As envisioned by the Pentagon, the weapon would be a reusable craft capable of taking off from a conventional runway, flying by remote control at more than five times the speed of sound and delivering six tons of precision-guided bombs or missiles on targets 9,000 miles away.
The Air Force and the Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency are asking for proposals this month from businesses wanting to design and build the system. The goal is to have at least an early version of the weapon ready to use by 2010.
The program is called FALCON, short for Force Application and Launch from CONUS. CONUS is the military's acronym for the continental United States.
The Pentagon says it wants the FALCON to be able to hit terrorists or rogue nations quickly, without having to rely on overseas bases. Some bombers used in Iraq and Afghanistan flew missions from bases in the United States, but those flights took as long as 44 hours to complete.
Military planners want the ability to strike quickly at targets such as terrorist leaders or mobile weapons of mass destruction facilities. Information about such targets often is what the Pentagon calls "time sensitive" — the person or thing being targeted may be on the move before it can be struck.