NBC Weapons: Old Solutions For New Russian Threats




November 4, 2022: Since August, when it became obvious that the six-month-old Russian invasion of Ukraine was a failure, and Ukrainian forces have been successfully counterattacking, Russia has issued a lot of threats. That’s because nothing else worked. Increased weapons production to replace enormous losses failed because of massive economic sanctions. Raising more troops ran into widespread resistance, with many men eligible to conscription or mobilization leaving the country, going into hiding or simply refusing to respond. Those who were now in uniform quickly discovered that there was no equipment for them or much training either before they were sent to die in Ukraine. This soon led to open protests by new recruits, who often documented their protests with cellphone videos that ended up on the Internet. Russian leader Vladimir Putin started the war as part of a scheme to rebuild the Russian empire that peacefully dissolved in 1991. No good deed goes unpunished and Putin is the punishment. The empire is not going to be rebuilt for the same reason it was dissolved; too many Russians and neighbors of Russia opposed the empire. Russian rulers like Putin are the reason why.

Putin realizes that if the Ukrainians succeed in regaining control of all the territory Russia has occupied since 2014, he will probably be an ex-leader or worse. All he has left is increasingly scary threats and attacks on those who can’t fight back. That means using his dwindling supply of guided and unguided long-range weapons to attack Ukrainian civilians and the Ukrainian economy. Putin continues to lose support inside Russia. The attacks on Ukrainian civilians are counter-productive as those make him a war criminal plus, they aren’t sustainable.

Which brings us to the nuclear threats. No national leaders have so vigorously and continuously threatened to use nukes. When direct threats failed to work, Putin switched to accusations that Ukraine was preparing to carry out a nuclear “accident” and/or set off a dirty bomb (explosives surrounded by radioactive material) and blame Russia. The Ukrainians accuse Russia of considering this and blaming it on Russia

The Americans are the only ones to use nukes, in 1945 to end World War II and avoid a planned invasion of Japan that would have left millions of dead, most of them Japanese civilians and soldiers. The American nukes were top secret and used by surprise instead as threats. The first was used on August 6 1945 over the Japanese city of Hiroshima.

Japan had been run by the military since the 1930s and anyone who opposed that risked severe punishment. Long before that the emperor had been a figurehead, without any real power. It was a matter of convincing enough civilian and military officials to back the emperor and convincing him to risk another military coup by announcing surrender.

The Americans were dismayed by the Japanese refusal to immediately surrender. Only a few Americans knew that there was only one more atomic bomb available and it would be weeks before more were ready.

Initially on August 6th Japanese military leaders only knew that communications with anyone, civil or military, in Hiroshima had suddenly ceased. People more than 16 kilometers outside Hiroshima could still communicate with Tokyo but could only report there had been a huge explosion in Hiroshima, accompanied by a bright light, a huge ascending cloud and, eventually, much noise. It was known that there was no air raid over Hiroshima because these involved hundreds of bombers. The nuclear bomb was delivered by a single B-29 and these aircraft often came over alone on reconnaissance missions. The Japanese military responded by ordering an officer to fly immediately to Hiroshima, see what was going on and report back. That officer found the city destroyed, with some fires still burning and a huge cloud rising above the city. He landed at an airport and drove around parts of the city that were accessible and found only dazed survivors wandering around who uncertain of what exactly happened. He found some military personnel and ordered them to organize help for the survivors while he flew back to Tokyo to report that it was unclear what destroyed most of the city. Japan become aware of what the mysterious weapon was 16 hours after the bomb detonated when the American president made a public announcement about what happened. This went out over shortwave stations that reached Japan and did not sufficiently impress the military leaders that surrender was their only option. On August 8th the second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki and the Allies told Japan there would be more. This convinced enough senior civil and military officials, along with the emperor, to accept surrender. The emperor made an unprecedented public announcement on the radio. Diehard officers tried to stage a coup and capture or kill the emperor. That failed and the surrender took hold.

These two bombs had a traumatic effect on Japanese and many others around the world. Attitudes towards warfare changed. This led to an unprecedented “nuclear peace” after 1945. The fear of seeing nukes used again created the longest period of peace between major powers in modern history. The second-longest such period was the 43 years between the armistice that ended the Franco-Prussian War in 1871, to the outbreak of the First World War in 2014; a total of forty-three years, five months, and twenty-eight days. In effect, since November 5, 1988, every day that the Great Powers have not been at war with each other has set a new world record for the duration of a peace.

The nuclear peace did not end wars involving major powers, but led to the nuclear powers backing proxies (smaller non-nuclear nations) in several major, but non-nuclear, conflicts. After assessing the destruction caused by World War II, several nations collected data, did the math and agreed that a major nuclear war would destroy civilization as we know it and cause unpredictable risks of even greater changes similar to those caused by major natural catastrophes over the last hundred million years.

When the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, there were suddenly fewer of these proxy wars the Soviets had kept going. Since 1991 there have been fewer wars of any size and less death and destruction. There was still the threat of a war as more nations obtained nukes, especially erratic and hostile states like North Korea. After 1991 Russia was still a major nuclear power and this led Putin to threaten the use of nukes if Ukraine did not surrender.

The possibility of a new nuclear threat led the United States to consider countermeasures. One of the more recent ones, that is not top secrets, was developed over two decades ago when the U.S. Air Force proposed "simultaneous strategic bombing strike" (or SSBS).

This involved using lots of aerial and satellite surveillance as well as some Special Forces or commando troops on the ground, accompanied by air force controllers (to call in air strikes) and lots of air power overhead. Afghanistan proved that this approach can work. The air force has become very fond of these guys on the ground, using the latest technology (laser ranger finders, computers, GPS and satellite radios) to precisely locate lots of targets for the smart bombs to hit. This has made possible a new, and as yet untried, tactic; large scale simultaneous bombing. JDAM smart bombs are the key to this unique air attack tactic. Because JDAMs use GPS (global positioning satellites) navigation, you can load the location of bomb targets into the smart bombs navigation system ahead of time. You don't have to worry about fog or stormy weather (that can interfere with laser guided and other types of smart bombs) and there is a jam-proof, but slightly less accurate INS chip in GPS guided weapons.

A larger SSBS was now possible using hundreds of fighter bombers and heavy bombers carrying several thousand of pre-programmed smart bombs. Many targets don't require a 2000-pound (909 kg) bomb, and smaller aircraft (like F-16s, F-18s and F-15s) can carry six to a dozen 500-pound JDAMs. This makes it possible for, say, 200 bombers (from F-16s to B-52s) to carry nearly 2,000 JDAMs for a single simultaneous strike. Several hundred cruise missiles launched from ships and subs can be added to this attack.

At a prearranged time, all the bombs are released so that they all hit their targets at about the same time. Suddenly, everyone in the target area is under attack. It's long been known that firepower, be it artillery or bombs, is a lot more effective if the target doesn't know it's coming. Once the first bomb hits, and the word gets around, the other enemy troops head for cover and the damage done is much less. If there is one big attack, there won't be time to move anything. And after the attack, not much will be capable of moving.

If you could drop thousands of bombs, precisely, all at once, the effect of surprise would greatly increase the damage done. This is called strategic surprise, and it's never been done like SSBS. The effect would be paralysis and the collapse of morale and the ability to fight back. Depending on what shape enemy anti-aircraft defenses, the attack might be preceded by cruise missiles destroying anti-aircraft radars and missile launchers. This would take place at night, as would the bombers flying in with the JDAMs.

A lot depends on precisely identifying all the targets. This can be done from the air or by satellite. In the case of well-hidden targets, you need people on the ground, like Special Forces troops, using laser range finders to collect the coordinates for the JDAMS.

All of this is another, faster, version of the classic blitzkrieg, as first practiced between 1939 and 41. Back then, the Germans had the technological and tactical advantage and used it. Since then, there have been other cases of such large-scale surprise attacks as in the Israelis against Egypt in 1967, the Egyptians against the Israelis in 1973, Russians in Afghanistan in 1979 and so on. If you have a new weapon and are bold enough to use it, you can win a quick victory. As the British SAS commandos like to put it, "Who dares, wins.”

The existence of the SSBS plan and the technology of make it happen is something of a deterrent and the U.S. has openly warned Russia of something similar if they seriously consider using nukes. The U.S. and South Korea have developed a similar plan to use against North Korea. This may have played a role in Putin now insisting he never really considered using nukes but he feared the U.S. would assist Ukraine in carrying out a “false flag” nuclear detonation that could be blamed on Russia. All this talk of using nukes was openly mocked inside Russia and that soon became known in the West.


Article Archive

NBC Weapons: Current 2022 2021 2020 2019 2018 2016 2015 2014 2013 2012 2011 2010 2009 2008 2007 2006 2005 2004 2003 2002 2001 1999 



Help Keep Us Soaring

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling. We need your help in reversing that trend. We would like to add 20 new subscribers this month.

Each month we count on your subscriptions or contributions. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage. A contribution is not a donation that you can deduct at tax time, but a form of crowdfunding. We store none of your information when you contribute..
Subscribe   Contribute   Close