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Subject: Thermobaric weapons
Fred    5/15/2002 11:53:25 AM
Sorry the new FAE is thermobaric. It seems like a good idea to use this stuff on ICBMS or is CEP too big?
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bsl    RE:Thermobaric weapons   5/15/2002 6:07:20 PM
Even a fairly sizable FAE warhead is minor compared to a nuke. We don't have any desire to engage in general attacks on cities save as a last resort, in a strategic nuclear exchange. There wouldn't be much use for a FAE ICBM for anything else, and it's a bit small for that. These days, its countries like Iraq, Syria, Iran which tend to want to be able to conduct general bombardment of cities and those are the countries which seem to have put those kinds of weapons on (shorter ranged) ballistic missiles. It's not a matter of CEP. Modern ICBMs have small CEPs. We'd be embarassed if one of ours couldn't hit a hundred meter target. FAEs are area weapons, anyway. You don't need more precision. It's not like putting HE inside a specific building, as with Tomahawks in the Gulf War. It's just the wrong weapon on the wrong delivery system. Pretty amazingly expensive, too. We have cheaper weapons which can do pretty much the same thing.
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Fred    RE:Thermobaric weapons   5/15/2002 9:04:20 PM
It would not be accurate enough to hit a missile site. I was not refferring to cities. I was thinking of tactical targets like missile silos or whatever you needed to destroy with the reaction time of an ICBM. If you want to dust cities a neutron device makes a lot of sence. I personally don't know why you would want to though. It would be helluva lot quicker than a cruise and less risky that a manned mission to destroy say an airfield.
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bsl    RE:Thermobaric weapons   5/16/2002 11:11:24 PM
"It would not be accurate enough to hit a missile site." Some of ours bloody well ARE that accurate. That's what "first strike capability" refers to. It's not a matter of the weapon. It's a matter of the missile and it's guidance system. FAEs are just not generally thought of as appropriate weapons for hardened targets. Now, as you correctly point out, there are some being built, right now, specifically designed to destroy caves. There might be some being worked on in conjunction with penetrators, to destroy underground facilities. That, I guess, is what you have in mind. (This is where, I think, I made a mistake in what you were referring to). ICBMs are not the delivery system of choice, as of now. As I said, they're VERY expensive. They also are generally classified as "strategic" as in "nuclear" systems, so you're risking setting off Russia and China on strategic grounds. This would go against the whole philosophy of most, if not all, the Strategic Arms Limitations Treaties. And, as an operational matter, we tend to believe that an enemy who sees a ballistic missile trajectory and speed on a radar will assume it's a nuke. We don't like to build weapons we think will be mistaken for nukes. We worry enough about the real thing. We near-panic over the idea that we'll cause an enemy to make a mistake over this. What we're building for the new FAEwarheads seem to be either gravity bombs, with guidance packages specially designed to penetrate, or medium-ranged cruise missiles (although I'm darned if I understand how they'd get the penetration from a cruise missile. Perhaps have it pop up to a great height, then dive, with, perhaps, a rocket assist). IOW, weapons which would be launched from planes not too many miles away, or from air or sea as much as a few hundred miles away. These won't be cheap, but they'll be a small fraction of the cost of a current generation ICBM.
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Fred    RE:Thermobaric weapons   5/17/2002 5:22:16 PM
I think you are right about the scare factor in terms of mistaking it for a nuke. I also do not understand how they will get the penetration from a cruise but your pop-up idea may cover that. Still from a purely technical standpoint it sounds nice for somebody at Malmstrom to get a call and put a hot one in some terrorist base fifteen to twenty minutes later. BSL what do you know about this new REACT system I have been reading about. I think I read someone calling Windows for Armageddon. I am of course refferring to only info in the public domain. Would FAE thermobaric or otherwise be effective on a SRAM. This would at least give the flyboys some standoff as opposed to a gravity bomb. I also read FAE can be effective for clearing mines i.e. overpressure the field and set them off or destroy them. I don't blame you for not understanding the point about accuracy. I have four kids and not a lot of time to do these posts. Combined with lousy typing and you have a recipe for a lack of clarity. I will try to be clearer.
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bsl    RE:Thermobaric weapons   5/17/2002 10:28:33 PM
Haven't heard of REACT. As far as the kinds of weapons being built, right now, we're moving to make nearly everything designed to be dropped or launched a PGM, and trying to make even bombs without propulsion into a kind of standoff weapon. (Sort of flung, from altitude, so they acquire enough kinetic energy and altitude that they can go miles from their release points.) I don't see why you couldn't put a FAE warhead on a SRAM. In general, I mean. That IS the sort of use which would make sense, as opposed to an ICBM. As far as mining clearing, I would think so. The big system they've had in the previous generation involved throwing out (by a charge) a sort of cord loaded with HEinto the mine field. It detonates and sets off mines along it's length by the overpressure, thus clearing a path. If you could build FAE which generate sufficient overpressure, it ought to work for the same general reasons. Not sure if it would be as efficient, but, in general, the principle seems the same.
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Fred    RE:Thermobaric weapons   5/18/2002 8:02:25 PM
Hi BSL, Why not retrofit the ICBMs that might be destroyed soon as part of the arms agreement with FAE. Have the Russians and Chineses verify the warheads as such and then use to whack terrorist bases? Just a thought. Why do the Americans want to store ICBM warheads as part of arms reduction? If it's arms reduction get rid of them. Will they destroy the ICBM and keep the warhead? Unles one has an unusually efficent catapult what good is one without the other?Will the prsent arms reductions reduce warhad levels below the perceived need. I understand the need for a certain number of weapons but have always felt the numbers maintained are somewhat insane. How often do you need to turn the rubble over?
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nakito    RE:Thermobaric weapons   5/18/2002 10:33:48 PM
I sincerely doubt an ICBM would make an efficient delivery system for an FAE. At the velocity a MIRV would be moving it would be virtually impossible to create a gas cloud concentrated enough for an effective detonation. Also a MIRV isn't that big-it won't hold enough "fuel".
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bsl    RE:Thermobaric weapons   5/18/2002 11:28:00 PM
Fred, "Why not retrofit the ICBMs that might be destroyed soon as part of the arms agreement with FAE. Have the Russians and Chineses verify the warheads as such" Because, as I noted, there is a fundamental difficulty distinguishing between an ICBM cum nuke and an ICBM cum FAE when one shows up on your radar. Let me put it this way; if NORAD, etc. picked up an ICBM launch, and projected it's path and discovered that it would come down on an American target, they would have to act as if this was a NUCLEAR attack. The President would be alerted, he'd head for his helicopter trailed by the colonel with the football, all American forces would be placed on the highest alert status, anything on 15 minute alert would go into the air, any boomers at dock would put to sea, along with ANYTHING else which could move. All *conventional* weapons would probably be unlocked, so any innocent who happened to startle a warship, or a perimeter on land would likely be shot. All the nuclear tipped missiles would be readied for **instant** launch. If there were more than one or two missiles so detected, the President would be given a HARD decision; should he initiate nuclear response on the launching country **before** waiting to see what happened? You're talking about something approaching the doomsday scenario. This is almost EXACTLY what we spent half a century preparing for. We don't just have doctrine for this; our doctrine bears some elements of religion. To coin an ugly, and ironic, phrase, you're pushing all the wrong buttons in this idea. And, for no good reason. As I've been trying to explain, ICBMs are the wrong systems. Besides the risk I've just outlined, they're way too expensive for the job, and there are other, much less expensive alternatives. In fact, right now, we seem to have decided to retrofit a few boomers to become, in effect, undersea arsenal ships. One or two will carry missile arsenals -CRUISE missiles, as far as I can tell, btw - which will beggar the surface to surface capability of a major task force. If we built the kind of weapon you have in mind, this would be one place for it. Or, in the magazines of Arleigh Burkes and Ticonderogas. And, hung from B-52s. I don't absolutely rule out the possibility that the next generation will see some of the dogma of deterence theory change as the threat environment changes from a superpower (the USSR) to multiple smaller actors. However, I will believe that we discard so much as to ignore the risk of having conventional weapons mistaken for first strike weapons when I see it.
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bsl    RE:Thermobaric weapons   5/18/2002 11:29:39 PM
nakito, Oh, it could be done. You'd have to develop a retarding system for the warhead, but it's possible. It's just a wonderfully huge hole to dump money into, at a time when we're hard pressed to fund what we need and will need over the next generation. It makes no economic sense.
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Fred    RE:Thermobaric weapons   5/19/2002 8:45:56 PM
Your point is well taken. Just trying to think outside the box as it were.
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