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Old 10-29-2019, 12:52 PM
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The necessity (or not) of getting new American land-based ICBMs


The Air Force is looking to get new ICBMs (the GBSD) to replace the aging Minuteman III. The estimated cost is over $80 billion.

ISTM that any such land-based ICBMs cannot confer any advantage or benefit that does not already exist from the other two elements of the Triad - the manned bombers and ballistic-missile subs. The land-based ICBMs would be fixed in one location and vulnerable to strike - can't be moved, unlike ballistic missiles on transporter-erector launcher (TEL) mobile vehicles. "Launch on warning" is unnecessarily risky - it risks war over a false alarm, and the whole point of having submarines is so you don't have to rush a retaliatory decision within mere minutes - you can ride out a first strike and still have time afterwards to decide what you want to do (i.e., hit back, or not.)

The cost is very significant, too, it's well beyond the cost of the F-22 Raptor program. The U.S. military is already acquiring the B-21 Raider stealth bomber and also getting new Columbia-class ballistic missile submarines.

Time to ditch this leg and just go with a Diad instead of a Triad?
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Old 10-29-2019, 01:10 PM
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Here is a good article on that subject. https://www.popularmechanics.com/mil...nuclear-triad/

Iím not sure why you need more than submarines other than keeping the Air Force happy.
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Old 10-29-2019, 01:37 PM
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The one worthy point I've heard raised in favor of ICBMs is that so long as we have an adversary like Russia or China with a substantial numbers of nuclear weapons, having plenty of ICBM fields constitute a massive sponge to soak up a lot of their nuclear capability on the worst day of humanity. That's because the adversary will likely seek to "win" a nuclear war by disrupting our command and control of submarines and bombers (which isn't such a crazy idea in an era of cyber and electronic warfare) and take out the ICBMs with their own weapons (because the C2 is likely more survivable than depending on airplanes and satellites to communicate with the other legs of the triad). More bad guy missiles headed toward the plains states, fewer bad guy missiles headed toward Washington, DC.

I'm not sure I totally buy that argument, but there is logic to it.

What leaves me gobsmacked is how in the fucking world it takes $80 billion to build about a hundred or so ICBMs that need to be deployed. It's nuts. I mean, I know there's a lot of infrastructure and C2 stuff that needs to be upgraded -- but even with those costs excluded, many hundreds of millions of dollars for each rocket? That's offensive and ridiculous. We should be talking more like ~$100 million per ICBM, and even that is pretty damn generous.

So if the cost were, say, $30 billion dollars, I'd say "Oh yeah, in terms of the defense budget, that's not actually a whole lot, of course we should keep ICBMs." But at the estimated cost? That's a true WTF from me.

By the way, just for comparison sake, the new ballistic missile submarines are estimated to cost in the neighborhood of $120 billion (though there's no question that's a lowball figure), and that's not including the new missiles that will someday be put on them -- which are NOT the missiles we're talking about here.
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Old 10-29-2019, 01:56 PM
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ISTM that any such land-based ICBMs cannot confer any advantage or benefit that does not already exist from the other two elements of the Triad - the manned bombers and ballistic-missile subs.
ICBMs are faster to respond and launch than SLBMs or aircraft-carried weapons. They can be larger and carry more warheads, aren't subject to being lost in accidents like a submarine, are more accurate, and are generally cheaper. You can argue that they have offsetting disadvantages, or aren't necessary, but they do confer unique advantages.
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Old 10-29-2019, 02:23 PM
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ISTM that any such land-based ICBMs cannot confer any advantage or benefit that does not already exist from the other two elements of the Triad - the manned bombers and ballistic-missile subs.
Then why do we have 3 legs of the triad instead of two? Why do other countries? If it confers no benefit, then every major nuclear power has been wasting it's time and resources.

IOW, if you can't see an advantage but all other powers do something, perhaps you are missing something. Land based weapon systems do have some that bombers and subs don't, but in this case the major part of the US deference comes from our land based weapons systems.

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Time to ditch this leg and just go with a Diad instead of a Triad?
No, I would say it's past time to update them. Both Russia and China are pouring money into new launch concepts, including hyper-sonic variants that can fly non-ballistic courses, and that seems like something we should (and actually are) be looking into.

Anyway, as that seems to have been answered, I'd like to ask a question that's bugged me for a while and is sort of related to your OP. My dad and several other actual conservatives I know go on and on about updating our nukes, that we are behind on nuclear development or something and that this is something we should pour a ton into. Launch vehicles totally make sense, but why nukes? Why do conservatives think it's important and where is that coming from? I get that they need to be reliable, but this doesn't seem to be what they are talking about. It's like we need better nukes or something, but I don't see how they could be 'better'. We can already dial the yield, we already have MIRVs and we've miniaturized them to what I assume is pretty much the greatest possible extent. We already know how to make them boom bigger if we really wanted too, already know how to make them to do a ground penetration mission as well as an EMP profile. So...what do we need to improve wrt the actual warhead??
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Old 10-29-2019, 02:25 PM
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Anyway, as that seems to have been answered, I'd like to ask a question that's bugged me for a while and is sort of related to your OP. My dad and several other actual conservatives I know go on and on about updating our nukes, that we are behind on nuclear development or something and that this is something we should pour a ton into. Launch vehicles totally make sense, but why nukes? Why do conservatives think it's important and where is that coming from? I get that they need to be reliable, but this doesn't seem to be what they are talking about. It's like we need better nukes or something, but I don't see how they could be 'better'. We can already dial the yield, we already have MIRVs and we've miniaturized them to what I assume is pretty much the greatest possible extent. We already know how to make them boom bigger if we really wanted too, already know how to make them to do a ground penetration mission as well as an EMP profile. So...what do we need to improve wrt the actual warhead??
AIUI, it's not that we need new nuke designs - nukes are already as devastating and capable as they could ever need to be - but that the missiles and bombers and submarines themselves are aging out. Components getting old, etc. The warheads wouldn't need any new designing.
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Old 10-29-2019, 02:28 PM
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AIUI, it's not that we need new nuke designs - nukes are already as devastating and capable as they could ever need to be - but that the missiles and bombers and submarines themselves are aging out. Components getting old, etc. The warheads wouldn't need any new designing.
Well, that's what I thought too. When I brought that up (we actually DO testing, though obviously not actual full up testing), this didn't seem to be what they were getting at. They were talking about NEW nukes, as if there is some sort of gap or something because we aren't developing new ones. I brought up the launcher thing, thinking that must be what they are talking about, but again, nope. No idea where this concept that we are falling behind on nuclear weapons development, or even what we'd be developing comes from (well, ok...it's GOT to be Fox News, but the why of it still alludes me).

It's a recurring theme that a lot of conservatives I know, including my dad and his buddies, are constantly on about.
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Old 10-29-2019, 02:40 PM
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The only "new" nuclear weapons actually being looked at are reliability upgrades to existing weapons (like the B-61-12 gravity bomb) that are basically taking an existing weapon apart, tinkering with it a bit, and putting it back together; and a modification to the warhead in the missiles used by subs to make it very low yield.

There is no new-design nuclear weapon being contemplated.
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Old 10-29-2019, 03:39 PM
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From what I read, the current problems are:

A. You can't consider yourself a compent nuclear weapons designer if you have not designed a warhead and detonated it. At this point everyone working for the national laboratories who can say they actually did this are elderly.
B. Apparently, while it is possible to keep making detonation tested warheads with the same designs as before - so you know they are sufficiently apocalyptic - the present designs are require a lot of expensive maintenance. There is a desire to make more reliable designs but this takes funding and really requires a few to be set off.
C. Somehow the Russians might get the idea our nukes might not be sufficiently lethal and decide to risk genocide of their entire population by nuking the USA first.

Anyways I think it's all crazy talk. Technically if a nuclear war breaks out, and 90 percent of us nukes turn out to be duds so half the civilian population of Russia remains living, this doesn't sound like a loss to the world to me.

Anyways maintaining a triad increases the probability that a systematic mistake somewhere causes none of the nukes to work. All submarine launched missiles are the same design of missile and warhead. Just takes one screwup and none of them might explode.

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Old 10-29-2019, 04:17 PM
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Well, that's what I thought too. When I brought that up (we actually DO testing, though obviously not actual full up testing), this didn't seem to be what they were getting at. They were talking about NEW nukes, as if there is some sort of gap or something because we aren't developing new ones. I brought up the launcher thing, thinking that must be what they are talking about, but again, nope. No idea where this concept that we are falling behind on nuclear weapons development, or even what we'd be developing comes from (well, ok...it's GOT to be Fox News, but the why of it still alludes me).

It's a recurring theme that a lot of conservatives I know, including my dad and his buddies, are constantly on about.

I think the real issue here is not so much newer designs (although I'm sure we could probably make a few good tweaks even now) so much as it is the actual warheads themselves. Nukes don't last forever, and a lot of the ones we currently have are old. We probably do need to build some new ones, or at least do serious refurbishment on some of the old ones, even if the design stays the same.
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Old 10-29-2019, 04:20 PM
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The Air Force can save money by putting Tridents in the silos. That would free up money for them to spend elsewhere.
Oh, who am I kidding, the USAF leadership wants all of the money for everything and always has.
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Old 10-29-2019, 04:26 PM
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I think the real issue here is not so much newer designs (although I'm sure we could probably make a few good tweaks even now) so much as it is the actual warheads themselves. Nukes don't last forever, and a lot of the ones we currently have are old. We probably do need to build some new ones, or at least do serious refurbishment on some of the old ones, even if the design stays the same.
I agree, certainly we need to maintain some level of nukes just for deterrence, and that means old ones will need to be retired and new ones built. I just don't see why this means we need to develop new nukes or do new testing (this is another recurring theme...we need to test them, as in we need to blow some up to see...something...that we haven't seen in all the other live tests we did. Computer simulations are, apparently, for suckers. Or something).

Like I said, it makes no sense to me. I can see new launch vehicles and delivery systems. Those can certainly be developed and researched and put into the pipeline. They make sense. And keeping our nukes working and 'new' ones (using existing designs, maybe updated with new materials or something) in the pipeline to maintain numbers makes sense. But the designs we have work...and, really, at this point I don't see how you make a nuke better, except perhaps wrt the materials or maybe extended shelf life, none of which needs a large scale new program and tons of money.
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Old 10-29-2019, 04:33 PM
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"Launch on warning" is unnecessarily risky - it risks war over a false alarm, and the whole point of having submarines is so you don't have to rush a retaliatory decision within mere minutes - you can ride out a first strike and still have time afterwards to decide what you want to do (i.e., hit back, or not.)
I'm not interested in riding out a first strike. Who exactly is? The idea is that they won't try a first strike knowing they can't take all our missiles and we'll get them anyway. It's all about deterrence.
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Old 10-29-2019, 05:46 PM
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I agree, certainly we need to maintain some level of nukes just for deterrence, and that means old ones will need to be retired and new ones built. I just don't see why this means we need to develop new nukes or do new testing (this is another recurring theme...we need to test them, as in we need to blow some up to see...something...that we haven't seen in all the other live tests we did. Computer simulations are, apparently, for suckers. Or something).

Like I said, it makes no sense to me. I can see new launch vehicles and delivery systems. Those can certainly be developed and researched and put into the pipeline. They make sense. And keeping our nukes working and 'new' ones (using existing designs, maybe updated with new materials or something) in the pipeline to maintain numbers makes sense. But the designs we have work...and, really, at this point I don't see how you make a nuke better, except perhaps wrt the materials or maybe extended shelf life, none of which needs a large scale new program and tons of money.
XT, have you ever been part of developing a complex machine? Simulations absolutely will not catch all defects.
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Old 10-30-2019, 08:36 AM
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How is a real, tested and maintained ICBM better than a pretend, untested, unmaintained one? Bombers and subs, sure, a deterrent the enemy can see. But an ICBM? Let's just tell the Russians and the Chinese that we have lots of them, that they're really super modern, and that we are crazy and the only country that has ever nuked another. Like we did with SDI. Wouldn't that save us from spending another all-of-the-money on weapons we are only going to use at the end of the world?
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Old 10-30-2019, 08:56 AM
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Nuclear weapons have proven themselves to be a deterrent to their own use. Despite the wars and numerous tense situation over the last 74 years, there hasn't been a single weapon detonated since Nagasaki. It's well worth the money to have the latest and greatest in place.
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Old 10-30-2019, 09:35 AM
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ICBMs are faster to respond and launch than SLBMs or aircraft-carried weapons.
I am not sure quickness is an advantage. As discussed, the fact that they don't move means leadership is more trigger happy to use them because otherwise they get obliterated.

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They can be larger and carry more warheads,
I will acknowledge that this is their one advantage.

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aren't subject to being lost in accidents like a submarine
We have had SLBMs for 60 years now. How many have been lost? Exactly zero. The Air Force has accidentally blown up two of its ICBMs and lost/destroyed many of its gravity bombs.

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are more accurate
The article above seems to think that isn't necessarily true anymore.

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and are generally cheaper.
If you don't need something, then buying it isn't cheap.

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Old 10-30-2019, 09:42 AM
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The one worthy point I've heard raised in favor of ICBMs is that so long as we have an adversary like Russia or China with a substantial numbers of nuclear weapons, having plenty of ICBM fields constitute a massive sponge to soak up a lot of their nuclear capability on the worst day of humanity. That's because the adversary will likely seek to "win" a nuclear war by disrupting our command and control of submarines and bombers (which isn't such a crazy idea in an era of cyber and electronic warfare) and take out the ICBMs with their own weapons (because the C2 is likely more survivable than depending on airplanes and satellites to communicate with the other legs of the triad). More bad guy missiles headed toward the plains states, fewer bad guy missiles headed toward Washington, DC.

I'm not sure I totally buy that argument, but there is logic to it.

What leaves me gobsmacked is how in the fucking world it takes $80 billion to build about a hundred or so ICBMs that need to be deployed. It's nuts. I mean, I know there's a lot of infrastructure and C2 stuff that needs to be upgraded -- but even with those costs excluded, many hundreds of millions of dollars for each rocket? That's offensive and ridiculous. We should be talking more like ~$100 million per ICBM, and even that is pretty damn generous.

So if the cost were, say, $30 billion dollars, I'd say "Oh yeah, in terms of the defense budget, that's not actually a whole lot, of course we should keep ICBMs." But at the estimated cost? That's a true WTF from me.

By the way, just for comparison sake, the new ballistic missile submarines are estimated to cost in the neighborhood of $120 billion (though there's no question that's a lowball figure), and that's not including the new missiles that will someday be put on them -- which are NOT the missiles we're talking about here.
I haven't RTFA, but is a lot of that cost new warheads for the proposed new ICBM class? Or are we just porting over the Mark 12As from the MM3 fleet?

As far as replacement costs for the boosters, what's the estimated lifetime for the solid rocket motors in the MM3 fleet, and are we coming up against it? Do solid rockets age out, or do they get so expensive to maintain that it'd be cheaper to just cast new motors?

SSBNs are only survivable so long as they are able to hide in the water. Is there a sensor breakthrough coming where that may no longer be the case?
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Old 10-30-2019, 10:49 AM
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XT, have you ever been part of developing a complex machine? Simulations absolutely will not catch all defects.
We aren't talking about some new machine that's never been built and tested and has only been developed in a simulation, perhaps using new manufacturing methods such as 3-D printing. We are talking about a machine that's been built (mass produced almost) thousands of times (10's of thousands) and extensively tested hundreds of times. The simulations we have for the things are...well, extensive.

To build 'new' ones (i.e. build new nukes using existing designs) we pretty much have everything we need to do that already. Even if there is going to be some change to the materials, those can be individually tested and that data plugged into the simulation.

Even building new designs I think we have enough simulation data to have a high confidence we could build the things and have them work using what we have. I don't see the point except, as noted, to maybe incorporate new materials or features that prolong shelf life or something like that, but I think we (and the Chinese, Russians, Brits, French and the other nuclear powers) could do it without blowing them up. North Korea still has to because they DON'T have all that data...plus, it's really to piss other countries, especially the US, off.
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Old 10-30-2019, 11:11 AM
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XT, have you ever been part of developing a complex machine? Simulations absolutely will not catch all defects.
That is definitely true, but with enough billions in funding, it can help make the likelihood of success very good.

I do find it interesting that they felt confident enough in the "Little boy" design to drop it without testing. That is a crazy amount of confidence considering that nothing like it had been designed before.
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Old 10-30-2019, 12:27 PM
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SSBNs are only survivable so long as they are able to hide in the water. Is there a sensor breakthrough coming where that may no longer be the case?
Yes. Eventually. But it's not better sensors, just more. A lot more. The present advances in machine learning strongly indicate it will eventually be feasible for robots to do all steps of the pipeline, from mining the minerals and constructing the buildings to manufacturing and inspection. Even of high end weapons, which today are actually mostly built by hand.

A jet fighter or torpedo or submarine other high end weapon actually has a tremendous amount of hand labor that goes into building one. The reason is a combination of small volumes and other factors.

Anyways, eventually there will be fully automated plants that can make even small volume niche products completely autonomously. Including weapons. And the plants themselves will be using robots that can be made in other such plants.

It's exponential growth. You can reasonably expect 10-100 times growth in worldwide industrial capacity. At which point something like a sensitive solar powered sonobuoy or other spy could practically be deployed (by a drone aircraft of course) in such massive numbers that the ocean no longer provides concealment.

That is another scale thing - machine learning systems would be needed to listen to all these hydrophones instead of a human with 'golden ears' such as in a Tom Clancy novel.
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Old 10-30-2019, 12:36 PM
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The USAF isn’t looking at road mobile ICBM?
A Topol-M mobile missile is longer (22 v 18 meters) and heavier (48 metric tonnes to 36 metric tonnes) compared to a Minuteman III. Makes sense it should be on a mobile launcher

Last edited by AK84; 10-30-2019 at 12:40 PM.
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Old 10-30-2019, 12:57 PM
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ISTM that any such land-based ICBMs cannot confer any advantage or benefit that does not already exist from the other two elements of the Triad - the manned bombers and ballistic-missile subs.
It's large amounts of cheap fire power that is also easy to secure and supply.

Each leg of the triad ensures that an attacker would suffer some amount of damage, but ICBMs guarantee that the retaliatory strike would be overwhelmingly destructive. That's the real deterrent, and ICBM are cheaper to maintain and operate than subs and bombers.

Bombers represent flexibility in the force, they can be retargeted easily and can be incrementally escalated. But they are costly to maintain and secure, and vulnerable to enemy air defenses.

Subs represent resilience and stealth. They guarantee there will be some sort of retaliation no matter what. They are costly to secure and maintain, and there aren't many bases where they can be resupplied and rearmed.

ICBMs guarantee that any retaliatory strike would be overwhelmingly destructive. That's where the most forceful part of the deterrent comes in. ICBMs have extremely fast response, they cost less, can't be captured or shot down, don't have long logistical tails.

Without ICBM, an enemy might calculate that if they can wipe out sub and bomber assets, then it might be worth the risk of decapitation. ICBMs ensure that enough forces would survive to make an overwhelming response.
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Old 10-30-2019, 12:59 PM
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The USAF isnít looking at road mobile ICBM?
A Topol-M mobile missile is longer (22 v 18 meters) and heavier (48 metric tonnes to 36 metric tonnes) compared to a Minuteman III. Makes sense it should be on a mobile launcher
Putting the new missiles in the same hole in the ground as the old missiles is cheaper than building many, many, many miles of new roads for sure.

Besides, since space-based surveillance is becoming a commodity, the value of road-mobile deterrents is likely going to decline over the next many years and decades.
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Old 10-30-2019, 01:10 PM
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Putting the new missiles in the same hole in the ground as the old missiles is cheaper than building many, many, many miles of new roads for sure.

Besides, since space-based surveillance is becoming a commodity, the value of road-mobile deterrents is likely going to decline over the next many years and decades.
A MAZ7917 TEL which carries the SS-25 can use ordinary roads. No need to build new ones.
While road mobile missiles can probably be detected much more quickly, in the 40 or so minutes from detection to destination the launcher will be many miles away. It cruise at about 30 mph so it would be 20 miles away if not more.
Thatís 1260 sq miles of area which has to be covered. Theyíll have to use a damn Tsar Bomb for every launcher.
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Old 10-30-2019, 01:25 PM
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A MAZ7917 TEL which carries the SS-25 can use ordinary roads. No need to build new ones.
While road mobile missiles can probably be detected much more quickly, in the 40 or so minutes from detection to destination the launcher will be many miles away. It cruise at about 30 mph so it would be 20 miles away if not more.
Thatís 1260 sq miles of area which has to be covered. Theyíll have to use a damn Tsar Bomb for every launcher.
Both China and Russia (and the US for that matter) are developing, and supposedly have working models of hyper-sonic missiles able to adjust their targeting in flight, fly non-ballistic courses and, again supposedly, could hit a maneuvering US carrier with either a conventional or nuclear warhead. Plus a lot of other magical features. I'm more than a bit , but they say they can, and neither Russia nor the CCP is ever known to lie or exaggerate. And we all know how reliable the US is (though, to be fair, the US isn't really saying much about it's own program)...

So, in theory, assuming you could actually make such a system work and actually be able to update your kill chain, then road launchers would be just as vulnerable as air craft carriers or anything else that moves. Or, to be more specific, as you point out, if large scale launches are confirmed, we could as easily flush the birds out of ground based launchers as we could with mobile launchers, if it comes to that.

In any case, I'm not seeing it as a priority for the US to have this capability. Our own version of the triad is flexible enough, especially assuming we are also in the process of updating our own launchers, which supposedly we are.
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Old 10-30-2019, 01:39 PM
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A MAZ7917 TEL which carries the SS-25 can use ordinary roads. No need to build new ones. ...
I don't know how it works in Russia or China, but I assume there'd be some security concerns about having mobile ICBM launchers out on "ordinary roads" with normal civilian traffic like just another semi.

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Old 10-30-2019, 01:42 PM
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A MAZ7917 TEL which carries the SS-25 can use ordinary roads. No need to build new ones.
In the United States, the idea that an ICBM will drive on ordinary roads is bonkers. The American tinkering with the idea during the Cold War highlighted the extremely high cost, especially after billions were wasted on putting them on rail cars. And it highlighted problems that the Russkies and Norks don't need to deal with, like conducting an environmental impact statement on the places a mobile ICBM would go. We're talking several tens of billions of additional costs for deploying the road-mobile concepts that were a joke during the Cold War.

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While road mobile missiles can probably be detected much more quickly, in the 40 or so minutes from detection to destination the launcher will be many miles away. It cruise at about 30 mph so it would be 20 miles away if not more.
Thatís 1260 sq miles of area which has to be covered. Theyíll have to use a damn Tsar Bomb for every launcher.
Nope on all counts. If you assume 30 mph, the thing has to stay on a road. Sure it may go east or west, or north or south, but it's going to be on a road. Further, as ISR becomes omnipresent in the coming decades, that 40 minute flash-to-bang time is going to come down significantly due to hypersonic weapons or advanced cruise missiles with much greater range that will be faster and much, much harder to detect and much, much more agile that today's ICBMs.

Depending on the scenario, we could be talking about an adversary having almost no notice of a raid that uses hypersonic weapons with no explosive payload at all that can precisely target trucks on roads from continents away. We are not there today, but by the 2040s? Oh sure, that's a very reasonable proposition.
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Old 10-30-2019, 01:45 PM
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Both China and Russia (and the US for that matter) are developing, and supposedly have working models of hyper-sonic missiles able to adjust their targeting in flight, fly non-ballistic courses and, again supposedly, could hit a maneuvering US carrier with either a conventional or nuclear warhead. Plus a lot of other magical features. I'm more than a bit , but they say they can, and neither Russia nor the CCP is ever known to lie or exaggerate. And we all know how reliable the US is (though, to be fair, the US isn't really saying much about it's own program)...
It proved devilishly difficult for aircraft to find, let alone hit BBs. The problem is not that a single HSV could kill a carrier, or even several launched en salvo, but that even hundreds HSV are many order cheaper than a carrier. And can hit at much longer range. And persistently. For a long time before the ship can retaliate. A BB usually needed multiple sqdrn of aircraft, attacking from multiple vectors to suffer damage or be sunk, and her air defences regularly accounted for many attackers.

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So, in theory, assuming you could actually make such a system work and actually be able to update your kill chain, then road launchers would be just as vulnerable as air craft carriers or anything else that moves. Or, to be more specific, as you point out, if large scale launches are confirmed, we could as easily flush the birds out of ground based launchers as we could with mobile launchers, if it comes to that.
A carrier should ideally survive until the war concludes. A TEL only until itís missile is away. Which takes minutes.
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Old 10-30-2019, 02:01 PM
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The USAF isnít looking at road mobile ICBM?
A Topol-M mobile missile is longer (22 v 18 meters) and heavier (48 metric tonnes to 36 metric tonnes) compared to a Minuteman III. Makes sense it should be on a mobile launcher
I am also guessing the security for such an item would be a real nightmare. Here you are driving around an EXTREMELY obvious thing that is full of rocket fuel with a nuclear warhead on top.

Can you imagine what a determined group of 5-10 bad guys could do with that?
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Old 10-30-2019, 02:08 PM
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It proved devilishly difficult for aircraft to find, let alone hit BBs.
Uh, are you talking about World War II? You think that the last war where battleships were relevant -- and then discarded in years since then -- is in any way relevant?
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Old 10-30-2019, 03:42 PM
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While road mobile missiles can probably be detected much more quickly, in the 40 or so minutes from detection to destination the launcher will be many miles away. It cruise at about 30 mph so it would be 20 miles away if not more.
Not on the interstates around my town between 9AM and 5PM.

How would you guarantee this road would always be clear, and not vulnerable to (say) a Russian sleeper agent jack-knifing a semi full of live chickens and $5 bills in the middle of the road right before the nuclear assault?
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Old 10-30-2019, 03:58 PM
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I am also guessing the security for such an item would be a real nightmare. Here you are driving around an EXTREMELY obvious thing that is full of rocket fuel with a nuclear warhead on top.

Can you imagine what a determined group of 5-10 bad guys could do with that?
I'm sure it's vulnerable - but Russia has done it for many years with its road-mobile ICBMs. How did they address the issues?
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Old 10-30-2019, 04:14 PM
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I'm sure it's vulnerable - but Russia has done it for many years with its road-mobile ICBMs. How did they address the issues?
This might be speculation on my part, but I think their strategy (and China's) revolves around "we'll kill every living family member of anyone who fucks with our missile trucks" or something like that.
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Old 10-30-2019, 04:16 PM
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I'm sure it's vulnerable - but Russia has done it for many years with its road-mobile ICBMs. How did they address the issues?
They didn't. It's a numbers game. Russia knows that in a nuclear war where the USA strikes first, some of their road mobile ICBMs wouldn't make it. The obvious thing to do would be to bomb their depots with stealth bombers.

Some must be out on alert in semirandom spots along the roads under camo netting.

But some would and they would be aimed right at NYC/DC/Dallas/LA etc. High value targets. Any effort to evacuate those cities in advance of a nuclear war would put the Russian nuclear forces on alert.

In a sense it is a hostage situation. I don't think it has long term stability, even though it has been peaceful for many years.

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Old 10-30-2019, 04:27 PM
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I'm sure it's vulnerable - but Russia has done it for many years with its road-mobile ICBMs. How did they address the issues?
They just don't care that much. They have a lot of empty land, so they just say Į\_(ツ)_/Į

No one takes nuclear weapon security as seriously as the US. We even paid Pakistan $100M just to beef up their nuclear security because we think it sucked so bad.
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Old 10-30-2019, 04:28 PM
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They didn't. It's a numbers game. Russia knows that in a nuclear war where the USA strikes first, some of their road mobile ICBMs wouldn't make it. The obvious thing to do would be to bomb their depots with stealth bombers.

Some must be out on alert in semirandom spots along the roads under camo netting.

But some would and they would be aimed right at NYC/DC/Dallas/LA etc. High value targets. Any effort to evacuate those cities in advance of a nuclear war would put the Russian nuclear forces on alert.

In a sense it is a hostage situation. I don't think it has long term stability, even though it has been peaceful for many years.
I mean vulnerable in the sense of being commandeered/captured by terrorists, not getting hit by American nukes. Russia shares borders with many hostile/unstable nations in Central Asia, and has many enemy terrorist groups who have reason to 1) get nukes and 2) jab Russia in the eye. Russia is also the largest nation by size. In theory, road-mobile ICBMs are a risky thing for Russia to do.
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Old 10-30-2019, 04:29 PM
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What leaves me gobsmacked is how in the fucking world it takes $80 billion to build about a hundred or so ICBMs that need to be deployed.
It's about 650 missiles, not 100. The US has 3 strategic missile wings based in Montana(Malmstrom AFB), North Dakota(Minot AFB) and across parts of SE Wyoming , W. Nebraska and NE Colorado ((FE Warren AFB in Cheyenne).

Each one has about 150 missiles emplaced in silos well spread across the countryside.

Beyond that, we're not talking about something like a Patriot or Hellfire missile here; we're talking about something that is intended to lift a warhead bus weighing something like 3000-4000 lbs into a very precise ballistic trajectory, such that the warheads on the bus can be put on target within a CEP of 90 meters (or probably less in the GBSD; Peacekeeper had a 90m CEP 30 years ago, and Minuteman III has a 120m CEP).

This is no mean undertaking; historically ICBMs have been repurposed for NASA (the Titan II-GLV, the Mercury Redstone and the Mercury Atlas were all repurposed ICBMs. ), or for satellite launching (the Titan II, Atlas, Minuteman and Peacekeeper missiles (as the Minotaur I through V)).

So we're not talking "build a missile", we're talking something more on the order of "Build a rocket for NASA, and perch a nuclear weapon delivery system on top".

And it has to meet all sorts of readiness criteria and similar stuff in the bargain that civilian launch systems don't.

So in that light, it's not surprising that ICBMs would be extremely expensive.
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Old 10-30-2019, 04:41 PM
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I mean vulnerable in the sense of being commandeered/captured by terrorists, not getting hit by American nukes. Russia shares borders with many hostile/unstable nations in Central Asia, and has many enemy terrorist groups who have reason to 1) get nukes and 2) jab Russia in the eye. Russia is also the largest nation by size. In theory, road-mobile ICBMs are a risky thing for Russia to do.
Oh. Well one can only hope their PAL technology, which the USA developed and shared with Russia, actually works and is not full of bugs like typical shoddy Russian software.
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Old 10-30-2019, 04:42 PM
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It's about 650 missiles, not 100.
I believe is it now something like 100 deployed per base, so 400 deployed overall. My dumb error.
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Old 10-30-2019, 11:47 PM
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This might be speculation on my part, but I think their strategy (and China's) revolves around "we'll kill every living family member of anyone who fucks with our missile trucks" or something like that.

The US did so with Pershing II TELs in Germany for many years and last I checked they avoided killing the population in the localities they were based in, despite massive anti nuke protests.
  #42  
Old 10-31-2019, 02:38 AM
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ICBMs are faster to respond and launch than SLBMs or aircraft-carried weapons.
Apparently not:

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Moreover, the assumption that land-based missiles are the fastest means of delivering nuclear weapons is false. A 1993 report by the Government Accountability Office found “no operationally meaningful difference in time to target” between the ICBMs and submarine-launched ballistic missiles.

Last edited by Lord Feldon; 10-31-2019 at 02:40 AM.
  #43  
Old 10-31-2019, 10:24 AM
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I'd like to see the assumptions they made in order to come up with that statement. AIUI, SLBMs and ICBMs travel at roughly the same speed when they reach terminal velocity. They take roughly the same amount of time to reach that velocity. Further, SLBMs would be launched closer to their targets than ICBMs, enough so that time of flight should be anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes less.

So, for SLBMs and ICBMs to arrive on target at essentially the same time, the SLBM process for issuing, authenticating, and acting upon a valid launch order, is about 10-20 minutes slower than for the land based force?

Or is 10-20 minutes or less, not 'operationally meaningfully different?'

Last edited by Gray Ghost; 10-31-2019 at 10:25 AM.
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Old 10-31-2019, 12:03 PM
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I'd like to see the assumptions they made in order to come up with that statement. AIUI, SLBMs and ICBMs travel at roughly the same speed when they reach terminal velocity. They take roughly the same amount of time to reach that velocity. Further, SLBMs would be launched closer to their targets than ICBMs, enough so that time of flight should be anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes less.

So, for SLBMs and ICBMs to arrive on target at essentially the same time, the SLBM process for issuing, authenticating, and acting upon a valid launch order, is about 10-20 minutes slower than for the land based force?

Or is 10-20 minutes or less, not 'operationally meaningfully different?'
Communication links are slower. You have to use very low data rates to reach a submarine. Measured in characters per minute for extreme low frequency. This means a launch order transmission would take on the order of 10 minutes to an hour.

Probably the war plan is to signal the submarine to ascend to just below the surface, where it would use a faster link like VLF or a 2 way satellite connection.

Still this adds minutes at a minimum.
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Old 10-31-2019, 01:59 PM
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Presumably, to contact your subs, you need VLF/ULF communications - could an enemy successfully knock all those out in a first strike so you cannot use subs as retaliation? (Assuming you didn't give your subs any 'Letters of Last Resort' beforehand)
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Old 10-31-2019, 02:36 PM
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Presumably, to contact your subs, you need VLF/ULF communications - could an enemy successfully knock all those out in a first strike so you cannot use subs as retaliation? (Assuming you didn't give your subs any 'Letters of Last Resort' beforehand)
Eventually, the subs are going to find out what has happened, and get word from whoever is left in the US to nuke the bastards (or just decide to do it themselves). There are something like 7 SSBNs on deterrent patrol at any given time, scattered around the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. Even if a country could knock out all VLF comms with submarines, there isn't a navy in the world (aside from maybe our own) I'd give a snowball's chance in hell of sinking all those subs before they figure out what's happened and rain nuclear fire down on the perpetrators.
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Old 10-31-2019, 05:36 PM
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Eventually, the subs are going to find out what has happened, and get word from whoever is left in the US to nuke the bastards (or just decide to do it themselves). There are something like 7 SSBNs on deterrent patrol at any given time, scattered around the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. Even if a country could knock out all VLF comms with submarines, there isn't a navy in the world (aside from maybe our own) I'd give a snowball's chance in hell of sinking all those subs before they figure out what's happened and rain nuclear fire down on the perpetrators.
I thought with US subs a secret code is needed that is not physically on the submarine. This is needed for the warheads to arm.

The PAL code.

Last edited by SamuelA; 10-31-2019 at 05:36 PM.
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Old 10-31-2019, 05:52 PM
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I thought with US subs a secret code is needed that is not physically on the submarine. This is needed for the warheads to arm.

The PAL code.
Don't know about the PALs, but I read a nonfiction book (Trident, a 1990s volume about Ohio-class subs) that stated that virtually every safeguard on a submarine can be circumvented if a submarine crew is truly determined to go rogue. They can do a manual hack-around of just about everything they need in order to launch nukes on their own. But in order to do so, a great many submariners have to all cooperate and work together to make it physically work/happen, and many would dissent (and there is an encouraged ballistic-missile submariner culture of independent thought and questioning the orders, such that a rogue commander or officer couldn't easily get his crew to mutiny together against the higher-ups in Washington this way.)

Perhaps iiandyiiii or robby or our other Doper submariners can comment on this.

Last edited by Velocity; 10-31-2019 at 05:54 PM.
  #49  
Old 10-31-2019, 06:08 PM
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Don't know about the PALs, but I read a nonfiction book (Trident, a 1990s volume about Ohio-class subs) that stated that virtually every safeguard on a submarine can be circumvented if a submarine crew is truly determined to go rogue. They can do a manual hack-around of just about everything they need in order to launch nukes on their own. But in order to do so, a great many submariners have to all cooperate and work together to make it physically work/happen, and many would dissent (and there is an encouraged ballistic-missile submariner culture of independent thought and questioning the orders, such that a rogue commander or officer couldn't easily get his crew to mutiny together against the higher-ups in Washington this way.)

Perhaps iiandyiiii or robby or our other Doper submariners can comment on this.
What I read is the PAL system is in the payload themselves. It's done with embedded microcontrollers that are supposed to brick themselves if tampering is detected. And the warhead is designed to require an exact timing sequence of steps to detonate with full yield. So if the microcontroller doesn't cooperate - and won't without the correct code - and the submarine crew are not nuclear weapons designers - it can't be made to go off. (At least not with design yield. )

Allegedly for years, the PAL code was all zeroes for exactly the fear you are talking about. There must be a finite number of copies of the codes.

My source is the book Damascus Incident.

A missile launch without armed warheads, well. Might still start ww3. Easily.

Last edited by SamuelA; 10-31-2019 at 06:10 PM.
  #50  
Old 10-31-2019, 06:23 PM
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As for PAL codes - we can speculate about how many copies exist. Probably the "football" held near the President has an actual complete copy. (Meaning if the president were directly in contact with a submarine or missile crew, with everyone else out of contact, all the information needed to arm the nukes is in there)

Probably there is one somewhere in the Pentagon. Cheyenne mountain. Other lesser known government bunkers. Aboard the airborne command aircraft - think there are several of those.

Anyways if the Russians could line up a set of simultaneous surprise nuclear attacks on all copies of the codes - and while we might not know where they are, probably at least a hundred people in government do - they would in theory win ww3 since no deployed US nukes would go off. Since the codes get changed periodically there must be written documents that explain how to do it and listing all these details. And people that know. People who Anna Chapman's hot younger cousin could potentially get access to and pump for information...
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