Called Prompt Global Strike, the new weapon is designed to carry out tasks like picking off Osama bin Laden in a cave, if the right one could be found; taking out a North Korean missile while it is being rolled to the launch pad; or destroying an Iranian nuclear site - all without crossing the nuclear threshold.
In theory, the weapon will hurl a conventional warhead of enormous weight at high speed and with pinpoint accuracy, generating the localized destructive power of a nuclear warhead.
The idea is not new: President George W. Bush and his staff promoted the technology, imagining that this new generation of conventional weapons would replace nuclear warheads on submarines.
Mr. Obama himself alluded to the concept in a recent interview with The New York Times, saying it was part of an effort "to move towards less emphasis on nuclear weapons" while insuring "that our conventional weapons capability is an effective deterrent in all but the most extreme circumstances."
The final price of the system remains unknown. It would be based, at least initially, on the West Coast, probably at Vandenberg Air Force Base.
Under the Obama plan, the Prompt Global Strike warhead would be mounted on a long-range missile to start its journey toward a target. It would travel through the atmosphere at several times the speed of sound, generating so much heat that it would have to be shielded with special materials to avoid melting.
The Pentagon hopes to deploy an early version of the system by 2014 or 2015. But even under optimistic timetables, a complete array of missiles, warheads, sensors and control systems is not expected to enter the arsenal until 2017 to 2020, long after Mr.
Obama will have left office, even if he is elected to a second term. (ANI)