Spring is here, no snow to clear, tax season over. I am back. Very glad to visit with you.
A reminder of the theme of this blog: Nuclear Weapons are IQ tests. That is why America is minutes away from millions of death, instead of hours away from thousands of deaths; which was the case a half century ago.
A lot of noise about nuclear weapons and North Korea and China. Not surprising to those of you who visit here. They have too much engineering talent working regularly on nuclear weaponry for it not to become steadily more serious; and more dangerous for Americans; for everyone.
I will discuss three articles; two from the Wall Street Journal, and one from The New York Times.
There is an interesting slant on the North Korean threat in the article, “The Threat to Melt the Electric Grid,” by Henry F. Cooper and Peter Vincent Pry. (Wall Street Journal, May 1, 2015, A13.) It seems that the Pentagon is moving the North American defense headquarters back to a mountain near Colorado Springs. Why? The military official explaining the decision noted that the mountain provides protection against an electromagnetic-pulse attack.
What is an electromagnetic-pulse attack? It is an attack from a missile carried nuclear weapon exploding in space, destroying unprotected electronic installations around the country. That mountain in Colorado would provide a shield for covered electronic systems.
The article quotes the spokesman, Admiral William Gortney, on the military’s ability to defend against either a North Korean or Iranian nuclear missile attack. The U.S. is “able to defend the nation against both those particular threats today.” The writers tell us that this is true if the attack comes from the northern direction. But the U.S is not prepared to handle an EMP attack from the southern route.
The article endorses the wisdom of putting the specific headquarters back inside the mountain, but then address the larger question. OK some sophisticated electronics survive the blast, presumably to direct a counter attack.
But what happens to the American people? “In the event of a yearlong nationwide blackout, tens of millions of Americans would perish from starvation and societal chaos . . .”
Well, that is not very appealing. So what do the authors suggest?
First harden the national electric grid. Second, deploy radar and other intercept facilities to protect against a missile attack from the south.
Let me discuss the second article before I comment on the recommendations.
“China Warns North Korean Threat Rising” (Wall Street Journal, April 23, 2015) tells us that China’s nuclear experts have changed their estimates of North Korean nuclear capabilities by – – – a lot. A Stanford University expert, Siegfried Hecker, states, I’M concerned that by 20, they actually have a nuclear arsenal,” and “The more they believe they have a fully functional nuclear arsenal and deterrent , the more difficult it’s going to be to walk them back from that,” and “Some eight, nine or 10 years ago, they had the bomb but not much of a nuclear arsenal . . .I had hoped they wouldn’t go in this direction, but that’s what happened in the past five years.”
Now, if you would go back and read some of my articles on North Korea you can see that I predicted what happened. One of my pieces quotes a talking head on TV who described the North h Koreans as the “gang that couldn’t shoot straight.”
If you focus on IQ data, you can be assured of something. They are going to get better, and America will become more, and more vulnerable.
Well, does the article see any hopeful sign here? The US Government has an opinion on what should be done.
Patrick Ventrell, a spokesman for the U.S. National Security Council, tells us. “We . . . believe China should continue to use its influence to curtail North Korea’s provocative action.”
Which is the bridge to the third and final article of this blog.
“China Makes Missiles More Potent in Move Seen as a Message to U.S.” by David E. Sanger and William J. Broad. (NY Times, May 17, 2015, p. 9)
It seems that “after decades of maintaining a minimal nuclear force, China has re-engineered many of its long-range ballistic missiles to carry multiple warheads, a step that federal officials and policy analysts say appears designed to give pause to the United States as it prepares to deploy more robust missile defenses in the Pacific.”
The article provides a brief accounting, a sort of timeline leading to the present day impasse.
America did it first.
America has always had a large economic and technological advantage in most relevant fields. So one would expect that America would be the party that innovated most new products in the millions of death game.
And so it was with America’s first long range missile with multiple warheads in the “early years of the Cold War.”
Document one:“MIRV: A BRIEF HISTORY OF MINUTEMAN and MULTIPLE REENTRY VEHICLES” by Daniel Buchonnet, Lawrence Livermore Laboratory, February 1976
Released through FOIA request to Defense Department, June 1997
At the request of the National Security Archive, the Department of Defense has released the only known classified history of multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles [MIRV]. This heavily excised document reflects a declassification review by both the Department of Defense and the Department of Energy. Due to the numerous redactions, some of which appear to be unjustifiable, the Archive has requested the Energy Department (which has the principal equity in this document) to determine whether additional portions may be released.
This document confirms much of what has been known about the basic purposes of the MIRV but provides additional valuable detail1. Among the findings:
- An anticipated benefit of MIRVs was that they would permit the “enhancement of a first-strike capability” for U.S. strategic forces (p. 12). According to the study, “the issue of first strike capability was raised and widely discussed” (p. 9). That is, by increasing the numbers of warheads per missile, whether land or sea-based, MIRVs would put the United States in a better position to penetrate Soviet defenses and simultaneously strike diverse targets, especially Soviet missile and air bases.
- The idea of multiple warheads dates back to the mid-1960s, but the key year in the history of the MIRV concept was 1962 when several of technological developments made it possible for scientists and engineers to conceive of multiple, separately targeted warheads that could hit a growing list of Soviet nuclear threat targets. One important innovation was that the weapons laboratories had designed small thermonuclear weapons, a necessary condition for deploying multiple reentry vehicles on the relatively small Minuteman. Equally significant were the ABLE-STAR and TRANSTAGE space vehicles which made it possible to place several space satellites on different orbits. Those vehicles were the “direct predecessors” of the MIRV “bus” used to propel the reentry vehicles to target.
- A major event in MIRV history was a decision in 1966 to enlarge the Minuteman’s third stage, thus creating Minuteman III (pages 19 and 43). This made it feasible to deploy MIRVs on the Minuteman because earlier versions had a relatively small throw- weight (payload) which limited the size of the weapons package and supporting equipment.
- MIRV would be used to reduce collateral damage “by matching the yield to the target.” MIRVs could hit point targets, such as a missile base or silo, so accurately that only a small nuclear warhead would be necessary to achieve the anticipated destruction. Collateral damage, therefore, would be less compared to that caused by larger, enormously destructive thermonuclear warheads. The yield of the Minuteman III MIRV is excised from this document but as of the early 1970s it approximated 170 kilotons, substantially less than the Minuteman I’s 1.2 megaton yield. (Nevertheless, one Minuteman MIRV warhead would have had over eight times the yield of the 20 kiloton weapon dropped on Hiroshima, thus, collateral damage would still be extensive).
- While some proponents of MIRVs argued that they would have a “stabilizing effect” on the U.S.-Soviet balance of power, the author acknowledges that they “probably contributed to an escalation of the arms race” to the extent that the Soviets perceived the “U.S. MIRV systems … as strengthening the U.S. counterforce capability (high accuracy of low yields) and improving the first-strike capability (large number of warheads” (p. 6)
Well, we move from 1962 to what the article tells us about 1999. The C. I. A. noted China’s restraint. China has had the expertise to develop MIRVs for 20 years, but had not taken any visible steps in that direction.
The next dates, 2004 and 2013 signal a change. The Bush administration commenced building an anti-missile system in California and Alaska. Almost 10 years later the Obama administration began upgrading the system to provide protection against North Korea. However, the upgrade might have been sophisticated enough to destroy at least some incoming missiles from China.
The Chinese, understandably, are not willing to have their 3 year olds be fodder for American cannons without having the ability to turn American 3 years olds into fodder for their cannon. “‘They’re doing it, Mr. Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists said, ‘to make sure they could get through the ballistic missile defenses.'”
Now, the interesting thing for the purposes of this blog is that the “escalation of the arms race” is no longer restricted to the U.S. and Russia. Long range missiles with multiple warheads are now being aimed at the U.S. by China: the template for a Third World poverty stricken peasantry in 1962, when the U.S. kicked off the MIRV game.
The U.S. is worse off in a potential face off with China than it was in 1962.
Was this transformation predictable? The essential drumbeat of this blog is “Of Course.” MIRVs are just another sample of work in an ongoing IQ test. American engineers are not the only engineers who score well on the test.
The problem is, Russia and China keep catching up. That is the where we are with the threat addressed by Mr. Sanger and Mr. Broad. President Obama is described as being under pressure to deploy missile defenses, and force back Chinese efforts to intimidate its neighbors in the Pacific. The missile defense part of the response is of most interest to this blog, because this is where the IQ argument becomes germane; and potentially most lethal.
“China’s little force is slowly getting a little bigger . . . and its limited capabilities are slowly getting a little better,” according to Hans M. Kristensen of the federation of American Scientists.
American nuclear weapons policy is at odds with itself. On the one hand America expects China to help with the North Korean nuclear threat. At the same time it wants to make China more vulnerable, while America becomes less vulnerable.
If America expects to get help from China and Russia on North Korea’s progress to deliver a nuclear weapon to America, it will have to give China and Russia some reason to cooperate. The term “proliferation” has been a trap to the American imagination. It diverts attention away from Korean talent, and toward a focus on technical details.
If nuclear weapons are IQ tests America can not have a world where America is infinitely safe; and China is infinitely vulnerable.