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Subject: Future of Strategic Nuclear Deterrents
Roman    7/5/2004 7:31:41 PM
What systems do you think will be used for strategic nuclear deterrence in the future? Will countries retain ICBMs, or does the future lie in cruise missiles? Do nuclear bombers have any future at all? How about SSBNs or SSGNs?
 
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Roman    RE:Future of Strategic Nuclear Deterrents   7/5/2004 7:35:37 PM
Hmm, on second thoughts, it might be better to start a separate thread about the future versions of each of the existing nuclear deterrence weapon systems (ICBMs, SSBNs, Strategic Nuclear Bombers, etc.) and leave this thread for ideas for novel deterrence systems of the future. Yes, I think I will do that...
 
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Alexis    Novel deterrence systems   7/8/2004 6:23:59 AM
One kind of possible deterrence system you have not listed, and indeed it hasn't been built yet (... or in secret ?). That would be nuclear weapons stationed in space. I'm not speaking about FOBS, but rather about satellites sent into deep space (hundreds of thousands to millions of km from Earth). The advantages would be to station in a place where detection is utterly difficult (too vast space, telescopes not powerful enough to track satellites) and manoeuvrability is slow but very cheap in fuel. This way, a satellite carrying several NW would be able to station for many years (like space probes) while making little random changes to its orbit, quickly defying any attempt to track it. This solution could be chosen in a number of cases : - Were an efficient method to detect submarines under water to be invented - Or were an efficient orbiting network of laser satellites to be put in place by the US during the next decades. Such a network would probably be enough to negate the deterrent value of SSBNs. By contrast it couldn't stop a moderately sized attack from deep space, because reaction delay would be too short due to the lack of advance warning for a NW suddenly appearing out of deep space. But this is very prospective ... :-)
 
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Roman    RE:Novel deterrence systems   7/8/2004 11:06:30 PM
The idea could work in principle, but the expense of sending nuclear weapons beyond the Earth's orbit (orbital ones are banned by treaty) would be prohibitive - remember that the Earth's orbit space extends about 20,000,000+ kilometers above the Earth's surface. Also, any such incoming nukes would be comparatively easy to track and would take a long time to reach their targets, so interception might be easier than intercepting warheads launched by ballistic missiles.
 
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Alexis    Answers to objections about space-based deterrent - to Roman   7/9/2004 9:22:59 AM
If I'm not mistaken, you're making three objections to the scenario I was proposing : 1) Treaty prohibition of NW in orbit 2) Cost 3) Easy interception I think I can address all three of them : 1) Treaty prohibition is really not an obstacle. First, this kind of space-based nuclear deterrent is now useless because SSBNs are well enough as deterrents. What could make it a real option would be the existence of an orbital network of laser weapons, such as is being studied by the US for POSSIBLE deployment 15 years from now, or later. Well, that kind of network IS prohibited ! So, if it begins to be deployed nonetheless, treaties about weapons in space will have gone down the toilet anyway. In addition, the ABM Treaty, Holy Writ as it was, has been scrapped. Which means that other treaties may as well and just as easily be scrapped. 2) Cost is not prohibitive when compared to other deterrence systems. Rockets like Titan 4, Ariane 5, Proton, Long March 5 all are able to launch heavy satellites to Earth geostationary orbit (up to 10t in GTO for the heavier versions), this for a cost less than 150M euros. Such launchers would be far enough to propell a several tons mass to liberation speed (which is just a little more than GTO speed). Such a mass in turn would be enough for a long duration spaceship (similar technologies than space probes) with payload of, say, 5 150-kg thermonuclear warheads. There is no reason why that satellite, if produced in numbers, should cost more than a few 100s M euros. Let's say 350M euros as an example. Fifty such satellites, with 250 NW, would therefore cost something like 25B euros, or maybe 35 to 40B euros with induced costs. This is clearly on the same scale as an equivalent force of 4 SSBNs with 48+ SLBMs and about 250 NW, like the one such countries as France and Britain possess. Not at all prohibitive as far as nuclear deterrence goes. 3) Interception would not be easier than that of an ICBM or SLBM. It would be ENORMOUSLY more difficult, and that would be the basic rationale for such a system. It is true that the time necessary for a satellite to reach Earth after reception of firing order would be measured in weeks. But the essential difference with a NW launched atop a SLBM is that ***the launch itself is undetectable***. "The launch" is nothing more than a small change in speed by a satellite further from the Earth than the Moon, maybe millions of km away. No present nor prospective technology could detect that. Whereas in proposed (prospective) systems to shoot down a large ballistic attack the time available to do so is several tens of minutes, and sensors in orbit can monitor and track the objects released by the booster as they cruise a few hundred km above the surface, facing an attack from deep space would give almost NO reaction time : no radar will give you the ability to look further than a few thousands km in deep space (that is a few minutes advance delay ... on condition you happen to look in the right direction on the right time, which is improbable since the attack could come from anywhere), whereas scanning all of the sky with IR telescopes looking for the dim light of warheads in the final tens of thousands km of their journey would take very long, compared to several hours for said warheads to reach the surface. If you can't detect it, if you can't track it, you can't kill it, even with a network of laser space stations in orbit. With a few minutes time available (on condition of being REALLY lucky), or more probably a few tens of seconds when the warheads enter the atmosphere, it is dubious enough that the laser network could shoot down a few warheads. As for stopping the coordinated attack of dozens or even one hundred warheads, it simply cannot be done.
 
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Roman    RE:Answers to objections about space-based deterrent - to Roman   7/10/2004 10:41:55 PM
1) Well, the treaty only prohibits nuclear weapons in Earth's orbit anyway and as far as I understand your proposal you are suggesting that they could be placed beyond Earth's orbit... and thus beyond the limits of the treaty. I just mentioned the treaty (the name of which eludes me) to make sure that that is indeed what you meant. 2) As far as cost goes, remember that you are not just putting up nuclear warheads themselves, but also significant maneuvering engines and a decent quantity of fuel (in order to maneuver while out of Earth's orbit and to be able to return), communications equipment, etc. - these systems are significantly more complex than even standard MARV warheads. This results greater mass and thus fewer systems lifted per launcher and hence increased cost. It also results in increased cost of actually building the things - look at how much your average satellite costs to build and this thing would have to be more complex and more reliable than that and have a nuclear charge to boot. I suppose your suggestion to have multiple warheads per 'system' (I don't know what to call it - since it is not a satellite if it is not in orbit - perhaps a military probe would be a good name?) would bring down the cost substantially. Nonetheless, the expense would still be high - I would wager at the very least $1 billion per 'system' with 5 warheads and very likely more than that. Of course, if the systems could be satellites in orbit of the Earth, they would need far less propellant, far less powerful communications equipment, less powerful maneuvering engines, etc, which would bring down the cost substantially - but orbital nuclear systems/satellites are prohibited by the above-mentioned treaty and in any case would loose the benefit of being far enough in space so as to be virtually undetectable. They could still, however, be relatively invulnerable if they were say in geosynchronous orbit or other high orbits around the Earth where anti-satellite weapons cannot really reach. 3) I do not know how far into space the current radar network can look and comprehensively track things there - perhaps at least up to the geosynchronous orbit since many satellites are there? I suppose, however, that you could stealth the system or satellite to make detection more difficult. A good idea might be to stealth at least the warheads. There is no friction in space, so infra-red tracking would not work and by the time it could work (when the warheads entered the atmosphere) the thing would perhaps be close enough to be detected by radars too, but it would be too late. Now that I think about it I think I agree that with stealth-treated warheads this kind of deterrence would be virtually unstoppable especially in a coordinated Cold War style nuclear attack with thousands or tens of thousands of warheads, but even in a more 'limited' attack with hundreds of warheads.
 
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Roman    RE:Novel deterrence systems   7/10/2004 10:54:08 PM
I think that the future of deterrence lies in disguising nuclear warheads rather than in high-tech delivery systems. I believe countries may build 'suitcase nukes' which would be smuggled into the target country in case of crisis. Less technologically advanced countries that cannot miniaturize nukes enough will probably opt for 'container nukes'. Even if controls are tighetened enough to prevent these devices from actually entering the target country. They could be detonated in trucks at border crossings near important cities, on ships near important sea ports on civilian planes flying into the country. Heck, they could even be stored underneath embassies, consulates and other diplomatic missions (elsewhere in the target country would probably be too risky in terms of discovery) of the great powers in other great powers. In short, I think that great powers will take a lesson from terrorists in how to approach nuclear deterrence. No doubt high-tech, high-speed delivery systems such missiles will continue to exist, but these new 'terrorist-inspired' methods of deterrence will ensure that a nuclear power cannot be certain that there will be no retaliation even if it succeeds in destroying all opposing launchers. It is just that instead of minutes such retaliation might take days, weeks or even months (say using 'civilian' ships pre-positioned at sea which take some time to move towards their targets).
 
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elcid    RE:Novel deterrence systems   7/12/2004 7:02:11 AM
Hopefully Roman's ideas will not come to pass. But they are not really new. Beriev (of the NKVD or Soviet Secret Police) wanted to build mini subs to enter New York (or other) harbor and set off a (then gigantic) hydrogen bomb. And a GRU (Soviet Military Intelligence service) defector (a general) writing under the pseudonym of Victor Lunev claims that ADMs (the real "suitcase nukes") were hard wired to phone lines in the USA during the Cold War. [No one believes him - he wanted to sell books they say - but the nature of the Russian plan for war in Europe - put 400 nukes and persistent nerve agents on everything that matters - indicates this kind of massive thinking was part of Soviet institutions of that era). We have some confidence this sort of thing is not being done today. And we tell official people do not let us find one of these things on our soil, or near it. I think it is understood too. The problem is not nuclear weapons for deterrence. Much as I dislike them, they do tend to foster conservative behavior in nuclear powers. The problem is nuclear weapons in the hands of someone not a nation, someone with an agenda like AQ, who wants to destroy confidence in the western economic/political system itself. They might really use a suitcase nuke, or a homemade one. Any good technician can make a nuclear weapon, if you give him the fuel and a few other things. Any good physicist can make a fairly sophisiticated one. A US Senate Committee asked a national lab to proove this: They did. IN one test three just graduates students produced a workable design. Last year they scientists build a bomb (except for fuel) and wheeled it into the Senate hearing room. Entirely from unclassified off the shelf parts, or things you can make in a shop.
 
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Roman    RE:Novel deterrence systems   7/12/2004 10:07:33 PM
"Hopefully Roman's ideas will not come to pass." I hope so too, but I think they are all to likely to come true. "But they are not really new." Nothing ever is. ;) "Beriev (of the NKVD or Soviet Secret Police) wanted to build mini subs to enter New York (or other) harbor and set off a (then gigantic) hydrogen bomb." Ouch - was this the plan to use the submarine based 1 gigaton hydrogen bombs (too heavy to be launched by anything but a small sub could carry them)? I think I can recall something with subs and non-launchable hydrogen bombs. "And a GRU (Soviet Military Intelligence service) defector (a general) writing under the pseudonym of Victor Lunev claims that ADMs (the real "suitcase nukes") were hard wired to phone lines in the USA during the Cold War." I am not sure I understand what you mean by 'hard-wired' to phone lines. Do you mean that a phone call could set them off? "[No one believes him - he wanted to sell books they say - but the nature of the Russian plan for war in Europe - put 400 nukes and persistent nerve agents on everything that matters - indicates this kind of massive thinking was part of Soviet institutions of that era). We have some confidence this sort of thing is not being done today. And we tell official people do not let us find one of these things on our soil, or near it. I think it is understood too. " Yeah, I would hope so.
 
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Roman    Ultimate Deterrence/Revenge - World Destroying Weapons   7/12/2004 10:25:00 PM
I recall reading about a Soviet plan to build what I personally think would essentially be a world-destroying weapon, although it was not explicitly stated to be such. The purpose of the weapon was to be deterrence, but honestly I do not think such a weapon would have any use apart from possibly trully mean and disgusting form of revenge. Still, I suppose could see some irresponsible leaders essentially using it in a "if I go down, you all go down" kind of manner. The weapon was supposed to be a very, very powerful thermonuclear warhead embedded in a submarine or in a ship - I do not precisely remember. Anyway, this 1 gigaton plus device would be exploded in the depths of the ocean. Now, I am no physicist, so I may have misinterpreted, but the way I understood it was that a sufficiently powerful (and it would have to be very powerful indeed) thermonuclear explosion under the sea would create conditions in its surroundings that would approximate those inside a star. Hence the hydrogen and deuterium in the surrounding water would contribute to the fusion reaction instead of using just the fuel inside the nuclear device. This runaway reaction would produce an explosion vastly more powerful than that of the original (already incredibly powerful) nuclear device. Of course, because of its comparatively low gravity the Earth would not permanently turn into another star and the runaway fusion reaction would eventually fizzle out, but still... I do not remember where I read this or the veracity of the source and I also forget how much of it was actually written down and how much was my uneducated interpretation of it - perhaps the nuclear explosion submarine was 'merely' supposed to destroy nearby ports instead of causing a runaway reaction - but that is not how I understood it, since that would not need such a powerful warhead. If anyone would want to comment on the feasibility of this I would appreciate it. Another set of nuclear weapons that would supposedly be capable of destroying human life are the so-called dirty bombs or salted nuclear weapons that coat the warhed in a substance that remains radioactive for a long time, will spread easily in fallout and will enter biological systems and cause havoc. The most frequently touted 'jacket' is the cobalt-60 jacket for coating the weapon but other materials have been considered for the task. That said, I have some doubts about the efficacy of a small number of these weapons destroying all human life - I think they weapon I outlined above would be in an entirely different ballgame if it worked. Nonetheless, these salted/jacketed/coated weapons are still rather nasty.
 
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Roman    'Environmental' Nuclear Weapons   7/12/2004 10:40:42 PM
Another form of novel nuclear deterrence that I suspect will arise in the near future will be the usage of nuclear weapons to threaten critical environmental systems. Stationary or land or sea portable weapons could be used for such a purpose, perhaps even mounted on ostensibly 'civilian' ships and vehicles just like the 'terrorist-inspired' nuclear deterrence systems I outlined in one of the previous posts. These bombs could be prepositioned at key but unstable tectonic fault lines in order to cause Earthquakes and increased Vulcanism. This would, of course, require very powerful warheads. Other weapons could be prepositioned on the sea-bed (Ok, that is banned by treaty - so perhaps they could be placed in unmanned undersea vehicles or tethered to the sea-bed or float at a certain depth and use propellers or other means to maintain a stationary location or some other form of prepositioning [except floating on the surface of course - that would be too exposed]). They could then be used to disrupt and contaminate (perhaps they could be coated with radioactive isotopes of bio-active substances) nutrient supplying currents for fishing grounds - thus completely collapsing aquaculture and fishing - which accounts for a considerable proportion of food production in many countries. Key rivers used for irrigation and water supply could also be thus contaminated thus destroying any food production in the productive agricultural areas as well as contaminating drinking water. Those are just examples, but you get the idea... Basically it is my opinion that nuclear deterrence will get a whole lot nastier than it was in the past. Apart from targeting critical environmental targets other targets can have a very, very negative impact on the environment. For example, targeting the opposing power's nuclear power stations would release much, much and I stress again - much more fallout than from targeting non-nuclear targets. Of course, this speaks less of the novel systems than of usage of old systems.
 
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