As tempting as it is to open up NUKEMAP, zoom in on Syria and start drawing circles, that’s not really an option for dealing with Islamic State. It’s hard to imagine what even they could do that would justify unleashing a Trident missile on them. It does raise some interesting questions though. My personal belief is that we’re going to be fighting violent Islamists for quite a while and over a very wide geographical area. There will be conventional battles, fought either by the west directly or by proxy troops with western air and logistic support, but there’s also going to be a long-term need for intelligence-led precision strikes to take out high value targets. Ideally, these strikes will be carried out with a minimum of collateral damage- because killing innocent people does boost terrorist recruiting and is also against the laws of warfare.
Currently, our weapon of choice for eliminating key targets is a precision guided weapon, usually a Hellfire missile or guided bomb, delivered by an aircraft. It’s precise and effective and, despite the wailing from the usual suspects, collateral damage is pretty low; especially with the increasing use of Focused Lethality Munition warheads, these small weapons have a small kill radius that’s unlikely to take in much more than the target and his drivers or bodyguards. But it isn’t perfect. The aircraft themselves are slow; a Reaper has a top speed of just 300mph and the Predator a glacial 135mph. They’re great for planned strikes, but what if a sudden opportunity to hit a high value target appears? Unless there’s already an aircraft within a short distance, by the time one is tasked and sent, the chance could easily be gone. A system is needed to allow the equivalent of a snap shot.
Some very sophisticated concepts are being looked at, including space-based weapons and hypersonic bombers, but the USA and UK already have a system in service that could be adapted. That system is the Trident D5 missile.
Trident is a strategic system, but there’s been discussion of a “Tactical Trident” version for a long time. The most obvious way to create one is to simply arm it with conventional warheads instead of nuclear ones, but it doesn’t really need any warhead at all. Trident is really a giant cluster bomb. The missile’s job is to take a warhead bus into space, and the bus then manoeuvres itself to aim at the missile’s targets one after another and release a warhead towards each. It can carry up to 14 weapons, and engage 14 targets inside an area over a hundred miles wide and several hundred miles long. Usually, the weapons are W76 or W88 thermonuclear-armed re-entry vehicles- but they don’t have to be.
A Tactical Trident could carry 14 steel cones instead, and release those at its targets. The cones, weighing over 500 pounds each and coming down at around Mach 12, would carry tremendous kinetic energy upon hitting the ground or when released before impact by destabilizing the weapon so it broke up – that energy would be instantly converted into a large conventional blast equal to about 600 pounds of TNT. That energy can be dumped into a 100 foot circle anywhere within about 4,500 miles of the launch point – over 7,000 miles if three weapons were carried instead of 14 – and from launch to impact would take less than half an hour at maximum range. If a terrorist leader was seen entering a house, that house could be a pulverized crater 30 minutes later.
Tactical Trident has disadvantages, of course. It’s a very expensive way to deliver the equivalent of an Mk83 bomb, so it would only be feasible against the most valuable targets. Then there’s a bigger one. Right up until the moment of impact it would be impossible to tell a tactical launch from a nuclear-armed strategic one, and that’s liable to make other nuclear powers nervous. There would need to be robust international systems for notifying others of each launch to avoid accidentally starting a nuclear war. The actual development of the weapon would be fast and relatively cheap, though, and could put a global precision rapid strike capability in place long before any of the exotic alternatives would be ready.
Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.