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Subject: Early Warning Systems
Roman    6/24/2007 5:11:08 PM
What do you need to have an effective (early) warning system against nuclear strikes? I would presume some satellite systems for detection of launches and some ground based (or sea based or airborne) radars for tracking incoming ballistic and cruise missiles as well as planes/bombers/UAVs. In modern times I would also guess some form of radiation detection system to monitor borders and coasts against a weapon being smuggled in would be needed. Is this essentially correct? If so, how much would this cost to build and operate and how many people would it require to build and run? Another issue: How does one secure the system against being destroyed, which would leave on blind?
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TrustButVerify       7/16/2007 12:13:58 PM
There's a lot of ways to do this, but all the ones I can think of are expensive and there's no way around it. The first generation of US nuclear detonation (NUDET) detectors were heat/light sensors on telephone & power line poles around the country. I suspect most of them are gone. These days- I'm told- the job is done by sensors on platforms in geosynchronous orbit.
The BMEWS infrastructure for both the US and USSR were & are massive. Big, expensive satellites watched for the thermal plume of missile launches. Big, expensive radar systems on the ground would track the rockets and RVs. Some over-the-horizon backscatter (OTH-B) radar systems have been developed for this application, and again, the hardware is big and expensive. Take a look at the Pave Paws or JORN antennas, or the Steel Yard antenna (which I think is in the Ukraine) that the USSR's "Russian Woodpecker" used.
It can't be done cheaply. You either use massive radar installations, or you use satellites (as I believe the French do), or you use both. The only other option is to have a spotter equipped with a phone sitting on top of every missile sub and silo that could conceivably threaten you, which would probably be even harder to implement.

Say, why all the curiosity? Are you consulting for Iran or Israel?

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TrustButVerify       7/16/2007 12:40:26 PM
As regards the second half of your question, I don't think it can be done. The satellites in high orbit are relatively safe, but the massive radar installations are just too big to protect. You can't put them underground like you can a command center or missile facility; those big phased-array antennas have to be able to see the sky.

Eventually you might be able to make them airborne if AESA radar gets the range. That would add some survivability. Otherwise the best you can do is have some amount of physical security at your radar sites (to prevent sabotage) and build deep shelters for the on-site crews to run to before the bombs hit. The radar equipment itself is toast in any protracted scenario.

Costs, though... The mind boggles. Off the cuff I estimate two billion (conservative) for three satellites in geosynchronous orbit to provide missile warning & NUDET detection. The rest of the gear would be at least ten times more expensive. Borders are probably the toughest part, as I don't think anyone has come up with a reliable system for preventing nuclear weapon smuggling. You can dream up ways around the US ports ad infinitum, for instance...

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french stratege       7/16/2007 1:04:27 PM
You are right for the price of DSP satellites.
To build a big phased array radar with 360° coverage would cost as much (R&D included) so about 2B €.
A network of smuggled nukes detector (in road /street network)  plus dedicated detectors for customs(to control shipping) should cost less than a B€ for a medium size country (then it depends density and probability of detection).
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