Global Security Newswire (GSN) reported last week that the Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee has taken the first steps towards eliminating the Virginia Payload Module (VPM) for the U.S. fast attack Virginia-class submarines. The move, if it gets through Congress, would be the latest blow to a Prompt Global Strike (PGS) program that seems increasingly out of reach.
According to GSN, the Subcommittee wrote in the summary to their markup that the bill “terminates the Virginia Payload Module due to high cost, risk, and lack of validated requirement.”
The move comes just a year and a half after then Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced the new program during a press conference on the Pentagon’s budget.
“The Navy will invest in a design that will allow new Virginia class submarines to be modified to carry more cruise missiles and develop an undersea conventional prompt strike option,” Panetta said at the January 2012 press conference.
Although it originally considered adding traditional ballistic missiles to the Virginia class submarines, the VPM later would be designed around adding additional land-attack cruise missiles and potentially ballistic missiles equipped with boost-glide, which alters the missiles’ trajectory, allowing potential adversaries like Russia to distinguish them from nuclear-armed ballistic missiles.
According to GSN, however, the Senate subcommittee’s decision to cut off funding for the program was not made on its own intuition but rather on the recommendations of a secret military panel convened late last year.
Specifically, the Pentagon’s Joint Requirements Oversight Council allegedly decided last November that if future Virginia Class submarines were going to be redesigned to equip them with the non-traditional ballistic missiles, then the enormous costs of doing so would have to be borne by the U.S. Navy’s budget instead of the multiservice spending account for PGS. Given the enormous gap the Navy’s shipbuilding plan is already facing, this in effect terminated the program.
This is just the latest evidence that the Pentagon’s appetite for pursuing a PGS capability through to fruition has dissipated amid tightening budgets.
PGS was an effort within the military to develop the necessary technologies to hit any place on earth with a conventionally-armed missile within an hour’s time. The intention was to provide the military with a long-range, rapid, precise, and non-nuclear capability for destroying high-risk targets that appear only briefly or are heavily guarded. One such usage envisaged for PGS was to evade enemy defenses in anti-access and area-denial threat environments without placing U.S. military assets in harm’s way.
The Virginia Payload Module was designed to be one of the platforms through which the military would achieve a PGS capability.
Eliminating funding for the VPM was not the only recent setback for PGS, however. Indeed, after Prompt Global Strike programs received US$200 million from the Congress for FY2013, the Pentagon requested just over US$65 million in funding for PGS in FY2014, according to InsideDefense.