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  #51  
Old 11-03-2019, 10:13 AM
suretytek is offline
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This thread is drifting towards PAL, Command and Control, etc. Just a quick pitch for the Eric Schlosser book Command and Control. It is one of the best non-fiction books I've read, period. He interleaves a very in-depth account of the Damascus incident in Arkansas with the history of nuclear weapons with a focus on the Command and Control systems, and the virtual war between the government (wanting better command and control systems) and the military (wanting the ability to use nukes as quickly as possible).

The Dead Hand is an excellent book that takes a broader look at weapons of mass destruction (bio, chemical as well as nuclear). Well researched, well written.

I also follow Alex Wellerstein who is a professor of military / nuclear secrets. His blog is good but he seems to spend most of his writing time answering questions and writing on reddit (/u/restricteddata).

It's a fascinating and truly frightening topic.
  #52  
Old 11-03-2019, 11:03 AM
SamuelA is offline
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It's a fascinating and truly frightening topic.
Yes. The biggest problem that is revealed in Command and Control is that with no actual accountability, the military can claim one thing while the reality is very different. As long as something can be hidden under a security classification (and, yes, obviously the nuclear secrets are justified in being classified) it's possible for outright lies to be propagated.

Are all U.S. nuclear warheads actually one-point safe? Are all of them installed with properly configured and verified secure PAL systems? Are they stored in bunkers and other secure storage with access controls where ordinance crews can't accidentally load live nukes instead of training munitions? (we know that isn't true) Is the command and control network actually properly air gaped from open networks in a way that minimizes the risk of hacking?

We know from the Thule Patrol mentioned in C&C that the actual way it was done was shockingly crude, for decades. It was just analog voice radio, where B52s would fly around the Thule airbase and see that it was not yet nuked. That was it.

Thule gets nuked = it's on, bomb the Soviet union and kill everybody.

That was the plan. Someone tells you over the radio they saw Thule get nuked? It's on. (and hopefully you ask them for the correct codes)

Most of the world's civilization is/was truly being held hostage, where the only thing keeping us alive is a combination of fear and luck.
  #53  
Old 11-03-2019, 11:52 AM
Gray Ghost is offline
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Originally Posted by suretytek View Post
This thread is drifting towards PAL, Command and Control, etc. Just a quick pitch for the Eric Schlosser book Command and Control. It is one of the best non-fiction books I've read, period. He interleaves a very in-depth account of the Damascus incident in Arkansas with the history of nuclear weapons with a focus on the Command and Control systems, and the virtual war between the government (wanting better command and control systems) and the military (wanting the ability to use nukes as quickly as possible)....

I also follow Alex Wellerstein who is a professor of military / nuclear secrets. His blog is good but he seems to spend most of his writing time answering questions and writing on reddit (/u/restricteddata)...
Wellerstein is the guy who came up with NUKEMAP, IIRC. His blog is a great read, as you note.

As good as the text of Schlosser's book is, the bibliography is at least as impressive. Worth getting just for that, IMO.

George Washington University has a large depository of national security and nuclear weapons related documents available online. https://nsarchive.gwu.edu/

Finally, I recommend following the various contributors to the Arms Control Wonk pages. Very informative---especially in the comments sections---on the nuts and bolts of WMD deployment, strategy, and nonproliferation issues. https://www.armscontrolwonk.com/ They are more active on their respective twitter feeds than at their blog, FWIW.
  #54  
Old 11-03-2019, 11:58 AM
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EDIT: For a discussion on PAL development and history, this New Yorker article by Schlosser goes into some detail. https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-...of-nuclear-war Probably duplicative with his book, but much shorter to read.

If you want the latest guidance from the US Government's own mouth on the subject of nuclear surety, here's a link to a paper on the subject: https://www.acq.osd.mil/ncbdp/nm/nmh.../chapter_7.htm
  #55  
Old 11-03-2019, 09:32 PM
suretytek is offline
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We know from the Thule Patrol mentioned in C&C that the actual way it was done was shockingly crude, for decades. It was just analog voice radio, where B52s would fly around the Thule airbase and see that it was not yet nuked. That was it.

Thule gets nuked = it's on, bomb the Soviet union and kill everybody.

That was the plan. Someone tells you over the radio they saw Thule get nuked? It's on. (and hopefully you ask them for the correct codes)
It's been a while since I read C&C so I had forgotten about the Thule Patrol. Time for another re-read. And some sleepless nights. Thanks SamuelA!
  #56  
Old 11-03-2019, 09:40 PM
suretytek is offline
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Wellerstein is the guy who came up with NUKEMAP, IIRC. His blog is a great read, as you note.

As good as the text of Schlosser's book is, the bibliography is at least as impressive. Worth getting just for that, IMO.

George Washington University has a large depository of national security and nuclear weapons related documents available online. https://nsarchive.gwu.edu/

Finally, I recommend following the various contributors to the Arms Control Wonk pages. Very informative---especially in the comments sections---on the nuts and bolts of WMD deployment, strategy, and nonproliferation issues. https://www.armscontrolwonk.com/ They are more active on their respective twitter feeds than at their blog, FWIW.
You are thinking of the right guy! Nukemap still lives and is just fascinating. I live a couple of miles from USSTRATCOM headquarters. Nukemap is pretty bleak for me.

I've not spent time with the C&C bibliography but it looks like I need to. And your other sources are just great. It's time to jump down this rabbit hole. Thanks!
  #57  
Old 11-03-2019, 09:43 PM
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It's been a while since I read C&C so I had forgotten about the Thule Patrol. Time for another re-read. And some sleepless nights. Thanks SamuelA!
You want another thing to lose sleep over?

In the early B-52s, what did you have to do to arm a nuke and drop it?

Here's the steps:
a. Turn the selector switch from "safe" to "airburst" or "groundburst"
b. (optional) press the control to open the bomb bay doors
c. Press the bomb release button

That was it. Nothing else was required. And, twice, inadvertently someone in the bomb bay hit the manual release lever, which was apparently located in the bomb bay near the door and was easy to grab by accident. If the nuke was armed, that was it. No, the doors did not have to be opened, the nuke was so heavy it would fall down and the doors would fail letting the weapon fall free.

"Easy", you say, "don't touch that dial". Except for how early 1950s electronics worked. All that would happen when you rotated the dial is it would send +aircraft_bus_DC down wires through the plane, through a harness, into the weapon. It was possible for chafing in the wiring to short a hot wire to one of the arming wires somewhere in the circuit and arm the weapon. This happened more than once.

They later "fixed" this problem by adding a second dial to the cockpit, a "peace/war" dial. And it may have had a timing circuit and interlocking relays so you couldn't just have one person turn both dials, not sure. Same fundamental problem with the wiring, however.

Last edited by SamuelA; 11-03-2019 at 09:43 PM.
  #58  
Old 11-04-2019, 02:18 PM
suretytek is offline
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You want another thing to lose sleep over?

In the early B-52s, what did you have to do to arm a nuke and drop it?

Here's the steps:
a. Turn the selector switch from "safe" to "airburst" or "groundburst"
b. (optional) press the control to open the bomb bay doors
c. Press the bomb release button

That was it. Nothing else was required. And, twice, inadvertently someone in the bomb bay hit the manual release lever, which was apparently located in the bomb bay near the door and was easy to grab by accident. If the nuke was armed, that was it. No, the doors did not have to be opened, the nuke was so heavy it would fall down and the doors would fail letting the weapon fall free.

"Easy", you say, "don't touch that dial". Except for how early 1950s electronics worked. All that would happen when you rotated the dial is it would send +aircraft_bus_DC down wires through the plane, through a harness, into the weapon. It was possible for chafing in the wiring to short a hot wire to one of the arming wires somewhere in the circuit and arm the weapon. This happened more than once.

They later "fixed" this problem by adding a second dial to the cockpit, a "peace/war" dial. And it may have had a timing circuit and interlocking relays so you couldn't just have one person turn both dials, not sure. Same fundamental problem with the wiring, however.
I'm not a very religious person but the sheer number of near catastrophes like those you mentioned where humans have gotten very, very lucky makes me want to believe in some kind of higher power. And those are just the issues that we know about.

How much longer will that "luck" hold?
  #59  
Old 11-04-2019, 06:55 PM
SamuelA is offline
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I'm not a very religious person but the sheer number of near catastrophes like those you mentioned where humans have gotten very, very lucky makes me want to believe in some kind of higher power. And those are just the issues that we know about.
To be fair, with nukes of that era, some of these risks were known. For this reason, there was a mechanical device that pulled a key part of the weapon's core out of the nuke so it couldn't go off. On takeoff and landing of the B52, it would be in this safe state. And during flight, most of the flight was over remote areas. So the catastrophe wouldn't be all that severe - a few thousand people killed by the mushroom cloud in most cases.
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