAILURE to improve it would weaken them. (And let’s be honest: since when is the pacifist CLW concerned about weakening America’s defenses? It’s precisely what it advocates!)
The USAF will not “stir up a hornets’ nest”, nor will it cause Russia or China to “redouble their efforts on mobile basing of ICBMs. Russia and China redoubled their efforts in that regard quite some time ago. For decades, Russia has been building road- and rail-mobile ICBMs (first the RT-20/SS-15 Scrooge, then the SS-16 Sinner, then the RT-23/SS-24, then the SS-25 (RT-2PM Topol), then the SS-27 Stalin (RT-2UTTKh), and now the RS-24 Yars, as well as planning to develop a new rail-mobile missile). China has fielded over 30 road-mobile and silo-based DF-31/31A ICBMs and is now beginning to field the road-mobile DF-41; it may also be developing a rail-mobile variant of one of these ICBMs.
Both Russia and China have also developed and fielded a wide range of road-mobile SRBMs (SS-26 Stone, DF-11, DF-15, B-611, DF-16) and, in China’s case, road-mobile MRBMs (DF-21).
The fact of the matter is that either the US will develop and field its own mobile ICBMs, or Russia and China will have a duopoly in that regard, a weapon system the US currently does not have.
Coyle’s false claim is pacifists’ standard lie: that military strength is dangerous and provocative and if the US develops a powerful weapon, Russia and China will be compelled to do so as well, while if the US foregoes the development of that weapon, Moscow and Beijing will be nice enough to reciprocate. This blatant lie has been debunked countless times, including by Ronald Reagan with his defense buildup and his development of tunnel-mobile (and potentially rail-mobile – his second SECDEF, Frank Carlucci, wanted to put them on trains) Peacekeeper ICBMs.
MissileThreat.com further reports that:
“Coyle said he was concerned that proliferation of mobile missile systems could lead to another arms race.(…) He added that if the Air Force decides to pursue hypersonic aircraft to deliver nuclear warheads, this could confuse nuclear armed countries such as Russia, which would not be able to determine if supersonic aircraft traveling at 4,000 miles per hour were carrying conventional or nuclear warheads, and potentially react with a nuclear strike.”
The claim that American development of mobile missile systems would lead to another arms race or cause Russia and China to up the ante has been debunked above.
As for the concern that developing hypersonic aircraft to deliver nuclear warheads could confuse Russia or China and cause either of them to launch a mistaken nuclear strike, this can be easily prevented by one of the following solutions:
1) Counting such hypersonic delivery aircraft towards START limits;
2) Making a hypersonic global strike aircraft only conventional-weapon-capable; or
3) Pledging to Russia that such hypersonic aircraft would never be used against her and flying such aircraft in a manner that would not look like an attack on Russia on Russian radars. The hotline between the White House and the Kremlin could also be used to prevent any confusion.
It is absolutely necessary to improve the survivability of America’s ICBMs by making them road- or rail-mobile. The next generation of USAF ICBMs should be rail-mobile.