Nuclear 201: Scenarios

First, for those who have persevered and gotten through: THANK YOU! My hosting provider Dreamhost sucks. Think I’ve been down more than I’ve been up the last few months. I’m now talking with two other providers to find out what it will cost to get their help migrating to an actual hosting provider. Particularly one that can handle basic blogging. I will add that to the fundraiser (getting hit by lightning and being out of work this long sucks even worse than Dreamhost, and that’s going some) and see what can be done.

Yesterday we got into the next level of targeting. Still a high level, even though I notice the comments are already pushing you to not just scuba, but go nitrox deep (smile). Before we go much further, I am being a bit of a bastard to you if you are new to all this. It’s for your own good, but still…

In teaching any subject, but particularly science, there are times when certain concepts almost need to be taught at the same time, but for a number of reasons they can’t be. Not easily at any rate. There are some who argue that in discussing nuclear strategy, you should start with scenarios then get into targeting. I take the tack that you need to start thinking about targeting first, as it is a good intro into the complexities involved. Since yesterday started introducing you to the complexities, let’s kick it up a notch and start talking about scenarios.

For all that I need to get into escalation tomorrow (note to self), why the flip are we going nuclear, and how are we doing it? This being a 201-level course, we’re going to sort of skip over the whole why thing for right now, and look more at the how for today.

In “entertainment” (using that term loosely) it’s usually because some bad guy thinks that they can take out their enemy (ies) without consequences (or at least with few for themselves). The madman who unleashes armageddon (deliberately not capitalized) upon a horrified world that has renounced nuclear evil. Sigh. One dimensional characters and threats. Second most popular trope is the religious nutcase unleashing holy war (funny how jihad is now never, ever mentioned in Hollyweird). Until recently (cough, Iran, cough) none of these terrorist organizations were likely to have more than a couple of weapons which put them to terrorism rather than war. Third most common trope is a madman or group that conspires to have the major nuclear powers (usually U.S. and Russia, funny how China is still getting a pass) get into a nuclear exchange so they can come out on top.

For all that they are tropes, and not even necessarily that good, I guarantee you they have been gamed out. Somewhere in the vaults of DoD (perhaps in the same warehouse as the Arc of the Covenant), there is a scenario for the U.S. to attack (or be attacked by) the Duchy of Grand Fenwick. Yes, you do want to look that up, for all that it is far left it is a grand farce that manages to hit some interesting and even important points.

And, yes, the idea of Russia deciding to attack for no other reason than that Vladimir thinks he can win (just as he did in the Ukraine, cough) is a scenario. So are various scenarios where people on both sides miscalculate in response to events. If you’ve read your Clancy, you already know that a number of such war games take place so that people can get to know each other, and figure out how to respond to things. Rumor has it that such “games” have not been done in a while, at least on a senior level. If that is true, I think it a huge mistake. One of my larger concerns for escalation involves Russian doctrine and the asinine concept of “escalate to de-escalate.” For a number of reasons, I can see bumbling incompetence on both sides taking things a lot further than they should.

Where you can really start to have fun is in getting away from the traditional doomsday scenario. That’s when you can truly start to get sneaky and explore options that don’t tend to slag the world. At least not immediately.

For example, we’ve already had a comment on yesterday’s post looking at shipping containers in ports. Valid. Gamed even I believe. But, why stop there? What if a “terrorist group” (cough, cough) smuggled in multiple devices and literally drove them into positions? Given all the various uranium sales and such, the ability to analyze the bomb and figure out who it belonged to may not be as easy as it used to be. Yes, that can be done. Which means that if someone parked multiple devices around the U.S., it would take time to figure out where the devices originated. Meantime, if those locations included Sunnyvale, Peterson, Offutt (does building 500 have a loading dock?), Capitol Hill, the White House, the Pentagon, and maybe a couple of others — congratulations you just carried out a dream-level decapitation strike.

Of the leadership that is left, they are scrambling trying to figure out what has happened, how it has happened, and initiate search and rescue efforts. In short, a bit busy and if there is confusion that the attack(s) may have been with our own devices… Gee, if Vladimir and Xi were to decide to use special weapons and/or push on multiple fronts in that time…

Reality is that we should be looking for bad actors to take advantage of the situation, and there is going to be more than a little suspicion that anyone so doing was involved. There are already options in place for such. Problem is, which option is chosen and who does the choosing? There are operations in place to ensure continuity of government and civilian control of the military, yes, including designated survivors. In his Black Tide series John Ringo is basing his NCCC off reality.

I’ve also already discussed the scenario of exploding a device over the U.S. to take out the electrical grid and more. Exploring this option and variants has occupied more than a little bit of time.

But why look at scenarios? Simple. It allows you to develop defenses and responses that don’t necessarily involve destroying the world. Oh, someone can do X? Let’s make it where they can’t do X. If someone does Y, what can we do in response? Let us count the ways and costs involved in those responses. It also allows you to figure out what works best for you in different circumstances.

For example, someone picked up on something I wrote yesterday about targeting the individual missile silos. Why hit them if they are empty? Well, there can be some very good reasons to do so. There can also be good reason to go for them, especially if you’ve created a scenario where you can get in and hit them before they have a chance to launch, such as the fueling scenario I mentioned.

Even the most outrageous scenarios provide information and food for thought. From war with England to sneaking a device into Vladimir’s special toilet system (where a deliberate squib event might not set off Deadhand and render a bunker useless), it makes people think and get creative. Thus are valid defenses and response options born.

For you, my readers, scenarios let you explore and evaluate your security as well as that of the nation. For example, instead of that dream decapitation strike discussed above, what if you wanted to cripple logistics in the U.S. for a long, long time? Think about that comment on shipping containers in the ports, and then look at two devices hidden in Memphis and Indianapolis. You’ve just taken out our ability to bring goods in from overseas, and you’ve just crippled both air, rail, and road logistics for most of the U.S. Really want to flip things up, and I would add one to two targets more to the West.

If all goes to plan, tomorrow I hope to talk escalation and why I’m cringing at the statements from one OSINT analyst. Then, I want to start getting deeper into how to determine your level of threat and what you can do to survive it. For me, I have two plans. One involves continued support via the Tip Jar in the upper right and the fundraiser so I can move. One involves general preparation, because when you come down to it the disaster doesn’t matter: it’s the type damage it does and that, unlike disasters, is a limited set.



Nuclear 201 Posts In Order

Nuclear 201: Some History

Nuclear 201: Will You Be My PAL?

Nuclear 201: A Bit More C&C

Nuclear 201: Additional Thoughts On Coms

Nuclear 201: Targeting, Take 2

Nuclear 101 Posts In Order:

Nuclear What?

Nuclear 101: Weapons

Nuclear 101: Delivery

Nuclear 101: Now What?

Nuclear 101: Targeting

Nuclear 101: Scenarios

Nuclear 101: Survival

Some Quick Thoughts


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3 thoughts on “Nuclear 201: Scenarios”

  1. Scenarios matter a lot. There are huge differences between a nuclear power setting off one or a few nukes (with many hundred ready to go) vs armageddon (going all-in from the start) vs a rogue state (Iran, DPRK, …) setting off the only one or few they have (nuclear 9/11).

    US conventional forces deter and/or respond to a rogue state attack on US. (Present US efforts to deal with Iran seem inadequate. And some actors are not deterred. Bin Laden wanted the US response.) Also, the US has extensive efforts to detect nuclear devices (“left of bang”). These efforts are world wide and layered to increase protection around key regions and locations. Obviously some of these efforts are highly classified. Not saying we are leak-proof, but an attack would need to find a hole in multiple layers. Some areas (e.g. DC) get lots of resources, some areas (Des Moines?) do not.

    ” … Russian doctrine and the asinine concept of “escalate to de-escalate.”” – I disagree with your characterization that this is asinine. This concept can also be characterized as “F*** around and find out” or as “Who wants some of what I am dealing out?” When Russia moved into Ukraine (including years ago into Crimea) they did so under their nuclear shield. They stated that if US or NATO opposed them, the West risked Russia using nuclear weapons. If Russia had used even a single nuclear weapon (to show resolve), the West would have had to reconsider what the West was willing to lose in defense of Ukraine.

    This has been extensively wargamed (in addition to those real-world events). The conclusion of those studies is that the US has a difficult time responding effectively. One US action has been deployment of W76-2.

    One aspect of nuclear escalation/de-escalation that I find bizarre is the concept of using nuclear weapons to send messages. “We will show resolve and constraint by using this particular weapon on this particular target and our adversary will completely understand and do what we want.” Seems crazy. It is impossible to unambiguously convey intent and nuance via written email. Is there anything more prone to mis-interpretation than sending a nuke? In that sense I agree with your criticism of “escalate to de-escalate.”

    The US nuclear “umbrella” has lost credibility. What country will believe they don’t need nukes because the US will protect them? Having a credible nuclear weapon provides a substantial insurance policy against any nation being attacked. Qaddafi (gave up his program), Saddam Hussein (bluffed his program), and Ukraine (gave away its nuclear weapons) all regretted not having nuclear weapons to back them up when they needed them. Ukraine even had a treaty signed by USSR and US. When Russia attacked, supposedly triggering US defense of Ukraine under the treaty, the US response was limited to semantics – the treaty required US response to aggression by third party, but Russia was not a third party. LOL. Now other countries increasingly appear intent on not repeating those mistakes.

    This apparently inevitable proliferation of nukes across many small-time players really expands the probability of eventual use. Sometimes small fires get out of control.

  2. The Mouse That Roared has lingered on my ‘to read’ list for most of my life. Thanks to the reference to it here, I discovered I was already paying for access, so the actual reading may finally happen. Thanks!

  3. I seem to recall the US deploying subroc nuclear armed antibacterial marine missiles to deal with Russian typhoon glass subs. The concern being that the typhoons were just so LARGE, and used a double hull system so thick… our torpedoes might not be able to penetrate and sink them.

    I suppose if there is ANY circumstances where you could deploy a nuclear weapon AND avoid escalation, it would be using a small tactical device on a single target in the middle of the ocean.

    Still, I always wondered when/how the call would be made to fire one of those off during a thus far conventional military conflict…

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