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We need to learn quickly to keep up with the massive change around us so we don't get run over. We need to outrun change.

Archive for the tag “military topics”

Why all these discussions of nuclear weapons, especially now?

LGM-30 Minuteman III
An LGM-30 Minuteman III missile soars in the air after a test launch. (U.S. Air Force photo) No date provided or further attribution attached to photo.

Been wondering why I’m continuing my posts on nuclear weapons? Especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic?

Here are the first few reasons that come to mind:

  • Life continues. All of us, especially me, need to continue on with our lives. The current pandemic is going to be with us for a short while. There will be an echo in the next flu season. This COVID-19 bug is going to be around for a long time. We need to keep living.

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Inventory and accuracy of Soviet nuclear weapons in 1990.

 

In my research on nuclear armaments came across a superb resource: Physics and Nuclear Arms Today (Readings from Physics Today)

(Update 4/2/20: Title of post revised.)

The book has lots of articles from the early 1980s through 1991. I bought the book especially for one specific article in 1983 dealing with US and Soviet nuclear forces. The gold mine in that article was a detailed inventory of strategic weaponry as of 1990. It gives a detailed listing of U.S. and Soviet land, submarine, and air based strategic weapons, including count, yield, equivalent megaton, and circular error probable (CEP). Lots of info I’ve been seeking for a long time.

The previous post gave info on US weapons. This post describes the Soviet inventory. Third post will make some comparisons.

First I’ll give my recap of the info and then do a little analysis.  Width limits on web pages mean there will be multiple tables.

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Inventory and accuracy of U.S. nuclear weapons in 1990.

USS Ulysses S. Grant (SSBN-631) returning to port on 2/1/91, but exact date is in doubt. Sub was in service from 1964 through 1992. Photo taken by U.S. Government employee in course of assigned duties so it is in the public domain.

Came across a superb resource during my research on nuclear armaments: Physics and Nuclear Arms Today (Readings from Physics Today)

(Update 4/2/20: Title of post revised.)

The book has articles from the early 1980s through 1991. Lots of good stuff.  I bought the book especially for one article from 1983 dealing with US and Soviet nuclear forces. The gold mine in that article was a detailed inventory of strategic weaponry as of 1990. It gives a detailed listing of U.S. and Soviet land, submarine, and air based strategic weapons, including count, yield, equivalent megaton, and circular error probable (CEP). Lots of info I’ve been looking for a long time.

Information in that table is credited to The Military Balance 1989-90. At a price of over $200 for the paperback, don’t think I’ll be buying my own copy.

This post will give info on US weapons. Next post will describe the Soviet inventory. Third post will make some comparisons.  Width limits on web pages mean there will be multiple tables.  Read more…

Airplane photos: F-86 edition

Classic photos of the F-86 Sabre, all of which appear to be from the 1950s. Some have 1940s tag.

All of the following photos are courtesy of the U.S. Air Force photo website. Comments under each photo are from the USAF site. Current style is to identify where and when a photo was taken with specific mention of the photographer.  Attribution is a bit vague for these.

 

GUNNERY – ROCKETS AIRPLANES – NORTH AMERICAN F-86 “SABRE”. The F-86, the USAF’s first swept-wing jet fighter. Photo courtesy of U.S. Air Force, no further attribution.

 

Col. Benjamin O. Davis Jr., commander of the 51st Fighter Interceptor Wing, leads a three-ship F-86F Sabre formation during the Korean War in 1954. Col. Davis, a Tuskegee Airman, was one of the first African-American wing commanders. (Courtesy photo from United States Air Force; no further attribution)

 

Yeah, Ben Davis in flight. Cool, huh? How ’bout Chuck Yeager and Jackie Cochran on the ground?

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Airplane photos: Heritage Flight, #3

Final set of cool pictures of Heritage Flight presentations, all courtesy of U.S. Air Force:

A-10, P-51, F-16, and F-4:

An Air Force heritage flight consisting of a P-51 Mustang, an F-4 Phantom, an A-10 Thunderbolt and an F-16 Fighting Falcon fly over the Arizona desert on March 19 above Sadona. The flight was part of the events taking place in Phoenix for the first Air Force Week celebration of the year. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Justin D. Pyle)

 

P-51 and F-15:

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Comments on US and Soviet arsenals in 1983 – #2

Rocket models by Robert Sullivan is in the public domain (CC0 1.0). Models are US LIM-491A Spartan (ABM, interceptor with 5 mt warhead), USSR ABM-1 Galosh (ABM, interceptor with 2 mt or 3 mt warhead), US Minuteman III ICBM, and USSR SS-9 ICBM.

The primary reason I bought Physics and Nuclear Arms Today (Readings from Physics Today) is for one particular article: The nuclear arsenals of the US and USSR, by Barbara Levi, originally published in March 1983.

As mentioned elsewhere in this series of posts, a table in the article has been updated to reflect weapon inventory in 1990.

The article describes developments in 1983.

Previous post described the probability that various weapons would destroy a target hardened to the level of a Minuteman silo.

Equivalent Megatons

Article introduced to me a concept of equivalent megatons (EMT). When comparing effects of nuclear weapons at different yields the kiloton rating cannot be used. The relative destructive power varies based on the yield on megaton raised to the 2/3 power. The formula is: EMP = mt^(2/3) .

In the US, we have about 40% of our EMT on bombers, with another 40% of EMT on ICBM’s, with the remainder on submarines. Because of the smaller yield, about half of the count of weapons is on subs.

In the Soviet Union, about 80% of the EMT is in the ICBM force with about 15% on submarines and a mere 5% on bombers.

Article says that in 1983 about 50% of the US SSBNs ( nuclear missile armed subs, or boomers) were on patrol at a time while only about 15% of the Soviet boomers were at sea at any one moment.

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Comments on US and Soviet nuclear arsenals in 1983 – #1

ICBM test contributes to continued deterrence
Second Lt. ___ ___, the 321st SMS deputy missile combat crew commander, and 1st Lt. ___ ___, the 321st SMS missile combat crew commander, simulate key turns of the Minuteman III weapon system during a Simulated Electronic Launch-Minuteman test inside the launch control center at a missile alert facility in the 90th Missile Wing’s missile complex, Neb., April 11, 2017. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Christopher Ruano) SELM tests use actual equipment in the field to make sure the equipment in an LCC and an LF can work.

Came across a great resource on nuclear armaments as I browsed the web looking for some particular information. The book is Physics and Nuclear Arms Today (Readings from Physics Today)

It has lots of articles from the late 1970s through 1991. Reason I bought the book is for one specific article in 1983 dealing with US and Soviet nuclear forces. A table within that article was updated with a detailed inventory of strategic weaponry as of 1990. Several posts will discuss the 1990 inventory in detail.

Likelihood of destroying a hardened missile silo

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Deserter from U.S. Air Force in 1983 was convicted at general court-martial, dismissed from service, and spent a short time in prison.

William Howard Hughes, Jr. (U.S. Air Force photo)

 

William H. Hughes, Jr., also known as Barry “Tim” O’Beirne deserted from the U.S. Air Force in 1983. He was found in 2018, arrested, tried by a general court martial, then convicted on September 5, 2018. He was dismissed from service and given a reprimand. He also spent 45 days in prison.

On October 8, 2019 the United States Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals upheld the conviction.

At the end of this post, I’ll ponder the severity of the sentence.

The disgraced former-officer, now-felon is William H. Hughes, Jr.

He had been hiding for 35 years under the assumed name of Barry “Tim” O’Beirne.

Previous post provides more detail on Deserter from the U.S. Air Force apprehended and tried.

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More detail on how SAC bombers and missiles would have gone to war in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s than you have seen in print before.

Keyturn  – – First Lt. ___ ___, the 321st Missile Squadron missile combat crew commander, performs a simulated key turn of the Minuteman III weapon system during a Simulated Electronic Launch-Minuteman test inside the launch control center at a missile alert facility in the 90th Missile Wing’s missile complex, Neb., April 11, 2017. During a SELM, the missileers in the LCC are responsible for sending commands to the Minuteman III ICBMs in the launch facility. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Christopher Ruano)

A treasure trove of formerly classified materials on nuclear launch procedures in the 1960s and 1970s were published by National Security Archive on 3/13/19:  How the Strategic Air Command Would Go to Nuclear War.

I will mention a variety of tidbits I found particularly interesting. If you enjoy this post, you will definitely want to read the full article.

You may see a lot of material you haven’t seen in print before.

Just to be clear, every comment in this post from this point forward is based on specific comments made in the linked article.

Article has extensive discussion on the increasing readiness of bomber and missile forces. Preparedness at levels DEFCON 5 through 1 are described.

Article also describes some of the various Postures, with explanation of what aircrews, maintainers, and missile crews would have been doing at different levels of readiness. Postures are described as immediate efforts to get bombers and missiles launched.

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Number and alert status of U.S. nuclear weapons in 1980.

Minuteman ICBM, Hill AFB Museum, Utah – Ywmin_1b by Greg Goebel is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Previous post strung together my guesses, assumptions, and speculation to develop a table of how many nuclear weapons are on day-to-day alert and how many additional weapons could be generated to alert in what length of time.

Those guesses are for 2020, well after the U.S. won the Cold War and the Soviet Union, the bad ol’ Evil Empire, collapsed.

What would a comparable estimate look like for the depths of the Cold War? This post combines another string of guesses, assumptions, and speculation to figure out the available of U.S. nuclear weapons in 1980. Why that date? Well, it corresponds to when President Reagan won election, took office the following year, and then took necessary steps to conclusively win the Cold War. It also corresponds to the time frame when I was active duty.

Strategic Bombers

I’m fuzzy on number and armament of strategic bombers back in the 1980s. Wikipedia has List of B-52 Units of the United States Air Force.  Going through the list of units active in 1980 I count 17 wings with 29 squadrons.

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Costs of some big projects.

Artist rendering of a B-21 Raider concept in a hangar at Whiteman, Air Force Base, Missouri, one of the future bases to host the new airframe. (Courtesy photo by Northrop Grumman) (also courtesy of U.S. Air Force). Cost $550M each.

For a few indicators of the cost for some big projects and thus some reference points for big numbers, take a look at the Nuclear Notebook – United States nuclear forces, 2020, published by The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists.

Some projects with their specific costs mentioned in the article:

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Number and alert status of U.S. nuclear weapons in 2020.

A KC-135 Stratotanker assigned to the 100th Air Refueling Wing Royal Air Force Mildenhall, England, prepares to transfer fuel to a B-2 Spirit from Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., off the coast of Spain, June 13, 2017. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Micaiah Anthony)

Previous posts have described the count of nuclear weapons in the U.S. inventory and how they are deployed. Future posts will dive into the inventory of other nuclear powers. Plan to have some discussion of the U.S. inventory at various times in the past.

Reading the various articles made me wonder how many weapons are available in what time frame.

(Update 2/28/20:  Realized the photos of 1970s and ’80s weapon originally included in this post would be better in a comparable post discussing weapons in 1980.  Photos moved. New photos added to this post.)

For example, the Minuteman-III loaded with the Mk12A reentry vehicle can carry 3 warheads but are only loaded with 1. It would take months to reconfigure 200 missiles with another 400 warheads.

Of the 12 Ohio-class subs not in refueling, 8 are usually at sea with 4 of those on-station. The other 4 are hours or days away from their assigned station.

There are guessed 200 ALCMs at Minot and 100 gravity bombs at Whiteman which would take a fair amount of time to load. It would take an even long time to transport the remaining 550 weapons out to Minot and Whiteman.

So, I took a wild guess at how many weapons are available to the president immediately and long it would take to get the remaining inventory on line.

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More tidbits on U.S. nuclear forces.

Two B-52H Stratofortress aircraft assigned to the 96th Bomb Squadron fly in formation during Bomber Task Force Europe 20-1 over the Baltic Sea, Oct. 23, 2019.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Duncan C. Bevan)

There is an astounding amount of information on U.S. nuclear forces found in Nuclear Notebook – United States nuclear forces, 2020, published by The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. Not having dived deep into the nuke world for a long time, I’m amazed how much info is available.

Previous posts have gone into a lot of detail on U.S. nukes. This discussion will cover a few interesting tidbits in no particular order with no particular theme.

New START is the name of the current treaty which limits U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons. It went into effect back in February 2011 and will expire in February 2021 unless it is extended for five years by mutual agreement of the U.S. and Russia.  The article is skeptical that it will be extended based on what the articles describes as the “demonstrated disdain” of the current administration for any arms control agreements.

On-site inspections are a feature of this treaty. Article says through the end of 2019 there have been a combined total of 321 on-site inspections.

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New U.S. submarine launched low-yield weapon, the W76-2.

KINGS BAY (Jan. 11, 2019) The Ohio-class ballistic-missile submarine USS Tennessee (SSBN 734) gold crew returns to its homeport at Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, Georgia, following a strategic deterrence patrol. The boat is one of five ballistic-missile submarines stationed at the base and is capable of carrying up to 20 submarine-launched ballistic missiles with multiple warheads. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication 2nd Class Bryan Tomforde)

The U.S. has deployed a low-yield nuclear weapon on our Ohio-class submarines. The new warhead is categorized as the W76-2. Its estimated yield is usually described as 5 kilotons (kt). One report says it is in the range of 5 kt to 7 kt.

There have been a lot of articles on the W76-2 recently.

Federation of American Scientists – 1/29/20 – US Deploys New Low-Yield Nuclear Submarine Warhead – Report says the US Tennessee deployed in late December 2019 armed with 1 or 2 of its 20 Tridents carrying the new low-yield warhead. Estimated yield is 5 kilotons.

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Inventory of U.S. nuclear weapons

AGM-87 ALCM Cruise missile, Seattle Museum of Flight – Ywalc_3b by Greg Goebel is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists publishes their Nuclear Notebook which provides extensive detail on the nuclear forces of the world’s nuclear powers.

As I read through some of their publications, some of the highlights and details will be mentioned.

Up first is the Nuclear Notebook – United States nuclear forces, 2020. The document is about 16 pages long including four pages of references.

Want to make one thing clear at the beginning of this discussion. Everything discussed here and the two follow-on posts is based on open source information described in the above cited article. I don’t have any knowledge about any of the information in this article. Even if I did (and I don’t), anything I knew would be completely invisible in this discussion.

Total inventory

The US inventory of nuclear weapons is estimated by the authors at:

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