All posts in “Nuclear weapons”

What We’re Reading – And Why

The Current "Stack of Shame"

A quick look at the sidebar will reveal a variety and number of books read over the course of the past year, oft times engendering discussions off-site as to selections and purpose.  Looking at the current working stack on my desk, I thought I’d take this opportunity to talk to why these particular selections.

My first read of Kissinger’s book got me thinking about deterrence theories that emerged during the Cold War, how they were put on the shelf 20 years ago when the Soviet Union disappeared and now, how some folks think we can just pull them off the shelf and apply them to China.  Problem is, not only do I think those theories may not apply, they may in fact, carry us down avenues with results quite different than we intended.  Part of my studies and work on theater nuclear forces was grounded in a better understanding of Russian culture as applied to Soviet deterrence practices across a range of operations, theaters and levels of war.  That I ended up disagreeing with the prevailing (at the time) school of thought shouldn’t come as a surprise to readers here – and neither should my initial thoughts laid out above vis-a-vis China.  This isn’t just in the nuclear arena, but even more so conventional as we look at the array of advanced anti-access/area denial forces being fielded by China, employable outside of a conflict over Taiwan.  So – I’m taking a historical perspective/approach looking at China’s actions in a conventional realm versus near peer (conventional) powers and major nuclear power.  There is a pattern that points to an offensive deterrence that, during a confrontation, has led to fairly aggressive actions that incurred substantive losses on the other party’s account, followed by a rapid withdrawal from overrun territory by Chinese forces to show occupation wasn’t their intent.  A noteworthy element of these actions though, and one that must be factored into the analysis is that these case histories stem from Mao’s reign and a PLA that was short on technology and long on manpower (ground forces) which runs counter to the decade-long modernization and overhaul in doctrine and operations (epitomized, for example, by the development and wide deployment of a range of conventional ballistic missiles).  Additionally, while most of the Party leadership were veterans of the Long March and Korea and as such, had experience with military operations, today’s Party leadership has at best, passing acquaintance with military operations and requirements.  In such a scenario, will there be more deference given plan and COAs sourced from the military — IOW, a tendency to accept at face value n the part of Party leadership?  As I delve into this issue, these are some of the questions I am asking myself and which form the entering argument with the publications above.

  • Russia, NATO BMD and the INF Treaty:
Nervov, RSVN (Strategic Missile Troops) Missile Complexes Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty; Text and Annexes National Defense University, Case Studies: U.S. Withdrawal from the Antiballistic Missile Treaty Podvig, Russian Strategic Nuclear Forces Stav, The Threat of Ballistic Missiles in the Middle East

When the US withdrew from the ABM Treaty in 2002, there was a varied response from Russia, ranging from Putin’s non-committal “do what you must” to statements from the Defense Minister and Chief of Staff that Russia would investigate dropping out of the INF Treaty.  In the intervening years since, this threat was rolled out on various occasions when the Russians wanted to highlight their concern over various aspects of the US efforts to develop and deploy ballistic missile defense.  Since the initial announcement of the European Initiative in 2007  (basing 10 ground-based interceptors in Poland, supported by an X-band radar in the Czech Republic) it has become a recurring theme, in concert with “other military-technical means.”  This begs a couple of questions – namely, what are the real motivations behind the rhetoric, what real benefits would Russia accrue in stepping away from the first bi-lateral nuclear treaty that banned an entire class of weapons and set the stage for the START treaties on strategic nuclear forces and, in an age of growing numbers of ballistic missiles, nuclear and conventional, inhabiting the 500-5500km range (essentially longer ranged SRBM, MRBM and IRBMs as well as ground-launched cruise missiles), is the INF Treaty still relevant?  Part of the investigation includes a deep dive into the developmental history of Russian ballistic missiles with particular attention being paid to one of my old haunts — the period 1976-1987 and the impetus behind the development and deployment behind the SS-20/Pioneer IRBM.  As noteworthy as the political, military and engineering decision-making behind Pioneer’s development and controversial deployment was, there were two other programs – Skorost (“Speed”) and Kuryer (“Courier”) which bear investigation.  Each program was the result of a deliberate decision to respond to the Pershing II/GLCM deployment (itself a response to the SS-20 deployment) with new ballistic missile systems (or in the Russian vernacular, missile complexes), derived from (then) new mobile strategic systems like the SS-25 and aimed specifically at the systems the US was deploying to strengthen the nuclear guarantee to NATO.  The impetus behind this is to see if there are parallels between then and now that may predict or explain certain behaviors and statements from Russian leadership in the current dispute over the US-led European Phased Adaptive Approach to ballistic missile defense against the Iranian ballistic missile threat.

It is popular to talk about the “global economy” in referential terms as if it is a late-20th Century/21st Century phenomena.  In actuality, beginning with the return of Columbus from the 1492 expedition, profound ecological and economic wheels were put into motion – almost all of which had unforeseen consequences.  Mann’s work is a masterful, scientific review of the “Colombian Exchange” and later, the impact the founding of Manila some 80 years later by the Spanish explorer Legazpi would have on not only Europe, but the American and African continents that stretch into today.  Economist Miller (author of “War Plan Orange”) turns to recently declassified documents to take another look at attempts by the US to dissuade Japan from its aggression in China in the run-up to Pearl Harbor.  Building on his experience in international trade while working for a major mining company, he brings new perspectives on the role international finance had in influencing Japanese decision-making and actions — and in the process spurred a branches & sequels process that led to the Pacific war.  While far from finished with Bankrupting the Enemy, I think those who would argue for a trade war/currency war today with China would be well advised to consider Miller’s work and a look at the unintended consequences (as well as what a bureaucracy can do to thwart Presidential initiatives) that may result.  Both authors have a compelling writing style that addresses head on, complex ideas and concepts, placing them in a thoroughly comprehensible context – something, unfortunately, that cannot be said about some the preceding texts which can verge on the turgidly pedagogical….

And finally, there is reading just for the simple pleasure of a story well told, even if it is of an event that has been as widely dissected and told as that of Midway.  One of the vehicles used under such conditions is historical fiction and a new entry in that genre is Vengeance Strikes the Blow, written by G. Alvin Simons and published by Cripple Creek Press:

 Excerpt from the book:

    Kusaka staggered a few steps as Akagi turned toward the approaching enemy aircraft presenting a smaller target. He watched as three of the battered, tattered medium bombers continued winging toward the carriers intent on launching their torpedoes. Frantic Zeroes, having retreated earlier from the tremendous volume of friendly gunfire belching forth from the screening vessels, now ignored the threat. They dove in, blasting away at the deadly intruders.

    The deep Pacific waters already littered with destroyed enemy aircraft, Kusaka wondered at the Americans’ tenacity. We slaughter them with ease, yet still they come, he thought. Seemingly oblivious to the certain death awaiting them. Almost contemptuous in their disregard for our defense. Are they arrogant? Stubborn? Fools? What kind of men are these?

The lead aircraft closed to within a thousand meters before releasing its torpedo. It splashed down and disappeared from view, running toward its intended target. The unburdened plane skittered away across the wave tops with enraged Zeroes hounding its tail. Kusaka’s eyesight remained locked in place, waiting for the weapon to reappear when it neared Akagi.
    The huge ship made another hard turn, veering away from the oncoming torpedo. Kusaka lurched sideways into Genda, releasing a groan of pain from the young officer. The torpedo chugged past, missing the carrier and leaving a trail of bubbles in its wake. Cheers and clapping drifted on the combat-torn wind, falling silent as the second enemy plane bore in. The defensive gunfire increased in volume. A mountain of shot and steel sought to destroy the attacking aircraft. Amidst the panicked frenzy and close quarters, friendly fire struck neighboring vessels. Kusaka winced at the number of stray rounds zipping between the ships. This is utter madness, he thought. We could be wounded or killed at the hands of our fellow countrymen.

Haven’t had much of a chance to get too far in, but what I have read so far I like and it is getting good reviews in important venues like the Battle of Midway Roundtable; definitely a recommended buy (available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle versions).

So that’s were the end of 2011 and the (near) start to 2012 finds us — some of the research will find its way here, but the bulk is for other venues.  I will be interested to see what is in the offering for the new year (book-wise) and am interested in what you are reading as well as why – let’s hear what’s on your Stack of Shame!

w/r, SJS

Naval Aviation Centennial: Neptune’s Atomic Trident (1950)

7 Feb 1950: In a demonstration of carrier long-range attack capabilities, a P2V-3C Neptune, with Commander Thomas Robinson in command, took off from Franklin D. Roosevelt off Jacksonville, Fla., and flew over Charleston, S.C., the Bahamas, the Panama Canal, up the coast of Central America and over Mexico to land next day at the Municipal Airport, San Francisco, Calif. The flight, which covered 5,060 miles in 25 hours, 59 minutes, was the longest ever made from a carrier deck. (Naval Aviation Chronology 1950-1953, Naval History Center)

To set the scene – the immediate post-war environment called for substantial cuts in conventional forces based on the idea that future aggressors would be deterred, or fought, at arms length with the advent of long-range bombers and the atomic bomb, both the sole province of the newly formed USAF. The Navy, despite the success and critical role played by its fast carrier battle groups in the Pacific War found itself in a bureaucratic knife fight over roles/missions and ultimately, funding that turned on this critical capability. Writing in his biography, Bluejacket Admiral, ADM Hayward noted:

Still, persuading Forrestal and CNO Nimitz didn’t make it (the super-carrier United States) a done deal. In the psychological warfare called “the budgeting process,” their fiscal year 1947 (1 July 1946 to 30 June 1947) funding request already was before Congress, and their “Ships” plan for FY1948 already included a call for funds to modify our largest carriers, the forty-five-thousand-ton (sixty-two thousand, fully loaded) Coral Sea, Midway and Franklin Delano Roosevelt for nuclear operations. The supercarrier couldn’t get into the cycle until FY1949. Amending the FY1948 plan to put it in might have been justified by a crisis, but the only one evident at the time was the attack at home on naval aviation. (Largely because of an assault on Berlin begun by Moscow in mid-1948, Congress in late 1948 voted to build the supercarrier, a small victory, we thought, against the “anti-navy” onslaught.)
In any case, from 1946 on, building the carrier-based big-bomber force evolved along two parallel, interactive lines. One focused on hardware; the other on hiring able people. In both, we were ‘pushing the envelope,”as pilots say. In hardware, getting big carriers left the question of what plane to put aboard

Recognizing this need, in 1946 Navy contracted with North American Aviation to build the AJ Savage, a carrier-based, long-range bomber capable of hauling the 10,000lb+ Mk4 atomic weapon off a carrier, delivering it and returning to an arrested landing. A complex undertaking, the AJ would not be available until 1950 and in the meantime, an alternate “gap-filler” needed to be found. Looking at its inventory, Lockheed’s shore-based P2V Neptune seemed to provide a solution. It certainly had the range (as demonstrated by the flight of the Truculent Turtle in 1946 from Australia to Ohio, over 11,000 nm unrefueled) and with some modifications, could be adapted for one-time flights off the larger Midway-class CVBs.

A P2V-2C (BuNo 122449) was diverted and modified for testing in what would become the P2V-3C configuration. The central features included reduced crewing, increased internal fuel and attachment points for JATO (Jet Assisted take-Off) rockets (8 total – four to the side) as well as changes to accommodate carriage of the Mk1 atomic weapon modeled on the “Little Boy” uranium gun-type device which was substantially less bulky than the plutonium-based Mk5 weapon based on the “Fat Man.”

JATO was necessary as the hydraulic catapults of the time could not provide the necessary assist to get a 70,000+ gross weight aircraft airborne. With JATO and a 28 knot headwind, a fully loaded P2V could punch the JATO assist midway down a 900 ft deck run and instantly reach a required 150 knot airspeed (with the starboard wing clearing the carrier’s island by about 10 feet). Initially, the modification also included a tailhook and some 128 field arrested landings were conducted at Lockheed’s Burbank plant and NAS Patuxent River with then-CAPT Hayward, future CO of VC-5, at the controls. Shipboard trials consisted of pattern work and touch-and-goes onboard USS Franklin D. Roosevelt – but no arrested landings. Carrier landings, however, would not be part of the P2V-3C’s portfolio – airframe deformities (stretching in the fuselage) were discovered following the field arrestments, not entirely unsurprising as the P2V, rugged as it was, was not designed for carrier ops (likewise, the P-51, found to be quite capable round the carrier, suffered from rear bulkhead weaknesses after its carrier trials). Operations for the P2V then would mean it had to be craned aboard (giving away intentions) and following its launch and delivery, either return and ditch alongside the carrier or land at a friendly airfield should any remain – in essence, a one-time use weapon system. Under the circumstances, however, it was considered sufficient. Little time was wasted from the 1948 trials – eleven aircraft (BuNos 122924, 122927, 122930, 122933, 122936, 122942, 122947, 122951, 122966, 122969 and 122971) were procured under the P2V-3C configuration (12 total counting BuNo 122449, “NB41” which was the prototype and still serving) and assigned to VC-5 (stood up in Sept 1948) and later VC-6 (stood up in Jan 1950). Special weapons units, based at Kirtland AFB, NM would store and service the weapons on each of the three Midway-class carriers configured for nuclear weapons.

With 1949, the Navy began an aggressive series of demonstrations, starting in March with the load aboard of three P2V’s on Coral Sea. Weighing in at 70, 65 and 55,000lbs respectively, all three launched sequentially off Coral Sea using their JATO assist. Later, in September, the capability was demonstrated to members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, with CAPT Hayward flying off Midway with Secretary of Defense, Louis Johnson, flying in the right seat. Interestingly enough, this came a few months after Johnson had canceled the United States. CAPT Hayward’s XO, Dan Ashworth, launched on a long-range mission totaling a little over 4800 nm from the Midway, operating off Norfolk and recovering onboard Moffet field – by way of the Caribbean and Panama. And then in early 1950, CDR Robinson extended that even further with a flight of over 5,000 nm (for reference, the range from a mid-Mediterranean Sea launch to Moscow and recovery at Aviano Capodichino AB, outside Naples, Italy was about half that distance — 2500 nm).

The first deployment for VC-5 came in 1951 when six AJ-1s (newly delivered and problem beset) deployed with three P2Vs to Port Lyautey, Morocco. The Savages periodically operated off the Midway and FDR (the Midway-class carriers were not deployed to Korea as they had the only nuclear capability and were reserved for the nuclear mission in the Med). In a relatively short time, the P2V and AJ would be replaced and the carrier-based nuclear delivery mission would be assumed first by the A3D Skywarrior (contracted for in 1949) and as weapon sizes grew smaller (and yields increased) the AD4 Skyhawk and AD Skyraider. Most of the P2V-3Cs were re-configured to -3B with the AS-1B bombing system added and sent to the Heavy Attack Training Units (HATU) as trainers.

VC-5 History:
History of the USS Franklin D. Roosevelt:
Lockheed Neptune prototypes and special project P2Vs:
US Navy and US Marine Corps BuNos: Third Series (120341 to 126256)(last revised 31 July 2010):
Aerofiles: Lockheed K to Lockheed-Martin:
P2V In Action:
Bluejacket Admiral: the Navy Career of Chick Hayward By John T. Hayward, Carl W. Borklund
STRIKE FROM THE SEA: U.S. Navy Attack Aircraft From Skyraider to Super Hornet 1948-Present, By Tommy H. Thomason

Article Series - Centenary of Naval Aviation (1911-2011)

  1. Flightdeck Friday: Smoke and the Battle of Midway
  2. Flightdeck Friday: RF-8 Crusaders and BLUE MOON
  3. Flightdeck Friday: Midway POV – Wade McClusky
  4. Flightdeck Friday: 23 October 1972 and The End of Linebacker I
  5. Former VFP-62 CO and DFC Recipient, CAPT William Ecker, USN-Ret Passes Away
  6. CAPT John E. “Jack” Taylor, USN-Ret.
  7. Flightdeck Friday: USS MACON Added to National Register of Historical Places
  8. Tailhook Association and Association of Naval Aviation
  9. Flightdeck Friday: Speed and Seaplanes – The Curtiss CR-3 and R3C-2
  10. Flightdeck Friday: A Family Remembers a Father, Naval Officer and Former Vigilante B/N
  11. Out of the Box Thinking and Execution 68 Years Ago: The Doolittle Raid
  12. The ENTERPRISE Petition – A Gentle Reminder
  13. USS Enterprise (CVAN/CVN-65) At Fifty
  14. A Golden Anniversary: The Hawkeye At 50
  15. Project CADILLAC: The Beginning of AEW in the US Navy
  16. Project CADILLAC: The Beginning of AEW in the US Navy (Part II)
  17. Project CADILLAC: The Beginning of AEW in the US Navy (Part III)
  18. Reflections on the E-2 Hawkeye’s 50th Anniversary
  19. An Open Letter to “The 100th Anniversary of Naval Aviation Foundation”
  20. U.S. Naval Aviation – 100 Years
  21. Doolittle’s Raiders: Last Surviving Bomber Pilot of WWII Doolittle Raid, Dies at 93
  22. More Naval Aviation Heritage Aircraft (But Still No Hawkeye)
  23. Naval Aviation Centennial: Neptune’s Atomic Trident (1950)
  24. Naval Aviation Centennial: One Astronaut, A Future Astronaut and Reaching for New Heights
  25. Flightdeck Friday Special Edition: The Space Shuttle – Thirty Years of Dreams, Sweat and Tears
  26. Flightdeck Friday – Postings from the Naval Aviation Museum
  27. Saturday Matinee: US Naval Aviation – the First 100 Years
  28. National Museum of Naval Aviation – Some Thoughts and A Call to Action
  29. Flightdeck Friday – 100 Years of Naval Aviation and the USCG
  30. Guest Post: THE U.S. NAVY’S FLEET PROBLEMS OF THE THIRTIES — A Dive Bomber Pilot’s Perspective
  31. This Date in Naval Aviaiton History: Sept 18, 1962 – Changing Designators
  32. Centennial Of Naval Aviation – The Shadow Warriors

One Second After – Of EMP and Post-Apocolypse America (Part 1)

Dominic_Thor_Pad_sm9 July 1962.  At Johnston Atoll, a scrap of coral in a remote part of the Pacific, a Thor IRBM stands on the pad as launch preparations are carried out.  Loaded with test equipment, its prime payload is a W-49/Mk-4 RV payload.  The target, however, is not to be found on a map or chart.

Instead, today’s launch is part of the DOMINIC series of atmospheric nuclear tests. These tests were ordered following the re-start of Soviet atmospheric testing, most notable of which was the test of the Царь-бомба (lit: “tsar bomba“), the largest nuclear explosion to date.

The test today is one of some 36 planned tests under DOMINIC.  Most of these, like Housatonic, were air-dropped weapons (Housatonic had a yield of ~8Mt). Some were tests of complete weapons systems – like Swordfish and Frigate Bird (the former a test of the nuclear ASROC and the latter, the only complete test of a US ICBM with a nuclear warhead — an operational shot of the Polaris I SLBM).  The Thor on the pad today is supporting Starfish Prime – a high altitude nuclear detonation to test the effects of a phenomena identified as EMP, Electromagnetic Pulse.  The phenomena s not unexpected as it was noticed in conventional high explosives, but tests in the late 1950s that involved high altitude, endo-atmospheric tests had witnessed an unusual number of test equipment failures due to overvoltage effects.  The launch tonight, with zero-hour scheduled for 0900Z/2300L Hawaii time, is targeted for an altitude of 248 miles, the very upper limits of the atmosphere.  The mission is not without hazard as an earlier attempt on 20 June suffered an engine failure on launch and was command destroyed – on the pad.  While the warhead didn’t detonate, the subsequent scattering of plutonium almost forced the shutdown of the Johnston facility. But the launch tonight worked and at zero-hour, the skies over Oahu, 800 nm away, became bright as day and in the south, a large, white orb slowly rose out of the ocean while in the high atmosphere, the night glowed, bathed in the light of the man-made aurora:


More importantly, on the island of Oahu, the electromagnetic pulse created by the explosion was felt as three hundred street lights failed, television sets and radios malfunctioned and burglar alarms were triggered.  On Kauai, the EMP shut down telephone calls to the other islands by burning out the equipment used in a microwave link. Over the next few days, seven  satellites that transited the radiation belts that were created in low earth orbit subsequently failed.  Among these were the (then) new and first of its kind, commercial relay satellite, Telstar.  Eventually one-third of the satellites in low earth orbit failed or were substantially degraded.

But that wasn’t the worst of it.  The Soviets conducted their own test whose effects were devastating.  At the height of the Cuban Missile crisis, a demonstration of the ABM system was conducted wherein a 300kt device was detonated at a 290-km altitude near Dzhezkazgan. Prompt gamma ray-produced EMP induced a current of 2,500 amps in a 570-km stretch of overhead telephone lines to Zharyq, blowing all the protective fuses. The late-time MHD-EMP was of low enough frequency to enable it to penetrate up to 90 cm into the ground, overloading a shallow buried lead and steel tape-protected 1,000-km long power cable between Aqmola and Almaty, firing circuit breakers and setting the Karaganda power plant on fire (Glasstone).  The atmospheric tests ceased soon thereafter, but not the research or planning on EMP effects.  Indeed, as we moved into the 1970s and 80’s, and serious talk of nuclear warfighting was underway on both sides of the iron curtain, we worked to test and harden our weapons and platforms to EMP:

A B-52 bomber sits atop the TRESTLE electromagnetic pulse (EMP)  simulator at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico  The facility is the largest wood-and-glue laminated structure in the world. Aircraft tested here are subjected to up to 10 million volts of electricity to simulate the effects of a nuclear explosion and assess the "hardness" of electrical and electronic equipment to the EMP pulse generated by a nuclear burst.  Credit: U.S. Air Force (courtesy Natural Resource Defense Council)
A B-52 bomber sits atop the TRESTLE electromagnetic pulse (EMP) simulator at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico The facility is the largest wood-and-glue laminated structure in the world. Aircraft tested here are subjected to up to 10 million volts of electricity to simulate the effects of a nuclear explosion and assess the “hardness” of electrical and electronic equipment to the EMP pulse generated by a nuclear burst. Credit: U.S. Air Force (courtesy Natural Resource Defense Council)
A right front view of an E-4 advanced airborne command post (AABNCP) on the electromagnetic pulse (EMP) simulator for the testing.
A right front view of an E-4 advanced airborne command post (AABNCP) on the electromagnetic pulse (EMP) simulator for the testing.

But the Cold War is over, we’re engaged in the prelude for a new round of nuclear reduction talks with Russia so the threat must be diminishing and there is nothing to fear…right?

… right?

(to be continued)

North Korea’s Nuke Test

upshotIt appears that second-time around worked for the North Koreans:

SEOUL (AFP) — North Korea carried out a second and more powerful nuclear test, defying international pressure to rein in its atomic programmes after years of six-nation disarmament talks. The hardline communist state, which stunned the world by testing an atomic bomb for the first time in October 2006, had threatened another test after the UN Security Council censured it for a long-range rocket launch in April.  The North “successfully conducted one more underground nuclear test on May 25 as part of the measures to bolster up its nuclear deterrent for self-defence in every way,” the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said. “The current nuclear test was safely conducted on a new higher level in terms of its explosive power and technology,” it said.  The force of the blast was between 10 and 20 kilotons, according to Russia’s defence ministry quoted by news agencies, vastly more than the estimated one kiloton blast three years ago.

While the Russians have historically over-estimated yields in their previous assessments, it is probably safe to say that the yield will fall around 10kt, more than surpassing 2006’s fizzle @ 1/2 kt.  Better refinement should come with independent verification by US and other international sources in the coming days.

And now all the chips are on the table.  China has been vocal about not desiring to see North Korea armed with nukes and it has been the principal intermediary at the Six Party talks on behalf of the North Koreans.  By far, it is the major supplier of energy resources to the North, keeping them from literally going dark.  What will China do besides verbally condemn?  Support full sanctions against the DPRK or block such a move?  What about the Russians? Push-back expected on any measures beyond strong verbal condemnation in the Security Council? To be sure, expect one or both to forward the argument that harsher penalties will be “unproductive” and lead to greater instability in the region (read: China is afraid of provoking collapse of the DPRK government and subsequent rush of refugees across its borders into China).  What of South Korea and Japan?  The DPRK’s on-gong missile tests, which have continued in the face of similar vocal condemnation and in spite of international agreements like the Missile Technology Control Regime or the International Code of Conduct Against Ballistic Missile Proliferation, have energized Japan’s missile defense efforts – will a successful DPRK nuclear test now result in a Japan that feels it must either develop its own nuclear weapons as a counter?  Undertake a more offensively oriented military?  How assured can/should the Japanese be about any U.S. guarantees via extension of its nuclear umbrella?

Unstated in the initial uproar is this little gem — with a demonstrated proclivity towards proliferation whoring, particularly with Iran, what does this say about the future of nuclear arms control and non-proliferation?  Were the parallel tests of an alleged new SRBM today demonstration of a nuclear capable missile?  How close to a weaponized form was today’s test?  What are the implications for increased instability in other regions that are faced with their own issues of nuclear proliferation (viz. Israel-Iran)?

It’s 0300 and somewhere there’s a phone ringing…

The Subcontinent’s Missile Race

SS-20_Pershing-II_NASM-displayA quick history lesson.   A quarter of a century ago, the US (and NATO) were engaged in an unprecedented nuclear arms build-up in Europe that was initiated with the deployment of the SS-20 Sabre (NATO)/RT-21M Pioneer (Russia) IRBM in 1976.   Unlike the much older SS-4 and SS-5 IRBMs, employed in 1959 and 1961, the SS-20 was a modern, road-mobile, MIRV’d missile with a CEP of 150m.   In a word – it was a game changer when all 405 were ddeployed by 1986.   The most significant and troublesome aspect of the SS-20 was that it was clearly a first strike weapon, meant for a swift strike against NATO leadership and theater nuclear forces, or TNF which mostly consisted of short- and medium range aircraft and Pershing I missiles.

The primary puropse of NATO’s TNF was to serve as a gap filler betweenUS GLCMconventional forces already ddeployed in Europe and arrayed against a numerically superior Warsaw Pact.   In the nuclear calculus of the time, the survivability and hence, credibility of the TNF deterrent to a Warsaw pact invasion was now markedly reduced.   The Carter Administration, after much public angst,   first promised and then withdrew an offer of deployment of the Enhanced Radiation Warhead (the so-called “neutron bomb”) which did nothing to aid the perception of a weakening US commitment to NATO.   Finally, in following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, the Carter Administration agreed to the deployment of 572 missiles (100 Pershing II’s and 472 GLCMs) while working on a treaty to ban said weapons.   The Reagan Administration pressed ahead and ddeployed the missiles in 1984 despite massive anti-nuclear rallies in Europe and at home in the US.   Still, between the Reagan Administration and Mikhail Gorbachev on the Soviet side, a landmark treaty was signed on December 8, 1987.   A signatory feature of the treaty was the elimination of an entire class of weapon and prohibition on future development of the same.

Unfortunately, that prohibition didnot extend to other countries, nor to “collaborative” efforts.

brahmosFast forward to today.   Relatively unnoticed by the rest of the world (save a handful of defense -centric specialty e-zines) a full blown missile race is underway on the Asian subcontinent between India and Pakistan, the latest iteration of which features development and deployment of nuclear capable land-attack cruise missiles, one layer of which was revealed today in a failed BrahMos LACM (land attack cruise missile) test:

NEW DELHI: The Army’s endeavour to induct the BrahMos supersonic cruise missile as “a precision-strike weapon” took a hit on Tuesday, with the missile failing to achieve laid-down parameters in a test.

This comes at a time when the Pakistan Army is galloping ahead in inducting its nuclear-capable Babur land-attack cruise missile (LACM) – developed with China’s help to have a strike range of over 500 km – in large numbers into its arsenal. (The Economic  Times)


The BrahMos is a joint Indian-Russian venture to build a family of supersonic cruise missiles able to be launched from sea or shore.   Following the model previously established by the 5 recognized nuclear powers (US, Russia, France, Britain, China), India is pursuing a nuclear variant as the primary version of the LACM.   This effort is in parallel with ongoing work on the Agni family of MRBM/IRBMs with the latest, the Agni III ranging far enough to strike almost any target in China,  Pakistan and the Middle East or Russia.

baburcruiseFor its part, Pakistan is busy with the road-mobile Ghauri (1500 km, single stage, liquid-fueled) and Shaheen II (2500 km, 2-stage, solid fueled) MRBMs and the LACM known as the Babur (“Lion”), which is being developed with their Chinese partners and bears a more than passing resemblance to the Tomahawk cruise missile in both physical appearance and attributes such as its navigation package.   The same, incidentally, may be said of China’s DongHai-10 (DH-10) LACM and given the number of Tomahawks fired in the Middle East and in Bosnia, it wouldn’t be surprising  if components hadn’t made their way back to China for re-engineering.   Nevertheless, the 2007 surprise test of the nuclear variant of the Babur caught India by surprise and has had the effect of speeding up the BrahMos program.

he upshot of this sub-continental arms race is a host of potentially bad news for the US.   There are all sorts of lines of intersection between US interests int he region, whether it be the tribal regions along the Pakistani-Afghani border, technology and/or arms proliferation to Iran, the US-Indian nuclear reactor deal, growing Chinese presence along the Silk Road into the ‘stans and proximity to Indian territorial claims, and not least of which is the fact these two countries have twice inside the last half-century engaged in fierce, bloody warfare.   Leavening that frightful mix with the yeast of nuclear missile arms race is daunting at best.

Facing an already overwhelming foreign policy agenda, one wonders if the new Administration and its new Secretary of State will notice, much less take an active interest in working to stem this race.   Building on the INF model, if taken, is only a partial solution as the proliferation of weapons  on the margins of- and in this category is any indicator.    In any event, absent significant technological setbacks or exceptional diplomatic effort, the region appears to be well on its way to seeing significant operational forces deployed within a few years, adding another un-needed strand of complication to a region already binding itself into a Gordian knot.


Красная звезда вторник: Red Star Tuesday – Stability 2008

“Stability 2008” the exercise that (if you believe Russian sources) signals Russia’s return to preeminence as a global military power, continues.  Over the past weekend we witnessed a number of Russian ICBM and SLBM tests in conjunction with “Stability 2008.”  Some of the video reporting for these launches is provided below (h/t Russian Navy Blog):

CV Operations and SLBM launch observed by Pres. Medvedev:

Note the flight-deck tempo and “clean wing” launches of the Frogfoot and Flanker…and do a little comparison and contrast.  That said, the real object of the exercise was a launch of the SS-N-23 Sineva (earlier launch video here at the 0:06 sec point).  Probably worth noting that while the solid-fueled Bulava is still having developmental problems, the SS-N-23, has experienced a greater degree of success as it is based on the SS-N-18 and uses storable liquid fuels.  Solid fuels, of course, are more stable and amenable to longer-term storage and handling, especially in a mobile scenario (be it land- or sea-based), hence the desire to develop a solid-fueled SLBM.  With an advertised range of 6500km and Russian sources over the weekend noting a range in excess of 11,500km, we think there is a certain Potemkin-esque air to these claims…

Strategic Aviation ops:

Pretty standard “B-roll” material, but you have to admire and respect all those counter-rotating props in the tail-end footage. Almost enough to make a Hornet pilot wince, eh?

Guest Author: Nuclear Weaponry


Accepting the offer from our earlier post, Southern Air Pirate weighs in with his thoughts re. the issue of nuclear weapons…


A friend of mine forwarded the couple of articles you have written about nuclear weapons to me. I have just only had a chance to skim them not really read them for comprehension. This is my take on the whole thing. If we could I would love to see the damn things taken away from the world. That being said out to sea their usage is always a little dicey. Once you irradiate a patch of water what then? A ship can still steam through the hot zone and can do so faster then an army can march through a hot zone ashore some place. Against a fleet it appears to be dangerous only if you are close to the initial blast. The blast alone may sink a few ships, but if the fleet is properly dispersed then the affect might be lose of a few defensive ships. The high value targets towards the center of the task force might now be exposed to the blast or might see limited blast and radiation damage from the blast. Not exactly a mission kill in that situation. So the only thing really left is their usage against subsurface and targets ashore. Submarines are the most the most at threat from nuclear weapons mainly from the overpressure, but why go that way if you can kill them with aerial launched torpedoes or normal depth bombs? Targets ashore are only a slippery slope from tactically (armies) to theater usage (rail heads, bridges, HQs) to strategic targets (the enemies nukes, cities, production facilities, etc).

You think it was hard to crunch the numbers on what might be winnable. Imagine the guys who had to stare at SIOP and then stare at the Kola, Kamchecktua, and Sevastopol peninsulas and go, "You want me to fly through that to delivery what?" I was a kid around a few of them (friends of my father), they were professionals too. Most of them understood the mission but accepted that the world would be in the hurt locker real bad if those special weapons came up with the weapons techs working on the planes and Marines were around the jets. I only got a chance to see once what one of the B/N’s looked like dressed up in the full Nuclear Delivery Garb and he looked very much like a TIE fighter pilot or Storm Trooper from Star Wars. On top of that the A-6’s had special fiberglass shields that were fitted over the canopies designed to reflect the flash. So it was completely heads down trusting your instruments to deliver those weapons to targets ashore. If you want something to shake you up, check out those Traditions Military Video folks online, they have an actual Department of the Navy film from the late 50’s early 60’s talking about how carrier air power would do in a general war scenario. The setup is Norwegian Sea patrol of a carrier and report of nuclear weapons being used. It then shows F-8’s and F3H’s taking off fitted with nuclear tipped aerial rockets engaging TU-16’s and Mya-4’s, then peeling off as the escorts are firing off nuclear tipped Terrier and Tartar Surface to Air Missiles to get the leakers. Finally shots of A-1’s, A-4’s and A-3’s taking off to deliver nuclear weapons to naval bases in the region. While all of that is going on the film also talks of a CVS with its A-4’s taking on a small surface group and then its S-2’s and H-34’s dropping nuclear depth bombs on various hostile subs and wolf packs. Everyone comes back home and the admiral gives a hearty job well done to all hands. I can not fathom that anyone honestly thought that way, but they did.

Well those are my simple thoughts on the subject.





The Next Nuclear Strategy for a New Administration – and Three Questions


The accelerating spread of nuclear weapons, nuclear know-how and nuclear material has brought us to a nuclear tipping point. We face a very real possibility that the deadliest weapons ever invented could fall into dangerous hands.  The steps we are taking now to address these threats are not adequate to the danger. With nuclear weapons more widely available, deterrence is decreasingly effective and increasingly hazardous. – Shultz, et al, WSJ 15 Jan 2008

Yesterday we published an article by an Indian strategy analyst making the case for India’s nuclear deterrent.  When the next Administration takes the reins of power in January 2009 it will face a different nuclear landscape than its immediate predecessors in the post-Cold War environment.  As such, it will be incumbent upon that Administration – whatever the party; to undertake a thorough review of the nuclear strategy of the United States and hopefully, in the process, avoid the temptation of pouring old wine in new flasks. 

There will be no lack of those volunteering advice, some sage, others – not so.  One of the more intriguing efforts has been led by a panel of experts whose portfolios in nuclear matters are long and deep – as well as bipartisan.  The quote above that led off this post began a follow-up article this past January by these four experts (George Shultz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger, and Sam Nunn) who were certainly no shrinking doves in their former capacities.  Yet rather than sit around and wring their hands in anxiety over things the way they are, they have proposed a detailed course of action – first in 2007 and expanded in 2008;  that has gained a degree of visibility and support both domestically and abroad from allies and former foes.  Indeed, we strongly suspect that we shall see elements, if not the whole cloth, taken aboard as one or the other party candidate’s proposed initiatives in the nuclear realm.

Among the proposals in the 2007 article were changing the Cold War posture of deployed nuclear weapons to increase warning time (and reduce the danger of an accidental or unauthorized use of a nuclear weapon), eliminating (not just withdrawing from deployment and stockpiling) short-range nuclear weapons designed to be forward-deployed, halting the production of fissile material for weapons globally; phasing out the use of highly enriched uranium in civil commerce and removing weapons-usable uranium from research facilities around the world and rendering the materials safe.  To this they added in 2008 extending key provisions of the START I Treaty (scheduled to expire in Dec 2009), undertaking negotiations toward developing cooperative multilateral ballistic-missile defense and early warning system, and discarding any existing operational plans for massive attacks that still remain from the Cold War.  Any one of these would constitute a major step – together, it is a major change of course.  The question is would this be a path that is in the best interests of the US?

We’ve been given to much thought along those lines of late, prompted in part by our reading of Rhodes’ latest volume.  The genesis though is traced back to the Maritime Strategy which we were reviewing for another issue.  In the course of that read we were drawn back to two phrases – "(w)e believe that preventing wars is as important as winning wars" and "(w)hile war with another great power strikes many as improbable, the near-certainty of its ruinous effects demands that it be actively deterred using all elements of national power."  There has been much written lately about the follow-on aspects of the MS, namely the force structure, but there is also an upward link to  national strategy that has not been fully explored. 

Consider – the second quote above is linked to one of the six strategic imperatives in the MS – ‘Deter Major War.’  Our national strategies (including the Nuclear Posture Review) call for capability- vice threat-based forces.  The section in the MS that describes the deterrence imperative goes on to say "(w)e will pursue an approach to deterrence that includes a credible and scalable ability to retaliate against aggressors conventionally, unconventionally, and with nuclear forces" (emphasis added).  Since we have removed tactical nuclear weapons from our ships we presume that alludes to the SSBN deterrent patrols.  Yet that is a mighty broad brush wielded in the previous sentence – what is the context of the aggressors?  Aggressors against the US? Or against some third party? Link back to the opening sentence, the one about preventing wars –  it leaves us pondering a situation where the Navy might be called upon in a brewing crisis between a nuclear-armed India and Pakistan.  In that context how credible is the current context of nuclear deterrence?  How would a conventionally armed force seek to deter war between two nuclear armed regional powers?  These are some of the issues that bear further examination and which seem to be overlooked in the force structure food fight.  To that end we are going to propose something a little different and at the same time, hopefully give voice and a platform to those of you who want to expand your views beyond  the comments block.  To wit:

  • Review the articles we will be posting over the next several days – some will be current, others older but no less relevant.  Most (hopefully) will be thought provoking and likely controversial – that is the intent.  For reference documents, see those posted in the Virtual Library especially in the "National Security Policy" and "WMD/Missile Defense" aisles (periodically check for updates – one of our tasks during this week of TDY is to spend time updating and adding documents to the library beginning with items like unclassified portions of the Nuclear Posture Review, etc.);
  • Consider the following three questions:

            1.  In the context of a nuclear multi-polar, post Cold War world, what is the relevance of nuclear weapons?

            2.  What is the deterrent value of nuclear weapons in that environment and what are the implications for conventional deterrence (especially as written in the MS)?

            3.  Is there still a role for arms control in this environment and if so, what form should it take (i.e., a series of bi-lateral agreements or an expansion of the START or START-like convention to a multilateral forum)?

If you are so moved (and we hope you are) provide your thoughts in a separate document and we will post it as a Guest Author with attribution as you see fit.  Specifics:

– Please keep to  700-900 words max

– send to steeljawscribeATgmailDOTcom – (you know what to change). 

– Provide the name you wish it published under. We will screen for gross spelling and grammatical errors and contact you directly if there are any subsequent issues with content change – we will not edit material because of content (so please, keep it professional) A page will be created for keeping track of posts in this category just as we have for Flightdeck Friday and other running topics.  (BTW – you needn’t be a nuclear wonk, or wonkette, to participate…)

Why are we doing this?  In part, because of an idea some of us have been discussing offline about how to generate wider discussion and what kind of venue to host therein.  Still very much in an embryonic stage so if you have ideas along those lines we would be interested as well (contact us offline for further discussion).  There won’t be an end date – at least as we see for now, and fully expect as we move through the general electoral season and into the transition period, more discussion will follow.  As the saying goes — stay tuned…  – SJS


India and Nuclear Deterrence


Pursuing disarmament is like chasing butterflies — enjoyable for some retired old men but never-ending and beyond the pale.


Bemused commentary from The Dark Prince following Shultz et al’s article on disarmament in the WSJ earlier this year?  Nope, a commentary by a strategic analyst from India underscoring India’s justification to seek a nuclear deterrent.  Here’s the article from the Times of India:

LEADER ARTICLE: Stop Chasing Illusions
11 Mar 2008, 0011 hrs IST,Brahma Chellaney

SMS NEWS to 58888 for latest updates
Nearly a century after chemical arms were introduced in World War I and more than six decades following the nuclear incineration of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the world is at the threshold of new lethal and precision weapons, as underlined by the ongoing research on lasers, information weapons, space-based platforms, anti-satellite weapons and directed energy systems. Technological forces are now shaping geopolitics and power equations in a way unforeseen before in history.

We live in a Hobbesian world, with power coterminous with national security and success. The global power structure reflects this reality. Only countries armed with intercontinental-range weaponry are UN Security Council permanent members, while those seeking new permanent seats have regionally confined capabilities and thus are likely to stay condemned as mere aspirants. Japan, with one-tenth of the population, has a bigger economy than China, but the latter, because of its rising military prowess, gets more international respect.

The past century was the most momentous in history technologically, with innovations fostering not just rapid economic change, but bringing greater lethality to warfare. Consequently, the 20th century was the bloodiest.

Weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and missiles came to occupy a central military role. In the new century, the advance of technology and the absence of relevant safeguards or regimes evoke possible scenarios of deadly information and space warfare.

Such are the challenges from the accelerated weaponisation of science that instead of disarmament, rearmament today looms large on the horizon, with the arms race being extended to outer space. Take, for example, America’s February 20 destruction of a crippled satellite by missile strike. Having criticised China’s January 2007 anti-satellite (ASAT) weapon test — the first ASAT kill by any power in more than two decades — the US set out to be the first to knock out a space-based asset from a mobile platform at sea, in an operation that resembled shooting down an ICBM, except that the target was larger and easier to destroy.

In a Cold War-reminiscent tone, outgoing President Vladimir Putin last month vowed that Russia will field new strategic weapons because "a new arms race has been unleashed in the world". Alluding to the US pressing ahead with a missile shield in Eastern Europe and working on new warheads, Putin declared: "We didn’t start it… funnelling multibillions of dollars into developing weapon systems". The same day, the Russian foreign minister raised the spectre of "hundreds of thousands of missile interceptors all over the world… in the foreseeable future".

Disarmament fell off the global agenda long ago, with the UN’s Conference on Disarmament (CD) bereft of real work for nearly 12 years now. Yet, some in India continue to chase illusions. More flattering attention has been paid in India than anywhere else to two newspaper articles written by four senior ex-US officials, who in office were votaries of unbridled nuclear might but who now, while peddling a nukes-free world as a distant goal akin to an invisible mountaintop, suggest modest steps for US forces (like changing the antediluvian Cold War posture), only to advocate more rigorous non-proliferation.

India has a rich history of floating disarmament proposals that come back and haunt it as non-proliferation pacts. It was India that put forth the ideas of an NPT and CTBT. Add to that its record of not acting when the time is right. Had it tested when it acquired a nuclear-explosive capability in the mid-1960s, it would have beaten the NPT trap. Had Indira Gandhi pressed ahead and not baulked after the May 1974 test, India would not have faced a rising tide of technology sanctions for the next quarter-century. No nation perhaps has paid a heavier price for indecision than India.

India’s priority today should be its security, given that it still does not have a minimal, let alone credible, nuclear deterrent against China, which is rapidly modernising its arsenal. Yet, India has placed its future deterrent capability at risk by concluding a nuclear deal with the US whose touted energy benefits are dubious and dispensable. It is also unable to control its proverbial itch to win brownie points, as shown by its recent submission of a seven-point proposal to the deadlocked CD, calling for, among other things, the outlawing of nukes. Such ardour is baffling, given that India imports virtually all its conventional weapons and is in position to deter China conventionally.

Pursuing disarmament is like chasing butterflies — enjoyable for some retired old men but never-ending and beyond the pale. Nuclear weapons, as the last US posture review stated, will continue to play a "critical role" because they possess "unique properties". Until such time as nukes remain the premier mass-destruction technology, disarmament will stay a mirage. The Chemical Weapons Convention became possible only when chemical arms ceased to be militarily relevant for the major powers and instead threatened to become the poor state’s WMD. Considering the rapid pace of technological change, a new class of surgical-strike WMD could emerge, even as nuclear weapons, with their unparalleled destructive capacity, stay at the centre of international power and force.

The writer is a strategic affairs analyst.

Expect to see more of this kind of article in the near future as we have a project of sorts coming up – one that will offer some interesting propositions…more later this week. – SJS


Putting Numbers to Words – US Announces Nuclear Reduction

First the official press release:

President Bush Approves Significant Reduction in Nuclear Weapons Stockpile

President has approved a significant reduction in the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile to take effect by the end of 2007. The President’s decision, made on the recommendation of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman with the full support of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Commander, United States Strategic Command, follows a major reduction previously announced in 2004. As a result, the U.S. nuclear stockpile will be less than one-quarter its size at the end of the Cold War.

The President’s decision further advances policies that he has advocated since assuming office. We are reducing our nuclear weapons stockpile to the lowest level consistent with America’s national security and our commitments to friends and allies. A credible deterrent remains an essential part of U.S. national security, and nuclear forces remain key to meeting emerging security challenges. The reduction is part of the President’s overall strategy to transform the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile and its supporting infrastructure to better meet the security needs of the 21st Century. It is a comprehensive effort to reduce U.S. reliance on nuclear weapons and streamline and modernize our nuclear infrastructure.

How much is "significant"?  Especially one on the heels of another "significant" one in 2004?  When in doubt, check out Jeffrey Lewis at ArmsControlWonk and you won’t be disappointed:

New Nuclear Reduction Initiative Graph

So how do we come by these reductions?  As he points out — mostly by attrition in two major programs – cancellation of the ACM (Advanced Cruise Missile) and of the Life Extension Program, or LEP, for the W80, both of which would potentially serve to remove about 2095 W80 and W80-1 warheads by alone 2012 (see below):

Naturally that is just speculation and is sure to engender the question or concern about further dismantlement of the nuclear arsenal.  A counter question would be to what end is the purpose of keeping an overly large inventory of aging weapons whose upkeep costs escalate considerably in their later years?  What is the military utility of weapons whose effects are increasingly matched or bettered by conventional kinetic and non-kinetic weapons?  Look at the value gained aboard carriers by utilization of the spaces previously devoted to nuclear weapons for a variety of other purposes who find more regular employment.  And speaking of employment – it is increasingly questionable just when nuclear weapons would be utilized short of the prototypical Götterdämmerung envisioned for the employment of strategic nukes. 

So yes, there is some minimal deterrent number to keep the Russians at bay and set above where an emergent peer (read:China) wouldn’t be tempted to make a quick break-through.  With this latest round of proposed cuts taking us to an estimated level of around 6300 or so nukes, we are closer to that number.  We aren’t necessarily sure that it’s the 1,200 figure cited by ACW (stockpile figure pre-Eisenhower) but we are definitely sure it lies somewhere along the path between the present and that number.