Wednesday, I mentioned a bit of fiction that Iran may have sidelined. It got some good comments, so I thought I would share some of the background that led to the story on which I was working.
Short version is that most of our detection capability is focused offshore, and not from the shoreline inwards. Large shipping containers can make quite nice missile launchers that could be heavily shielded to prevent detection. China owns/controls several hundred large container ships, ships that could potentially have fifty or so such launchers in the top layer. Even if you dropped that to twenty or so, still plenty but 50 strikes me as a realistic number for this exercise.
If you go with hypersonic cruise missiles, horizontal or elevated launch is doable. There is also a way to do vertical launch, but for purposes of the scenario I elected to keep with the horizontal/elevated launch as you could avoid putting the missiles up high enough for rapid detection.
Now, if you have ships sailing into/towards Baltimore, Philadelphia, Savannah, San Diego, Long Beach, San Francisco Bay, Seattle, Houston, Hawai’i, and Anchorage, you’ve got excellent coverage. It might even be possible to get one into the Great Lakes, which would be icing on top. In pretty much every case, you are effectively launching from inside the country.
In the case of Baltimore, you would be talking five minutes or less to the targets in or near DC. That includes the White House and Pentagon, Langley, Andrews, etc. From there, bit longer gets you the bases stretching east, including Newport News, Quantico, and a few others. Now, expand that out and you are also taking out Beale and surrounding bases near SF, all of the bases around San Diego, Pearl Harbor, and all the facilities in Alaska. The ship at Savanah could not only take out Kings Bay, but Robbins, Mayport, Jacksonville, Canaveral, McDill, and others (like Barksdale). Even with hypersonics, you are talking longer to hit St. Louis, Omaha, the missile fields, etc.; but, still far short of ICBM time. The San Diego and Houston ships could also send some love towards the Mountain and Peterson, Ft. Hood, Dyess, Little Rock, etc. Great Lakes ship could not only send love towards the missile fields, but hit Wright-Pat, Grissom, Crane, and other inland targets. That’s not all the targets, but it gives you an idea.
In some respects, it is very similar to the targeting the AF chose in that little Rand video they did that had sub-launched missiles taking out our ability to hit the Soviets. The one who’s footage got used in The Day After. Largest difference is that you could have enough launchers to go for the secondary targets (state capitals, industry, etc.) even as you take out C&C and primary response.
May still try to finish it, but that’s the gist. Since there was interest, thought I would share.
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In several of the posts in my category on nuclear use and/or war, I talk about the “actors” involved. No, not the Hollyweird types but the (so-called) leaders of various nuclear powers.
Back when such was primarily the U.S. and Soviet Union, the basic feeling was that both parties were rational actors. That is, they were of reasonably sound mind, had rational interests in protecting the lives and livelihoods of their respective countries, and were not bent on destroying the world. Even as the club grew, this remained the basic framework for evaluation and consideration of the actions of those people.
There was always at least some (lip) service given to the potential for madmen to get control of a weapon or even a missile or plane. Or, that some form of technological failure would set things off. The presumptions behind Fail Safe (book and movie) was about the former, while the satire Dr. Strangelove presented the latter. That said, both dealt with larger-scale events and both led to efforts to prevent or mitigate same. Twilight’s Last Gleaming looked at someone gaining control of a nuclear missile command post/silo. The ridiculous The Manhattan Project looked at a student building an atomic bomb. Dawn’s Early Light examined rogue Soviet agents firing a missile from Turkey to provoke an exchange.
As far as the public (and media of the day) were concerned, the real problems lay with rational actors and the chance for mistakes or other to lead to an exchange. The public sentiment seemed to be that rational actors would otherwise never consider a nuclear exchange. The chance of a madman/terrorist getting a bomb was not considered real in terms of public perceptions. For those actually involved with security and proliferation, it was a larger concern than was generally shared with the public. So, between the perceptions of the public outlined above via movies, and concerns for safety, as weapon design advanced so did the safety mechanisms. PIDs (which could be snap hooks or cheap padlocks) were replaced by PALs. At least for some weapons, which is why the loss of the Soviet arms depot just before the Soviet Union came apart was (and is) worrying to the pros. Odds of any such weapons still being viable, if they ever existed or were missing, is slim. That said, the materials and parts within them are potentially a different matter. If they were there, real, and missing that is.
So, what happens when a state with nuclear weapons is not a rational actor in accordance with the basic framework? What happens when it’s not one madman who gets in charge, but rather an entire government that has a very different take on the world and what is rational within it?
It’s a very interesting question, and one we may get to explore more than theoretically in the coming days. A certain degree of lip service, if that, has been given to the concept of a state that has a very different take on politics and religion, but the “experts” have tended to push that they would behave as rational actors. My thoughts on that have never been in full (or most other) agreement as the leaders of such a country would not think as we think, within a framework of thought crafted by Western civilization. Pretty much the “mores” argument on dealing with the Soviets/Russians, but with added mayhem.
So, in the last week we’ve had a country, that if it is not already a nuclear weapons power is extremely close to being such, attacking multiple countries not just by proxy but directly via ballistic missiles — including three that are believed to be nuclear powers. This on top of conducting “covert” operations on a wide scale, possibly into the Americas. A government hanging on in many ways by a thread with a population that is a powder keg looking for a spark. A government that is a theocracy that makes typical repression look tame. A government that advocates and works for their version of Armageddon as it will bring about the return of the hidden imam and the creation of a world-wide Islamic caliphate.
By no measure can Iran be considered a typical rational actor in terms of nuclear use/non-use scenarios. In fact, I consider them far more unstable than North Korea, and that’s saying something. Especially given a number of rather troubling developments with Kim and the North Korean government/military that don’t bode well for a peaceful 2024. That’s a nightmare that I will leave for others to explain. In regards Iran, you have a regime that has no regard for human life on any level. Such is a Western concept they reject completely and totally. They consider lives outside of themselves as even less than those they wantonly kill or maim to stay in power.
Aside from the U.S. and Israel, Iran has chosen to attack Pakistan, which is a nuclear power. Which has responded with attacks of its own that may be just the start of retaliation per various declarations. While some are saying they won’t really go at it as both are Islamic, the fact is they are two different “flavors” of Islam and they are not compatible. This has the potential to get very, very interesting on its own.
Now, let’s look at a known feature of Iranian activities: the use of proxies/catspaws. Something I’ve brought up from time to time is a concern that this would apply even to nuclear operations. To make it even more fun, I can think of several ways they could make such a use appear to be the result of others being careless, such as China or North Korea. There is growing evidence that both the latter have supplied weapons (and more) to Hamass, Hezbowlah, and the Houthi/Hootie. Or, despite their apparent closeness to Russia, suspect that they would be more than glad to set them up as well.
Given the reported involvement of China with Iran’s nuclear weapon and missile development, do you think it would be hard to get enough material to obfuscate the origins of a nuclear weapon? Or that others might share material (or help obtain such) to use for such a purpose from others? While analysis can often tell us where the nuclear materials in any device, dirty or otherwise, came from there has always been the possibility of spoofing that, or at least to providing enough to put the analysis into question. Remember that arms depot and that there is potentially a fair bit of nuclear materials available for use/reuse, from every major nuclear power. Just a thought to brighten your day.
Now, let’s kick things up a notch. Imagine if a nuclear weapon detonated within Yemen, or after being launched by the Houthi at a ship in the gap. On the former, I would expect to see Israel blamed and the large number of governments demand (or even execute) attacks on/destruction of Israel. The huge amount (and growing) of antisemitism is not an accident or otherwise unplanned. Even if it was clear the detonation came from a missile or drone launched from Yemen, expect a large and coordinated push to blame Israel. Now, to kick it up even further, consider what would happen if the Biden Regency, which is not terribly pro-Israel (and has a number of antisemites within it) has to react to American warships, or even a CBG, caught in such a blast.
Or, while less likely image if something were to happen in or near Venezuela where both China and Iran have been busy, busy, busy. Imagine it happened to a British ship or ships, or to the capital of the country they want to invade. Far fetched you say? Not as much as I would like.
Because it all comes back to Iran being a non-rational state actor. They are an Islamic theocracy driven by religious beliefs and more importantly goals. Their actions have to be analyzed and considered in that light. To continue, as some “experts” seem determined to do, to treat and analyze them as rational actors is ridiculous. Even absent nuclear intents, it is foolish in the extreme to consider them a rational actor and treat them accordingly.
That the Biden Regency/Obama II The Dementia Boogaloo will continue to do so, and work for them instead of against them, is a given. Once bought, they do tend to stay bought… Which is all the more likely to escalate the situation. It is also driving a wedge into a number of long-term and/or important alliances. This fracturing is very detrimental to the concepts of peace and stability, be it deliberate or otherwise. It also means anything done by another that might be effective will be resisted if not prevented by the Regency.
Meantime, Iran will continue it’s international game of chicken and work towards its own ends. While for many in the West the attacks on three nuclear powers makes no sense, it did and does make sense to the mad mullahs in Tehran. I strongly suspect we would be a lot better off if our experts would start trying to look at it from their viewpoint rather than continuing to try to shoehorn it into the rational actor box. They are not rational actors as we think of it, and failure to acknowledge that is going to have very bad results.
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For all I am a bit pre-occupied by the upcoming surgery, I am trying to keep up with things. I am watching Nigeria as the attack on our diplomatic convoy says interesting things.
I’m also trying to keep up with the happenings in Russia. There is a good bit going on, from smoke (the alleged upgrades to mobile missiles) to something that may be a bit more solid. I think we could see a major upheaval within the higher levels of the Kremlin in the next few months.
The source of that is, of course, Prigozhin. His feud with the MoD is in many respects as much political as operational. So much so he ended up on the outs with Vladimir and while there are some reports that there was some level of reconciliation, the response to Prigozhin’s threat to withdraw his troops from Bakhmut rather clearly indicated not so much. Nevermind that directly or by proxy he seems to be taking steps to possibly make a run at the top spot.
He very much continues to push the limits of what criticism can be made against Vladimir, and seems determined to not just push that line but eradicate it. His comments and rants are beyond current cultural norms for such, and he seems to want to go even further. That is a rather risky thing to do in Russia, particularly right now, unless he is willing to make a true play for the top.
The Washington Post “expose” of his alleged dealings with Ukrainian intelligence is not helping his position in Russia. For all the pro-forma being said by the government in public, in private far more interesting conversations seem to be happening. I do have questions about the leak, as I don’t trust anything from the Post, especially something like this.
Do I expect anything to happen in the next couple of weeks? No. Not unless someone gets a major case of the stupids. Do I think things could come to a head in regards Prigozhin in the next three months? Oh, yes. Particularly if he continues his efforts to criticize Vladimir while continuing to make behind-the-scenes preparations. I’ve talked before about the cultural norms, and by moving beyond them Prigozhin is not just alienating a lot of potential support, but ensuring opposition to any political moves in a number of quarters.
For those interested in the WP “leak” and a different (but similar) take on things, check out this from the ISW.
Let’s start with a bit of a mini-rant: The Kremlin IS NOT A BUILDING! It’s a freakin brick walled fortress containing multiple buildings and extensive grounds. In fact, somewhat better than 70 acres according to some sources.
I’ve got more photos, but this gives you a better idea of the size of the place. There are many buildings, extensive gardens, and you can get in some serious walking going through some of the museums inside. The buildings are very well built, because many/most of them date from the time of the Czars — which means the walls are a yard or more thick to deal with the cold weather. They’ve found it is a far better idea to gut and build new insides in them rather than tear them down, as they are generally in good shape and far better built than modern structures.
Never mind the fact that there are reported to be multiple bunkers underneath. In fact, some decent RUMINT has it that the first such shelter was built by Stalin as an offshoot of the Moscow subway system. The rumor that special trains can take off from the Kremlin to various get-away points at need still abounds. Now, add to this the fact that Vladimir does not live at the Kremlin despite the Senate Palace being his official home. He purportedly has multiple abodes in Moscow and nearby, more than one of which is alleged to have a bunker system.
Now, two good reads on the “attack” (and I use the quotes very deliberately) are this one from Ed Morrisey and this one from Stephen Green. Lots of good food for thought in both. I’ve been holding off on my analysis because there was a lot of stuff going on in regards this, and more bad information than there should have been in some areas.
Let’s get a few things out of the way. Someone raised on my timeline on Twitter that this could have been a Doolittle-type raid to raise morale. In terms of U.S. and Western culture, possibly. However, in terms of Russian (and Ukrainian) culture, NO. It is far more likely to keep things going in Russia in support of the invasion, and even cause escalation. I can’t stress enough how different Russian culture is from our own. They are not ‘just like us but talk funny.’
Next, while I am sure a one- or two-off system could be developed to hit Moscow from Ukraine, Ukraine does not currently have systems in use that can do it. Knowing that a hit on the Kremlin, symbolic or not, would have on the Russian government and populace, I can’t see them doing it, they are not that stupid. As for sending in a A-team of something similar to launch from within Russia, why? Why not instead use it to hit more supply depots, logistic hubs, and other prime targets directly supporting the invasion as they have been doing, but deeper behind the lines?
As for it being an assassination attempt, two things. First for all that the Russians are acting all butt hurt and upset (remember prior discussion on here about this very type thing and the whole ‘if she hadn’t fought back I wouldn’t have killed her’ mindset), Vladimir is a legitimate target. So far, any attempts to go after him or other senior leaders (allegedly) have taken place when they were in occupied territory, not Russia. There is a point to that.
Second, unless you have been there it is hard to describe how well built those Czarist buildings are: yard-plus thick walls, etc. From the little, and I do stress little, fireworks show seen, I don’t see major damage occurring.
Now, let’s consider that Moscow, and the Kremlin, have air defense networks. We just talked about the additional systems brought in a few weeks ago. Now, unless this was somehow the last ride of Mathias Rust, you are talking about getting two drones through a few hundred miles of airspace allegedly on high alert. For all that I am questioning and reconsidering a number of estimates of capabilities and numbers, color me skeptical.
So, to my mind, it comes down to two choices. An act of provocation by the ultranationalists; or, a false flag by the government.
For the first, there are several groups that have been pushing to go all in, from some of the Russian milbloggers to a variety of politicians. I could easily see some of them launching such an “attack” and doing a bit of self-destruct to prevent doing any real damage. They understand how this will be perceived by the government and the public, and wanted to provide that opportunity to the government.
On the second, it is very easy to see Vladimir doing something like this so he can escalate things. After all, after blowing up apartment buildings to gain power this is nothing. Send them in, have them heroically destroyed at the last possible moment, and you have an excuse to escalate. It fits in cultural and political constraints.
NOTE: There does appear to be a growing “partisan” movement in Russia. Fires and rail sabotage are one thing, but I don’t see them as doing this as it would bring about a huge crackdown for no gain.
Either way, Vladimir is going to seize on this opportunity. It gives him a chance to rattle the Biden Regency’s cage with threats of nuclear war or more; it frees him to act with less restraint in Ukraine; and, it could allow a chance to retreat for now with honor.
Vladimir has already blamed the U.S. for the attack, with Ukraine in the role of puppet/catspaw. He knows that the nuclear threat (which isn’t much of a threat these days IMO) terrifies Biden and/or the Regency and will use it as much as he can to get as much as he can. Even on non-nuclear options, expect to see him push as hard and far as he can.
Within operations against Ukraine, he now has options to bring in more troops (clothing, ammo, and food apparently optional), and take other steps to try to gain something. Would I be surprised to see more brutal attacks on civilians, justified by this attack? No, I’d be surprised if it didn’t happen. In fact, I see a lot of petty and vicious destruction for the sake of destruction in the future, along the lines of ‘If I can’t have you, nobody will.’ I still see Vladimir using the nuke plants and more to devastate Ukraine if he can’t have it, it fits both him and the culture.
Could he use special weapons? Yes, but I think that would be stupid. I still see the chances as ten percent or less, but desperate people do stupid things. As A. Nonymous put it in a comment on a previous post: “but stupid, desperate people sometimes do stupid, desperate things.” To recap earlier discussions: current troops do not appear to have MOPP gear. Using chemical or biological agents could take out more of his troops than Ukrainian. Nuclear use will force the West to act, and possibly over-react. I think given all that is starting to come out about nuclear forces, it’s really not a great idea for him to rattle that saber or otherwise go there.
One of the reasons I held off writing until now is that almost immediately after the attack, there were reports of nuclear weapons being moved in Russia. Some of these came from normally reliable sources, but I was not seeing confirmation nor was I seeing the responses that should occur in NATO and Western forces. Turns out, disinformation, some of which may have been aimed at discrediting sources. If you are looking for alerts and fairly solid info, check out Defcon.
Now, to get to that retreat with honor option that has some of you out there jumping up and down like a 6-year-old doing the pee-pee dance. One option I do see is for Vladimir to bring together enough power (military and political) to create some “great victory” that he can then claim was the goal and pull back to the 2014 lines. Ukraine (and others) are not going to be satisfied with that, but it works for Russia and Russians. It’s even similar to something Prigozhin proposed recently.
You can jump up and down and talk world opinion and such, but just keep in mind: Vladimir Doesn’t Care! All of this has been and is focused inside the bubbles. There are several bubbles within the big one. Within that big one, the opinion of the outside world does not matter.
Oh, speaking of Prigozhin, I would take the threat to pull his troops out with a grain of salt. About a pound-sized grain of Maldon smoked salt even. I disagree with Jazz’s take in a few areas, as I think if he does pull his troops out that it will backfire on him. Given that the kiss-and-make-up with Vladimir appears to be less than some have portrayed, and that he still is setting himself up to move up one way or another, he is on thinner ice than I think many suspect. Possibly including him. Note that his war on Shoigu and Gerasimov continues, which says interesting things. He has to know that Shoigu is set to take a bullet/fall for Vladimir, so going after him at this point might not be smart.
Now, on to another point raised by the keen mind of Stephen Green. He’s disappointed to see two so-called conservatives start parroting the Kremlin line. As for Catturd, I actually do enjoy some of his posts (particularly his dog/cat posts). But, he is, as noted, a shitposter who is what I would call an EverTrumper. As for Dreher, I used to respect him, especially given his role in exposing sex abuse within the Church. I lost almost all respect for him about three years ago. In some ways he reminds me a bit of Seymour Hersh: good work early, then drek. Dreher is in the NeverTrump camp and seems ready to hang out with David French. There is really not much difference between the two camps, as neither depends on the intellect and honor of its members, only blind obedience. Sorry, I’m in the “earn my vote” club and try to think and learn before I vote.
I am pretty much with him on his conclusion. I think we do have an obligation (thank you Bill Clinton, you jerk!) to them, and agree that we can’t let this aggression go unchecked. We just can’t do it at the levels we have been, because we have already crippled ourselves military and economically. Others have to step up. I notice that the Baltics and Poland, who understand what current events and Russkiy Mir mean to their future, are stepping up big time. Would that some of our other alleged allies do the same.
I’m still very much of the opinion that Kamil Galeev and others are right. If we want peace, and we want a peaceful future, the current Russian Federation needs to be broken up. I don’t know a good way to do it, certainly not a safe way to do it, but as long as Russkiy Mir and the dream of Imperial Russia lives, no one is safe.
A local radio show I listen to when I can has a segment they do called “Is This Anything?” where they look at events/news stories/etc. and decide if they are something or nothing. Sorting through the mass of RUMINT and real information, I’ve decided to start doing a feature called “Something, Nothing, or Hmmmm…” about various stories, and with a focus on Russia and it’s politics. At least for now.
Let’s start with the biggest nothing that got around recently: Vladimir rattling the nuclear saber yet again. Yawn. He’s now threatened to leave two other nuclear treaties. That’s probably about the only thing he can do at this point, given issues with the nuclear forces we discussed a couple of weeks ago (here and here).
Continuing to hear of issues and problems, such that if anything does try to cook off, I think it’s going to be very limited. Sarah A. Hoyt offers a take (example here) that the Soviets/Russians never did have all the bombs and missiles claimed, and the more I’m learning, the more I think she’s been on to something. Her take on all the doomsday stuff being Soviet propaganda is dead on, as they encouraged such far and wide as a means of political warfare. The Gramscian damage from those efforts is still a huge problem today.
Which is the only real reason I find this story of the U.S. wiring Ukraine with sensors interesting. If true, it is indeed interesting but does not yet rise to the level of something. Not sure it even rates a low-level Hmmmm… yet. Worth keeping an eye on.
The reports that the Russians are having problems restoring mothballed tanks in part because they were buying the ball-bearings (and other precision parts) required from the U.S. and Europe is something. It is both amusing (we aren’t alone at buying parts and more from our enemies) and annoying (we shouldn’t be selling parts to our enemies either). Russia’s problems with machine work and manufacturing is huge, and make ours look almost tame. Fact is, we are in trouble as most of our tool and die makers are over 45 years-of-age and as such retire they are not being replaced. The number of skilled machinists is not good either. Reminds me of thirty or so years ago when glass blowers became scarce. So-called “experts” had scoffed at the idea such were needed, until they disappeared and they then learned the hard way that such were indeed needed. The inability to replace precision machined parts, and rumor has it electronics as well, is why the T-55s are coming out of museums and depots and headed to Ukraine.
As for the reports Russia has taken out two Ukrainian drones in the Moscow region rates a low-level Hmmmm… for now. If Ukraine isn’t working on developing or acquiring long-range drones, I would be shocked. In this case, the report really comes across as Russian disinformation and laying groundwork for false flag ops.
This report from the Institute for the Study of War has some interesting political tidbits as well as a lot of good info (as usual). Worth noting that Prigozhin has apparently made up with Vladimir and some others. However, what caught my eye were the replacement of the Deputy Minister of Defense for Logistics and the other changes apparently coming from a senior officer who has recently gained Vladimir’s favor. As they note, all of this is ultimately aimed at Gerasimov. Also, it may be a belated step to try to undo some of the damage from looting the military, as if you want to engage in corruption and steal anything not nailed down, LOGCOM is the place to start in almost any military.
This report of explosions being heard in St. Petersburg and Rostov is a solid Hmmmm… Russia having some ooopses? Ukraine doing something unexpected? Other? Good questions.
To close out today with a solid something, let’s start with this and add in the mystery fires. Unless Ukraine has been sending in multiple A-Teams, it looks like there is a growing resistance movement in Russia. Given that simple statements opposing the invasion are resulting in prison time, children to foster care, and worse, this says something. The current leadership may be in for a rockier ride than anticipated. Definitely keep an eye on this.
Elon Musk made a post that proved to be part of an interesting thread. The current intelligence disaster has revealed concerns about Chinese hypervelocity vehicles and that they are preparing to go all out against the U.S. Navy. No shit.
This is a party that’s been going on a while, and yes the Chinese are very serious about this. Far more so than our Navy appears to be at this time. Before the Chinese were the Soviets, and the object that was labeled a “mini-Shuttle” and often presented as a scale model test.
Just one problem with that: it really didn’t scale up/could not be scaled up according to a number of analysts. Then, when you looked at the tests of the vehicle, well, they had a naval component and didn’t seem to fit a “space” profile per se. To a number of people, including me, it really seemed to fit the profile of a Hypervelocity Kill Vehicle (HKV)/Hypervelocity Ship Killer (HSK).
Add in the fact that defending against objects moving at those speeds can be a bit of a challenge, and that if something that size hit a carrier at speed it could go through it long-ways. Except that it and the carrier would probably be a rapidly expanding fireball by that point. Even a near-miss could have potentially catastrophic results for both the carrier and any ships nearby.
There was a lot of “never happen” and the concerns were poo-pooed in the usual quarters, but at least a few people paid attention. Would that I thought any current GOFO or civilian military leadership was doing so today. For all that some are claiming hypervelocity delivery vehicles and such are over-hyped, they truly are a game changer, even when they don’t carry explosives.
Growing up in the 1960s and 70s meant growing up under the threat of a mushroom cloud. The Cold War was indeed a frigid and real thing, for all that it came close to going hot far too many times. Nuclear war, and surviving same, was something I studied and I think I read Alas Babylon for the first time before I was twelve. A high school science fair project was designing an underground shelter that could hold out for five years in the event of a nuclear war. Yeah, I was a little different. Okay, quit laughing, a lot different.
What the kids today call OSINT, or Open Source Intelligence, we called Soviet Watching while the media referred to the people who did it as Kremlinologists. Some worked for the government, many of us did not. I started getting into Soviet Watching in the late 70s, and after a run-in with the KGB in 82/83, got serious about it. Serious enough that my Master’s thesis was apparently the world’s first OSINT directory, The Soviet Watchers. Ended up doing some interesting things with interesting people. Funny story on that here.
While I had loathed communism since third grade because the father of a female classmate was a political prisoner in Cuba, it is fair to say I was far more “liberal” than I am today. I did not like the concept of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD), but had to reluctantly admit it had helped keep the peace. I studied, learned what I could, and prayed that one day we would get out from under that MADness.
Then came Reagan, who because of the media coverage terrified me at first on nuclear issues. Some of those interesting things I did caused me to change my opinion of Boss. Despite a close call or two, he was responsible for two things I never thought I would see in my lifetime: the fall of the Berlin wall and an end of the major MADness. Nothing can erase nuclear weapons, and a bit of the MADness remains as a result, but the threat of sudden full-scale nuclear war was pretty much off the table, at least in regards Russia. I’ve been told that Boss regarded it as one of the single best things he accomplished.
For me, there was a huge feeling of relief. No more EWO, gold teams, hot pad alerts, and all the rest. The problem was, there were still bad guys out there, and I’ve long pushed for significant upgrades and improvements in our nuclear arsenal. While the spectre of WWIII no longer loomed, we needed to be able to counter other threats with a flexible range of options.
While we have cruise missiles and related delights, we are still using Minuteman III missiles as the land-based portion of the triad. Yes, they have been upgraded, but there are limits to what you can do. We really needed to move up back in Reagan’s day, but every effort then and pretty much since has been fought tooth and nail. To this day, I wonder how much some politicians and activists were paid by the Soviet Union, and later Russia and others (cough, China, cough).
Allegedly, we will have the new LGM-35A Sentinel showing up this year and replacing the Minutman III by 2029. I’ll believe it when I see it.
Meantime, we have rogue states like Iran stepping up to the nuclear stage, and in China we have a Soviet-level nuclear threat. In fact, in many respects, it is a larger threat in my opinion.
On top of that, we have Vladimir who went where those who have sense feared to tread by making nuclear threats. There are two things at work here. First, the nuclear threat is all he had left after the conventional military was gutted by corruption. I think the nuclear force has been gutted as well, as I discussed yesterday. Second, the demented meat puppet in the White House apparently told Vladimir a while back that he was terrified of a nuclear war and would do about anything to avoid such. Sigh. Leroy Jenkins school of diplomacy.
My world was much less stressful and even happy when I was not having to think about flight times and megatons. OUR world was much safer before Vladimir and the Biden Regency decided to try to out-stupid each other. A pox on both their houses. Problem is, the threat has been made and must be honored. If we give in to nuclear blackmail, as I’ve pointed out a time or two before, it will lead to a far worse and far more destructive situation later.
The world has changed since the major MADness departed. Technology has advanced, and as a result we are not going to have thirty or so minutes to act, for bases on or near the coast (including DC) we are looking at five to eight minutes for a naval launch off the coast. Shades of First Strike.
Sadly, I think we need to go back to the days of hot pads and continuous airborne command posts. We need to update, harden, and disperse. We also urgently need to speed up development of anti-missile systems and bring back an updated Strategic Defense Initiative. We must not give in to nuclear blackmail, but we also need to do all we can to keep us safe and the genie bottled.
But, as I’ve also noted multiple times, the MADness worked only with sane, stable, and competent leaders. Having an insane or unstable leader involved was a terrifying prospect.
Which brings us to the floating blazing dumpster fire that is the Biden Regency; Prime Minister Castreaux pulling a number of interesting stunts to stay in power; Macaroon in France is dealing with protests and riots (mysteriously not covered by corporate media in the U.S.); Xi scrambling to maintain his hold on power; and Vladimir dealing with a war he can’t win and a “friend” who looks to be preparing to try to dethrone him. Add to it GOFOs who couldn’t organize an orgy in a whorehouse, and then there’s the intelligence community… We. Are. So. Fucked.
Smart money would be on updating and improving. In fact, if someone wanted some more detailed suggestions I might even be able to give you something in a day or so. It’s not going to happen, but it’s nice to indulge in fantasy every now and then.
Meantime, I’m going to echo Sarah and say don’t despair. Prepare as best you can, keep your things where you can find them in the dark, and hope for the best. Somehow, we will get by.
UPDATE: Been pondering a bit, and I would add one thing to my recommendation: hold off on regulating space, and let’s get on out there. Elon Musk is right when he says we need to be a multi-planet species. Earth is the cradle of humanity, it’s past time we leave the cradle. Orbital is already doable, the moon can be done if not left to NASA, and Elon’s working on Mars. Be nice to get into the asteroids and make parts of the Island Worlds real.
Reader Nichevo asked a couple of good questions the other day, and today I’m going to try to answer the second one. Why does the change in from the SARMAT (aka SATAN II) to the YARS matter? This also will allow some expansion on my twenty percent references.
Let’s start by stating the obvious: nuclear weapons, particularly modern “safe” nuclear weapons, are extremely complex systems. Aside from various critters we’ve considered for use in weapons delivery, and we have looked at a surprising array of those, modern delivery systems are extremely complex systems. Most delivery systems today are multi-stage in that one system launches yet another system. Missiles launch independent re-entry vehicles. Aircraft launch cruise missiles at targets. Submarines launch missiles which may or may not have more than one independent re-entry vehicles. I am not trying to be obnoxious here, there really is a reason for getting this basic, please be patient.
There are two basic types of missile/rocket in use today: those that use solid rocket motors or liquid-fueled engines. Solid-fuel motors are pretty much like a bottle rocket. You light it, the fuel burns, and it burns until gone. Liquid-fueled engines can be cut on and off multiple times. Yes, for the pedantic, there are indeed some solid engines out there, and some motors that can be cut off at need. Yes, I’m sure you can create hybrid systems, and for a number of reasons that’s all I’m going to say about solid engines and hybrids. ICBMs tend to go tried and true for rather obvious reasons (that clearly aren’t obvious to some) and use either solid motors or liquid engines.
Third obvious point: modern delivery systems at all levels are far more accurate than their predecessors. When you look at Circular Error Probability (CEP) we’ve gone from hitting miles away from the target to hitting inches from the target. And that’s even with many modern delivery systems being able to maneuver in an effort to avoid defensive fire. The more modern the missile or delivery vehicle, the more accurate it is likely to be.
I’m going to drop the old proper style, and not do the all-caps thing on names. Sarmat, aka Satan II, aka the RS-28 is the latest and greatest Russian long-range ICBM allegedly in production. It can fly deceptive courses! It has longer range than any system the decadent West has produced! It carries more and larger warheads, and can carry a mix of standard and hypersonic delivery vehicles! It slices! It dices! The West has nothing that can stand up to it!! Sorry, think I just channeled Vladimir doing his rendition of Goodgulf Greyteeth’s rant on hocus pocus in Bored of the Rings.
It is also several years behind schedule, as it was expected to fully replace the remaining Satan-I, aka the R-36, aka the SS-18 two to three years ago if I’m remembering correctly (stupid lightning). Which suggests development or production problems, if not both. Sarmat is a liquid-fueled system that appears to have a rather complex launch system, as you can see here in this video. Note the “successful” test shown comes after the date previously announced by Russia for it to be operational. More on this in a moment.
The Yars system, a solid-fuel system, was introduced around 2010, and is an upgrade of the older Topol-M system. It is limited to three warheads as opposed to the 10-12 warheads (yeah, there are some arguments/debates/mixes) possible with a Sarmat. Note older, and solid-fuel.
One of those obvious reasons for tried and true is that with solids, there is no lost time loading fuel or doing anything else. Turn the key, press the button, they are reliable. Provided you’ve stored them correctly and replaced segments as they hit end of service life. Otherwise, you get cracks and other delights, and you always have the chance of voids in the fuel from production issues. In which case, that motor segment is going to get cranky. If it gets cranky anywhere at or near ground level, trust me you will feel it ten to twenty miles away.
So, why go with an older, likely less accurate, and less capable system? Look at what’s gone on at the ISS recently. Something caused a Soyuz capsule to lose it’s coolant, rather spectacularly. It may have been a micrometeorite. Some observers have noted other issues, and there has been discussion of shoddy workmanship (Soviet-era level) and possible sabotage with the Russian vehicles. Bad workmanship or sabotage of liquid-fuel rocket systems.
There are a lot of people, including some who should know better, that have maintained loudly that the Russians would never have skimped on their nuclear systems, or extended the corruption that took over the military to it. Really? In what flippin universe?
Hypothetical question for you. If there was indeed a failed launch attempt during the Biden Regency visit to Ukraine, what do you want to bet it was a Sarmat? After all, if you are going to do a demo and make a point a la Khrushchev at the UN, why would you not use your latest and greatest?
To be fair, the Soviet Union had a history of shoddy workmanship. Identical spacecraft where parts couldn’t be exchanged between them. Soviet rockets used so many engines because they expected to lose up to a third of them on any given launch. If you are curious, I think Jim Oberg has talked about it a few times, possibly in his book Red Star In Orbit and various magazine articles. Others have as well. While things were reportedly improving in the Russian Federation, we may be seeing a return to the Soviet era ‘they pretend to pay us, we pretend to work’ mindset.
We may also be seeing a different form of defiance. Sabotage by disgruntled workers would not be a new thing for Russia. Keep in mind that despite all the attempts to smash it, there is an anti-war effort and it appears to be growing. I’ve been hearing a lot of reports of sabotage across Russia, but have also been taking those with a grain of salt. I’m at a point where I’m giving the idea credence.
Which takes us back to my somewhat pedantic start to this article. My search-fu is off today as I can’t find the link, but a while back Glenn Reynolds was — I think — the first to openly comment on the twenty percent concept. At the height of the Cold War, the Brass was pushing the concept of 100 percent EWO (Emergency War Orders) ready. If the brass asked ‘Are you EWO ready?’ the answer better be ‘Sir, yes Sir! I am EWO ready Sir!’ Anyone with a brain knew that this was impossible, but it ensured that we could make the 80 percent threshold. That is, with all those complex systems, 80 percent of them would work. I suspect that 90 percent really was the goal, but…
Anyway, if the codes went out, at least 80 percent of the bombers would take off, 80 percent of the missiles would launch, 80 percent of the bombs would explode, etc.
Glenn was the first to say, in effect, that we would be lucky if twenty percent worked. The old equation has been stood on its head. I hope and pray we never find out, but I’m hitting a point where I think that if 10 percent worked I would be surprised. Complex systems require maintenance, testing, and upgrades. What’s the first thing that gets cut when Gen. Cyrus wants to have another struggle session on white rage during one of the lowest budgets in decades? Or, your newly minted “officer” who is really a civilian there to loot so he can maybe become a true oligarch, looks for easy money? Old story, on pretty much every side out there. Sigh.
That Russia is having to drop it’s nuclear threat to an older and more limited system speaks volumes. It says a lot about production, and the hints of sabotage are getting louder. It is also the strongest indicator yet that Russian nuclear forces have been, and possibly still are, getting gutted by corruption just like the rest of the military. Like I say, there is a lot of RUMINT going around, but there are enough indicators for me to feel confident on this.
So much so I am dropping my 40/60 60/40 level. I think we have less than a ten percent chance of any nuclear usage, but will drop the likelihood to 10 percent. The only reason I’m going that high is that stupidity is still a factor. MAD depended on stable and competent leadership. Right now, we have the Biden Regency, which is the Leroy Jenkins of competent action; Vladimir with health and other issues, including an associate who is looking to unseat him; Xi has more problems than many realizes; and, well, you get the idea.
The percentage really doesn’t matter in some respects. We have nuclear weapons and war being threatened as it is the last illusion of power Russia has to wave at the world. That, and Biden told Vladimir how scared he was of nuclear war and apparently that he would do anything to avoid it. What do we do about it? I’m going to try to write about that tomorrow.
For anyone just dropping by, this page has a lot of links to previous work, and this page is dedicated to nuclear articles. Feel free to take your time, browse around, heck, if you’ve got an adult beverage or a good cigar, go for it.
UPDATE: To answer/agree with several comments, disbanding SAC was a huge mistake. In fact, it was a clusterfuck of such a magnitude that I suspect it was felt in other dimensions. Those responsible deserve every bit of contempt and disdain that those competent in life can spare. I’m not sure we have the time and ability to recover from their gross incompetence.
Getting hit by lightning is not fun! If you would like to help me in my recovery efforts, which include moving, feel free to hit the fundraiser at A New Life on GiveSendGo, use the options in the Tip Jar in the upper right, or drop me a line to discuss other methods. It is thanks to your gifts and prayers that I am still going. Thank you.
I’ve been holding off on an update as there is a lot of smoke, which usually means a fire but in this case could just be politicians and proxies blowing it out their shorts. Russia operates very differently from the U.S., something that seems to escape about ninety percent of DC. It’s that difference that is making it hard to tell exactly what is happening.
The breathless coverage of the day is the assassination of Vladlen Tatarsky, born Maxim Yuryevich Fomin. The well-known Russian milblogger was a huge supporter of the war, but also had become a bit vocal in his criticism of how it was being waged, progressing, etc. To the point it was noted and being discussed in very careful whispers around Moscow. If you think Daria Trepova is the cold-blooded mastermind of the explosion, got a bridge for sale.
The assassination is very reminiscent of Darya Dugina (see here and here). Except this time they used a Russian patsy who provides access to a dissident group as well as the chance to tar Navalny and his party. Right now, suspecting they had hoped she would die in the blast, to make a lot of the smearing easier without anyone around to rebut.
Again, it plays to Russian tropes and drama. The man who could have caused the leadership a lot of problems is now conveniently a martyr. There’s a huge message in there too.
In Russia, the culture has two elements that shape more than many seem to realize. First, there is the idea that all people are corrupt and that therefore it is good to have Kompromat on everyone. The old KGB collected such on every member, both as a means of control at need and a means of knowing what enticed them. The concept of an honest person, one who actually obeys all laws and such, is a subject of laughter and concern. Laughter at the thought there is such a person. Terror that it could be true and of the damage someone like that could do to various systems.
There is also the mythos of the reluctant leader. Naked ambition is never a pretty thing, and in Russia such has needed to be cloaked in something a bit more palatable to the public. Stalin and pretty much every other leader have never stepped up because of ambition; rather, they had leadership thrust upon them and rose to the occasion. Noble. Even if ice axes were involved in the process.
Which brings us to Yevgeny Prigozhin. He’s been discussed a time or two here (see here for one) and so far seems to be holding his own in the current political warfare even though his Wagner group hasn’t done as well. He seems to have had a falling out with Vladimir, and Wagner is looking to refocus on Africa according to some reports. Worse, the quiet whispers extend far beyond Moscow as his ambition for higher leadership have become so obvious that it is being discussed. Discussion of such among an elite group is one thing. Discussion by the larger public is not.
Complicating this is, of course, Vladimir and his health. There are reports of body doubles, escape plans to China, and more. The idea of doubles has been around almost from the start, and I would not be surprised if such were not used. Not saying use is confirmed, just I wouldn’t be surprised if they were being used. To me, it is clear that his health woes are accelerating. Just look at all the video from Xi’s visit, much less his trip to occupied territory. The limp, the gait, and more are clearly visible. Vladimir has done all he could to hide issues before, for them to be seen openly is telling.
As a post-Vladimir world draws near, the scramble for the top seat is going to heat up. In fact, if this is true, some are already well into making plans and have violated a prime law of politics: everyone bad mouth’s the boss, but don’t get caught doing so. There are rumors of other fractures, and multiple people with ambition.
With the need to pull tanks from museums for the fight, Vladimir is increasingly left with only one option for shaking at the world: nuclear. This report indicates they are going to stop warning us of tests, which petulantly childish and foolish. Day ending in Y again.
Problem with that is, you can only push so far. RUMINT has been swirling for a while about issues in Russia’s nuclear weapons systems, including command and control. Note the push to the Yars system versus SARMAT/SATAN II, which was supposed to have replace all the SATAN I missiles several years ago. Add to it reports that an attempt to do a demo launch while Biden was in Ukraine failed. There is a lot of RUMINT out there, and I think we are on the mercy of either the twenty percent or even the ten percent.
People have noticed the rhetoric and at least a few appear to have looked at reality outside the bubbles that permeate Russian society and government. Such is not a help to Vladimir and his efforts to stay in control and start the building of the new Russkiy Mir. Politics and business are a blood sport in Russia, and I would expect to start seeing more blood in the days ahead.
Quick Aside: One reason for going for the older tanks is that they are easier to refurbish than the new. Most newer military vehicles, and not just Russian designs, require a lot of maintenance and if they’ve been in depot, even in the best of storage, they are difficult to bring back into operation. The longer they are stored, and the worse the conditions, I won’t use the word impossible but it does get very interesting. It’s something John Ringo gets into in his Black Tide Rising series.
On a more cynical note, I’m actually working on a contrarian argument in regards nuclear war. Picture Vladimir as Richard Dreyfuss’s character Alexander Dunning in the film RED, going “I’m the bad guy!” Yes, he is, and he want’s to hurt the West, not help us. Therefore, there is no way he is going to nuke DC, NYC, SF, LA, and other major cities. Right now, the politicians and bureaucrats there are doing more damage to the Republic that is the United States than Vladimir could with nukes. So, he is just going to continue to shake his head at the debauchery, and raise a toast to the damage being done.
On a more serious note, they are stepping up the nuclear rhetoric because it’s all they have right now. This was planned for three days. Funny how all the political plans for a short victorious war have rarely worked out throughout history.
There is unrest growing in Russia, which is why you are seeing stories like this, like this, like this, and like this. For all the propaganda and bluster, the word is getting out that all is NOT well. Which is making a lot of people nervous. Hence, the assassination of Vladlen Tatarsky who was a threat to share a lot of accurate information. Or to get people asking for that information.
My post last week on Complex Reality did not go over well in some quarters. In fact, only David Strom at Hot Air got it at all, and his twitter thread was a good take. Much appreciated too. Several took me to task for failing to provide good counter-options to the Chamberlin Brigade and the War Brigade.
There are no good options to suggest.
Give me a moment here and let’s review a few things. There are indeed options, but none of them are what I would call good options.
First up, we would not be in the mess except for the fact that we have incompetent leadership. The Biden Regency is corrupt, incompetent, and unswervingly bent on ideological matters (fundamentally transforming America). Our military leadership is equally incompetent and all in on the religious conversion (on the religious aspect, see Glenn’s take here). We are well past the point any remaining competent GOFOs should have been putting stars on the table (and, honestly, even birds and bars). If any have, it’s not made the general run of RUMINT yet. The current lot of GOFOs couldn’t organize a drinking party in a distillery (yes, tempted to use a different analogy but the Pentagon is already one of the largest whorehouses in DC), and actually winning a war is not even on the table. Proper party indoctrination takes time and money, and, who needs a training budget anyway given they see time spent on struggle sessions as being far more important than actual combat training. Before I go on a rant about this and other things, here’s a point to consider: name me one thing of importance our so-called elites have been right about in the past year; the past three years; the past five years; or, the last ten years.
Then again, Russia has its problems too. Oligarchy and a system that puts a very different take on doing in the competition (and extends it to all walks and levels of life) tends to stifle innovation and competition. Corruption at all levels, and in all branches of service, tends to give you a military that can’t live up to the hype.
Add to it a leadership and population who absolutely believe that the West invaded them after the fall of communism and that they are literally at war with the West, and it makes the situation even touchier. This, and other memes, are often dismissed as propaganda by well-educated idiots in said West, but are the real cultural belief of a complex people who are not ‘just like us but speak funny.’ The roots of this really do go back to the Enlightenment, and to the decision to go with the German model rather than the British when the Czars (Czarina) decided to “modernize” Russia a few hundred years back. And, yes, the anti-British/anti-West roots of the modern Slavophile movement do go back that far.
Now, throw in this little ice water douche into the mix. The argument is often made we have no viable reason to support Ukraine as they are not a member of NATO, etc. Back when the Soviet Union fell, Ukraine suddenly found itself the third largest nuclear power in the world. For a number of reasons, pretty much nobody was happy with that, so the United States and other countries and entities stepped up to guarantee Ukraine’s safety if they gave up all those nukes. Now, the fact is we pretty much abrogated our responsibilities under those agreements back in the wake of the first Russian invasion. Yet, they do still bind us as a matter of honor. While honor is in short supply in political and military leadership around the world, it is something a country should be very careful about discarding completely. It takes generations to rebuild the trust that is lost, and as David and I discussed on Twitter, I don’t think we’ve got those generations.
The magic money press the Biden Regency is running flat out is flat out running us into the ground. We literally can’t afford to keep it running as the bills for that magic money are already past due. We also are facing shortages of critical weapons, as I noted last week. Beege Wellborn has been all over this on Twitter, and courtesy of an exchange she had, I suggest you read this and consider the following.
We are talking about years to decades (and if you want to see schedules slip, look at any military procurement schedule) to restock to peacetime levels. Way things are going, we don’t have that much time. We also need to be building up to wartime levels and training/recruiting to fight a two front war, as that is the quickest way to stop any number of aggressions. Right now, the Brits are facing running out of critical supplies in one day (HT Instapundit). I’ve been hearing for a while that we are looking at doing so in three days. I will simply note again (and again and again) that peacetime stocks are a joke, and anyone who tells you they are sufficient is also a joke.
A good solution to the current situation would be to cut spending, use the Defense Production Act for actual military supplies and needs, and supply actual arms to Ukraine with audit and oversight to ensure they don’t end up on the black market. The billions need to stop. At least from us. Oh, and we need to get back to training to win wars, not how to win a drag show.
That radical Jazz Shaw actually proposed something along those lines, with having other NATO members actually step up to their obligations. I think that’s a great idea, and Germany should take the lead. Then again, in some ways I’m a radical too.
Given our leadership, as well as theirs, that’s not going to happen. The Regency is fine with the billions and the money laundering. If you don’t think there is any, you might want to look at Sam the Scam and how many funds went into his crypto operation from Ukraine. Just a hint, but that’s the tip of the iceberg.
Until we can sustain what we are doing, we need to cut back on what is going to Ukraine. We need others to step up and match deeds to words when it comes to supplying arms and funds. Where there are roadblocks to them doing so, we need to remove those roadblocks if we can do so. This is not a good solution, but it is workable — sorta.
The fact is, if Vladimir and Russia are not stopped now, we are going to have a bigger problem later when they go after all the former republics. And, yes, they will do so. And go for even more besides. For all that many here deride Russkiy Mir as a joke, it is not such to the Russians. It is the blueprint for Slavophile redemption, and they will pursue it religiously unless they are unable to do so. I agree with Kamil Galeev that the only way that happens is if the Russian Federation breaks up or is broken up. On the latter, no “safe” way to do that and on the former odds are against it despite certain areas being restive in regards rule by Moscow. For all that China wants certain areas back, and Russia seems to be willing to risk the China trap (and Xi appears to be pulling out the stops to get Ukraine to fall completely into the Chinese Road trap), I wouldn’t count on external factors yet.
Quick aside for Zelensky: be careful, China will offer all sorts of loans and massive rebuilding for a fee. When you can’t pay, they seize and either retain — or sell it to Russian ownership. Just a hint, as even I can see that one coming.
Again, reality is complex and rarely subject to simple or simplistic solutions. There is not a good solution to the problem that is the Russian invasion of Ukraine. There are varying degrees of unpalatable solutions, none of which address many of the real if underlying issues at play. Trust me, if I spot what I think might be even a glimmer of a realistic solution to restore peace and prevent the next war, I’ll be shouting it from the rooftops. Until then…