Nuclear What?

Yesterday, I read an interesting article on a recent conference on nuclear deterrence (and more) held in Omaha. This is an annual conference held under the aegis of the U.S. Strategic Command, formerly known as SAC before it was abolished in a fit of premature celebration years ago.

While it’s been going, mostly, since 2009, it seems this year the shit finally got real for some people as they realized what others have been saying for years: Russia is a realistic threat who is modernizing as rapidly as possible; the Chinese are still a few years away but working hard to bypass parity with the U.S. as soon as possible; Iran is a realistic threat on it’s own, much less as a catspaw for others; and, even North Korea needs to be taken seriously.

Consider the fact that at least the backbone of our nuclear capability is based on mid-1960’s technology. The Minuteman system is indeed just that, and you might want to take a look at the BUFF and how some of it’s crews include three generations of military family serving in the same plane over the years. Let’s not get into our command and control system and the reported use of floppy discs and other delights. Let’s not get into the age and design of our warheads, or that we need a better range of warhead options for scenarios that might have changed just a bit since 1965. Nor the fact that we have not taken full advantage of our technology and what is allowed under treaties to engage in the type of anti-ballistic missile (heck, anti-missile period) defense that would protect us from not just ballistic threats, including depressed trajectory shots from sub-launched missiles, but also from cruise missiles, hypersonic delivery vehicles, specialized delivery vehicles (deep penetrators, etc.), and, well, you get the picture. A lot has changed since 1965. Sadly, it isn’t our nuclear presence or posture.

Meantime, Russia has the SATAN-1 deployed and is working on the SATAN-2. I’m taking some of the things with the SATAN-2 with a grain of salt right now, as it was supposed to be fully deployed (and replacing the SATAN-1) about two years ago. They have continued warhead development, a variety of delivery vehicles, nuclear-capable bombers, and everything needed to have a reasonable assurance of a reliable and robust system. Or, at least the appearance of one. Again, there appear to be some glitches in the system, and I do take the Russian/Soviet tendency to develop what I call “Ronco Systems” as a result of an occasionally massive inferiority complex. That is, systems that are larger, better, faster, etc. than corresponding American systems and they also do other things/provide more options in the process. Problem is, the more bells and whistles, the more often there are performance issues.

China, well, what I will say right now is that they are working hard (and stealing tech/designs) not only for nuclear weapons, but the systems to accurately deliver them under a variety of circumstances. They appear to be looking for a robust, diverse, and effective system. Yes, they do worry me. They should worry anyone with a brain.

Iran, despite the implication in the linked article, was pursing and has never stopped pursuing development of nuclear weapons. They appear to have gotten a good bit of help from the Chinese both on weapons and on rocket technology. I find it amusing that when COVID hit them, it may have come in on some of the clandestine flights between Iran and China related to this project. While I don’t see them yet as a near-term peer, as I have written before, I can see them using their new satellite launch capability to initiate a Fractional Orbital Bombardment System (FOBS) attack on the U.S. as a lead in for another power to take advantage of. Given the current sorry state of our power grid, and that pretty much all efforts at hardening it and the electronic systems we depend on from just such an attack, just one burst of EMP could eliminate the U.S. as a modern society for some time to come.

North Korea is proof that the idea of the fate of the world resting on the least stable world leader wasn’t scary enough. For all that I think there is at least some method to the madness, I still see the madness as not being a happy-making thing.

I think that getting into all that is involved may end up taking several posts. For the public to understand not only what is going on, but how we got here and the options available to us, is complex and may take some time. For example, we need to look at basics of nuclear war, from theoretical limited use to a full exchange. We need to look at what is required to have a reliable and robust system and ensure it works when needed. This is especially important given that according to some sources, we’ve gone from an 80 percent success rate to a 20 percent success rate for launch. We need to look at what is required training for our political and other leadership so that they respond as well as possible to threats or attacks. The war games described by Tom Clancy and Larry Bond in their works were real, but can anyone tell me the last time a POTUS or other senior political leader took part in such? And, there are a few other topics that may need to be discussed in this context.

My goal is over the coming weeks is to explore these topics and to take such explorations where they, and possibly even the comments, lead to the extent that I can legally and morally do so. Meantime, I’m going to go ahead and invite some people I know to join in and shoot holes in what I put up. Who knows, maybe we will get a good guest post or two out of it.

I’m going to include this in my Russia/Ukraine coverage as it is there that I see the largest chance for people on all sides to fuck up by the numbers. Right now, I think we haven’t seen the worst simply because of legalisms, but that is both a past discussion and perhaps one for the future. Meantime, have a good weekend!

Some Previous Posts:

Vladimir And The Ukraine

Answers, Ramblings, And A Bit More On Vladimir And The Ukraine

Your Must Read For The Day On Russia

The Puzzles In Play, And The Missing Pieces

Quick Thoughts On Ukraine/Putin

The Thing Behind The Curtain

Missing Pieces And Surprise Pieces

Thursday Update

Not A Lot To Add


Monday Update

Burn Notice

Accuracy, Reliability, And More

Putin, Trump, And The Coming Storm

Three Futures For Russia

Quick Thoughts

Saturday Update

Mismatched Locomotives

War, Ag, Demographics, And The Worst Is Yet To Come

Past, Present, And A Hungry Future

Huge Grain Of Salt

The Moskva

Retribution Inbound

Uncertainty And Preparation

Honest Question

Monday Morning Quick Brief

War Of The Memes

A Little Free Ice Cream

Rumors Of War

Three Times Is…

If It’s Wednesday, This Must Be Moldova

Going Nuclear

How To Spy On The Russians

Here’s Hoping I’m Wrong

Pins And Needles Time

Mock Away

Intel Wars

The Revenge Of HUMINT

A Funny Thing Happened

Rumors of Rumors

Ukraine, Uvalde, Oh My

Very Interesting

A Quick Russia/Ukraine Update



Hmmmm Follow-Up

Ukraine/Russia Tidbit

If You Think


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14 thoughts on “Nuclear What?”

  1. Old SAC nuke guy here. From my point of view, the anti-nuclear/arms control crowd has been concerned with limiting only one player: us. We’ve known about Soviet cheating in the past, but never did anything meaningful. All this, coupled with the Democrat party’s general antimilitary stance (which has successfully stalled nuclear weapons investment), has allowed our nuclear capabilities to atrophy.

    IMO, we no longer have enough weapons to deter all the new additional players out there. And of the weapons we have, their reliability and performance are questionable. Note that the Democrats are (again) trying to defund the Minuteman replacement.

    In an increasingly dangerous world, we are our own worst enemy.

    1. Agree. Wish I could disagree. A couple of things I’ve heard recently in regards reliability testing for systems and more are frankly terrifying. To the point I’m beginning to think a 20 percent success rate may be high when push comes to shove. BTW, did you used to comment at Blackfive? If so, good to hear from you again and I invite you to shoot holes and/or add to the posts to come.

    2. Maybe we need to tell them that the Minuteman replacement is non-binary (no, I don’t have any idea what that would mean) and not supporting it would be transphobic?

  2. We could rebuild our fallout shelter system (clear out the junk, restock with supplies) in a few months if our masters were willing. This would be a lifesaver from any minor attack (North Korea) or partially successful attack (ABMs stop part of a Russian or Iranian attack).

    1. Yes it would, but don’t expect to see any official approval out of this admin. Meantime, I’m encouraging people to continue with practical preparedness as it is a good hedge against the economy/shortages as well as natural or man-made disasters.

    2. Agree, though I don’t think the current administration has any interest in it. I am, however, going to encourage people to set up their own in a post coming soon on survival. Thanks for commenting.

  3. Not to toot my own horn too much–especially since there’s no point to it, as I only post under this name when discussing this particular subject–but I cobbled together a thing a few years ago.

    It’s a short essay, written in the rough vernacular of the forum for which it was intended, on Global Thermonuclear War. I’d like to think that the core elements have stood up well over time, with one possible exception: I have since seen varying claims as to the amount of gamma radiation in fallout, some of which suggest that it’s actually a real danger. Fortunately, there’s a fairly straightforward solution to that: after sealing off air leaks to your residence, form a “pillow fort” as close to the center as you can get, made out of the heaviest stuff you’ve got (material/thickness estimates are included in the essay). The roof and walls will also provide a little protection, and the goal isn’t to block everything, just to block enough that you can survive the event with the limited medical resources that would be available. And, of course, it’s only necessary if you live downwind from an actual strategic target that happens to be hardened enough to require a surface burst. has a great animated map showing current winds at different altitudes; the most important ones to watch are the stratospheric winds. If you don’t? “All” you really have to worry about is possibly having to regress to a 19th/early 20th-century lifestyle for an unknown period afterwards, with little or no warning.

    Disclaimer: I am not an official expert in anything; all of my supposed “expertise” is of the strictly armchair variety.

  4. Good articles, both LW and AN. I’m a bit ‘older’ and remember a few things from my childhood in the 1960’s specific to these topics. I recall that the Soviets had three classifications of targets (in priority order).
    – Military
    – Industrial (factories, etc., anything related to making additional weapons)
    – Civilian
    My dad worked at a steel mill which was ranked #7 on the list of industrial targets at the time, and the prevailing thought was we would have been hit in a first strike. Note this is prior to us having any real ABM arsenal, so the strategy at that time was more ‘time based’ for military targets (if I can get my missiles onto my opponent’s ICBM silos before they can decide and execute a launch command)

    2nd point: The idea of protecting yourself from inhalation of fallout in the first few weeks is important, but another area is water. I live near Boise, and there are two military bases nearby: The Army base at Gowan Field (local airport), and the Mountain Home AFB further east. Geographically, Boise has a river running through it, and it’s primarily fed from mountain snow melt directly northeast; all that snow melt accumulates in a set of water reservoirs near both military bases. Any fallout from hitting those bases will go straight into those water reservoirs. The now contaminated water then flows downstream (which is diverted to laterals for farming) and the local area takes up water from underground near the rivers for drinking water. So everything west of the blast will have contaminated water. Prevailing winds flow west to east, so fallout also drifts east, and contaminates the farmland in central and east Idaho, and if it drifts south at all, it then gets into the Snake River (again more farmland impacted). Both these rivers eventually flow into the Columbia, and go all the way out to Portland.

    1. Most recent strategic nuclear force treaty with USSR (not Russia at the time) cut “warheads” back to around 1500 per side. (“Warheads” being counted funny — one bomber counts as one warhead even though a B-52 can carry 20 nuclear cruise missiles.)

      Take a Sharpie and put 700 dots (let’s not go overboard) on your choice of targets across the US. For each dot, give it a little tail like the Nike swoosh. Where is there no Sharpie mark?

      That is why deterrence is important.

      Much more likely I think is a second- or third-tier state getting the capability and using it ala Iran on Israel.

    2. I have now spotted three commenters to this series from the Boise area. They seem overly proportionate among the relatively few commenters. Why so many from there in particular?

  5. “… the backbone of our nuclear capability is based on mid-1960’s technology. The Minuteman system is indeed just that” – Much of the technology has been refreshed over the decades. (The technology may now be only 30 years old, not 60 years old. Ahem.)

    A less-forgiving problem with Minuteman is that we are running out of them. Every year we expend a few in flight testing the missile system. Not clear when Amazon is going to have any back in stock. /sarc

    Sentinel (LGM-35A, ex-GBSD) is presently in development to replace MM-III. The program has its proponents and its opponents. Only time will reveal whether it will reach Initial Operational Capability (IOC).

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