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Even Nukes Grow Old
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Everything grows old. I’m told one day the stars and planets will turn to dust. So I suppose it’s no surprise that America’s arsenal of nuclear weapons is also showing signs of advancing age, and may have to be replaced.

One would think that the growing decrepitude of our nukes would be a fine time to dismantle and junk these horrible weapons. President Barack Obama has fulsomely preached for the past seven years on the need to get ride of the nukes. Very nice.

Yet once away from the microphones, Obama has let the military-industrial-financial complex generate plans to refresh and update the US nuclear arsenal in a massive project estimated to cost at least $1 trillion.

No major effort has been made to assemble the world’s declared and undeclared nuclear powers and hammer out a plan to junk all nukes and make sure they are not replaced. On the contrary, it’s full speed ahead in the devil’s workshop.

The US Air Force wants to replace by 2044 all of its 1960’s vintage Minuteman ICBMs with 642 new ground-based, silo-launched ICBMs. Some $7 billion was already spent over the past two decades modernizing them.

Way back in the early 1980’s, I was invited to inspect the US Air Force’s Space Command HQ and Air Defense Command buried deep inside Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado. I was shown a hanger-size room filled with a hundred upright computers, all whizzing away. An officer whispered to me, ‘ my laptop has more power than all these computers together.’ Similarly, advancing technology has left many of our defense systems either outmoded or totally obsolete. So some renewal may be necessary.

New ICBM’s are still not enough for the US Air Force. The flyboys also want a new nuclear-armed cruise missile to replace the venerable 80’s vintage AGM-86B carried by B-52 heavy bombers and the yet to be built B-21 stealth bomber.

Meanwhile the US Navy, always a darling of Congress, is planning to replace its Ohio class nuclear-armed submarines with a new, more powerful class of 12 subs that will each carry 16 Trident D5 missiles. Each missile can fly well over 8,000 km and carry 8-10 warheads.
Many other US nuclear-powered warships, both underwater and surface, will need new nuclear plants.

A trillion dollars is a lot of money even for the world’s wealthiest nation. Many will question such a huge expenditure at a time when bridges across the US are collapsing, airports are decaying, the air traffic control system is obsolete, and 44 million people live on food stamps.

We need those nukes badly, say the Pentagon’s top brass, their civilian supporters in Congress, and the booming US arms industry, which looks set for a record year. We must defend ourselves against the Russians and Chinese!

Russia has a powerful triad of air, sea and ground-launched nuclear missiles. Some are being modernized. Moscow has made clear that given its sharp reduction in land forces, increasingly reliance will be placed on strategic and tactical nuclear forces. This important new policy should cause Washington to think twice about its current dangerous policy of putting a military squeeze on Russia in Ukraine, Crimea, the Baltic and Black Seas.

China is also slowly developing its nuclear forces, but they remain modest for a world power and focused on deterring a foreign nuclear strike. So far, China appears only interested in its own region.

In short, neither Russia nor China has tipped the current nuclear balance of terror. Unfortunately, Washington’s updating its nuclear arsenal will likely cause them to upgrade their strategic nuclear forces.

The next US president will inherit this problem. Everyone says they hate nukes but we can’t seem to break the habit. Candidate Donald Trump rightly asked what the purpose of these weapons is, and was blasted for asking this proper question. The biased media keeps claiming Trump can’t be trusted with the red button. But it was Hillary Clinton that actually threatened to use them against Iran if it dared attack Israel.

Instead of debating transgender toilets, American voters should be demanding: `Mr President/or Mrs President, get rid of our nukes!’

(Reprinted from EricMargolis.com by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: American Military, Nuclear Weapons 
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  1. Dream on!

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  2. “Way back in the early 1980’s, I was invited to inspect the US Air Force’s Space Command HQ and Air Defense Command buried deep inside Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado. I was shown a hanger-size room filled with a hundred upright computers, all whizzing away. An officer whispered to me, ‘ my laptop has more power than all these computers together.’”

    His laptop would have likely been a Grid 1101, and while it was a gee-whiz device in those days, It would likely not have more processing power than the rest of the room. I do recall telling people who asked about mine that I had more processing power than was used to put a man on the moon, but I was talking out of my ass to get a good laugh.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Former Darfur
    Depends on how you define computer power. Integer or floating point operations? Storage space? I/O? Ability to process unrelated tasks simultaneously and independently?

    1960s mainframes had less of any popular metric-clock speed, address space, addressable memory, you name it-than any currently available smartphone, but they could handle billing and accounting for tens of thousands of discrete customers and vendors very reliably. They had very different architectures and far more efficient operating systems, for one thing.

    A good example of the order of magnitude of raw computational speed is this:
    http://www.righto.com/2015/05/bitcoin-mining-on-55-year-old-ibm-1401.html


    I never worked at all with IBM EBCDIC (mainframe and midrange) environments but I did work with the DEC PDP-11 and VAX machines. We had a plant with a VAX setup that occupied one full height 19" relay rack and half of another that handled 70+ i/o terminals and printers and tracked every operation done on every part (excepting "free stock" items like nuts, bolts and washers) of machines weighing up to 5 tons and having 5000+ separate parts. Given the serial number of a baler, I could pull up any major subassembly on the unit when built and tell you who inspected the materials it was made of, who supplied it, who cut it, bent it, welded it, painted it, and inspected it, on and on. If it had a replacement I could pull THAT up by its serial and do likewise.

    Each worker had defined entry , editing and inspection privileges, and any operation could be pulled up by worker. Workers could be grouped in many ways and the system had dozens of predefined fields. For instance, if you wanted a list of every machine who had welds on it done by Joe Bagodonuts, I could script and find that via a premade form. or script it from the command line.

    There were some bizarre features in the software package as well. For one thing, there was a field titled (if I remember right) DEMZKL that would track by sequential day (i.e., not calendar day, which because months have days less or more) a given length field of given consecutive days for workers. Sure enough, it was for tracking the monthly cycle of female workers: it had been added, the vendor sheepishly admitted, because a German dairy bought the package and women were not allowed in a certain section of the plant at that time. So they had to be scheduled elsewhere on those days. (We did not implement that feature, nor hundreds of others not used in our particular plant.) Workers who adhered to the holy days and sabbaths of most major religions were provided by predefined fields: the system would compute the Jewish calendar , for example, and not schedule workers who were suitable tagged on high holy days and would let them leave earlier on Friday in the winter (earlier sunset) than the summer.

    The system that ran all this had 8 MBytes of RAM and two 140 MByte hard drives as I recall. There was also a disk pack drive that took a disk pack the size of a LP record and a few inches thick, but it was never used as far as I can recall. We had data over a fractional T-1 connection and updates came over that or were transferred from floppies on a early PC that was connected by some odd networking standard I don't recall.

    At the time, the Old Hands thought this was an immense amount of computational power.

    Although any smartphone has far more RAM, and works with far wider data and address paths, at far higher speeds, no one would run a plant like this on a smartphone. Indeed, the cost of setting up a comparable inventory control system today in a similar plant would be, in adjusted dollars, still over 75% as high. It would still take as many people as much time, and that is most of the cost.
    , @TG
    Computing power is vastly over-rated. Most of the 'power' in modern computers is used to show flashy video ads and run the graphic user interface etc. To do a real physical task - like guide a missile, or operate an oil refinery - it's surprising how little raw computer power you need.

    And more: the older, simpler systems are much easier to validate, and many are immune to hacking (because they don't need to connect to the internet for 'updates', and because your average Elbonian hacker doesn't have pre-fabricated software tools that work on them).

    Now a modernized ballistic missile MIGHT need sophisticated software if it needed to jam enemy defenses, but the core job of a ballistic missile would be better and more reliably done with very simple software.
  3. None of the eight nuclear powers (US, Russia, UK, France, China, Israel, India, and Pakistan) wants to lose its ‘nuclear bully’.

    In July 2009 – US president Barack Obama and Russian president Dmitry Medvedev signed an agreement to cut their nuclear weapon stockpiles (95% of world’s 25,000 nuclear weapons) by as much as one-third. However, being among the five permanent members of UN Security Council with veto power and immunity from inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that subjects other signatories to the NPT inspections regime.

    In December 2008 ‘Global Zero’ conducted a poll among 21 countries which showed that close to 76% of people responded to the poll – favored an agreement to eliminate nuclear weapons within a timetabled agreement. The organization has over 100 members – from former presidents, military generals, experts on Muslim world, and some radical Zionists and war criminals (Henry Kissinger, George Shultz, William Perry, and Sam Nunn). Henry Kissinger & Co. even made the plea for A World Free of Nuclear Weapons. Interestingly, one of Henry Kissinger & Co. goon, Craig Eisendrath runs a forum “The Khan Game”, which propagates Zionist lies about the Father on Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, Dr. Qadeer Khan – blaming him for passing on nuclear technology to Islamic Iran and North Korea. Craig is very much worried about the possible Iranian nuclear threat to Israel – regardless the fact that Iran has not tested a nuclear device – while Israel has 240-400 nuclear bombs and is on record of threatening its neighbors and Europe with its nuclear arsenal….

    https://rehmat1.com/2009/08/11/a-world-without-nukes/

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  4. A sensible suggestion to restrain senseless military bravado. The problem is that the American Power Elite did not heed President Eisenhower’s warning to curb the “Military Industrial Complex” which was mad for unrestrained power and profit. It has grown into a behemoth which consumes half the US yearly budget to bring death and destruction on America’s hapless victims.
    Yes, nuclear weapons “grow old” and lose their potency due to radioactive decay of U235 and enrichment is an expensive process.
    It’s ironic that human’s are cursed with a primitive stone age limbic system and a highly evolved cortex have the promethean power that they are not capable of restraining.
    It is an existential defect in the Human species. Sadly it remains in the power of those least capable of responsibly handling it; the military and political classes!

    Read More
    • Replies: @Anonymous
    U235 has a half-life of 703,800,000 years it decaying has noting to do with nukes growing old. Plutonium is used in modern nuclear weapons and only small nuclear power would use U235. US weapons use tritium as a neutron initiator and it is the part that is growing old the fastest(12.32 years half-life).
  5. “One would think that the growing decrepitude of our nukes would be a fine time to dismantle and junk these horrible weapons.”

    No, getting rid of all nuclear weapons is an insane idea. The toothpaste cannot be put back in the tube. Do we really want a world in which ONLY North Korea has nukes?

    And, yes, if we’re going to have nuclear weapons they need to work, and designs well over 50 years old are of dubious reliability. My concern over the roomful of computers in Cheyenne Mountain isn’t how powerful they are, but how reliable they would prove to be if called upon. Who’s still making the spares?

    As to being able to afford it when “44 million people live on food stamps”, there’s a basic distinction between things that are a proper function of government and accumulating functional crap. All except damn few need to be responsible for buying their own food.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Former Darfur
    Nuclear weapons have spared us three major world wars, the way I see it, each as big as World War One. They have caused the deaths of millions in proxy wars, such as Vietnam and the ongoing Middle East disasters, but even in raw numbers it has been less. I say let us keep our nukes and keep them in top shape.
  6. @The Alarmist

    "Way back in the early 1980’s, I was invited to inspect the US Air Force’s Space Command HQ and Air Defense Command buried deep inside Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado. I was shown a hanger-size room filled with a hundred upright computers, all whizzing away. An officer whispered to me, ‘ my laptop has more power than all these computers together.’"
     
    His laptop would have likely been a Grid 1101, and while it was a gee-whiz device in those days, It would likely not have more processing power than the rest of the room. I do recall telling people who asked about mine that I had more processing power than was used to put a man on the moon, but I was talking out of my ass to get a good laugh.

    Depends on how you define computer power. Integer or floating point operations? Storage space? I/O? Ability to process unrelated tasks simultaneously and independently?

    1960s mainframes had less of any popular metric-clock speed, address space, addressable memory, you name it-than any currently available smartphone, but they could handle billing and accounting for tens of thousands of discrete customers and vendors very reliably. They had very different architectures and far more efficient operating systems, for one thing.

    A good example of the order of magnitude of raw computational speed is this:

    http://www.righto.com/2015/05/bitcoin-mining-on-55-year-old-ibm-1401.html

    I never worked at all with IBM EBCDIC (mainframe and midrange) environments but I did work with the DEC PDP-11 and VAX machines. We had a plant with a VAX setup that occupied one full height 19″ relay rack and half of another that handled 70+ i/o terminals and printers and tracked every operation done on every part (excepting “free stock” items like nuts, bolts and washers) of machines weighing up to 5 tons and having 5000+ separate parts. Given the serial number of a baler, I could pull up any major subassembly on the unit when built and tell you who inspected the materials it was made of, who supplied it, who cut it, bent it, welded it, painted it, and inspected it, on and on. If it had a replacement I could pull THAT up by its serial and do likewise.

    Each worker had defined entry , editing and inspection privileges, and any operation could be pulled up by worker. Workers could be grouped in many ways and the system had dozens of predefined fields. For instance, if you wanted a list of every machine who had welds on it done by Joe Bagodonuts, I could script and find that via a premade form. or script it from the command line.

    There were some bizarre features in the software package as well. For one thing, there was a field titled (if I remember right) DEMZKL that would track by sequential day (i.e., not calendar day, which because months have days less or more) a given length field of given consecutive days for workers. Sure enough, it was for tracking the monthly cycle of female workers: it had been added, the vendor sheepishly admitted, because a German dairy bought the package and women were not allowed in a certain section of the plant at that time. So they had to be scheduled elsewhere on those days. (We did not implement that feature, nor hundreds of others not used in our particular plant.) Workers who adhered to the holy days and sabbaths of most major religions were provided by predefined fields: the system would compute the Jewish calendar , for example, and not schedule workers who were suitable tagged on high holy days and would let them leave earlier on Friday in the winter (earlier sunset) than the summer.

    The system that ran all this had 8 MBytes of RAM and two 140 MByte hard drives as I recall. There was also a disk pack drive that took a disk pack the size of a LP record and a few inches thick, but it was never used as far as I can recall. We had data over a fractional T-1 connection and updates came over that or were transferred from floppies on a early PC that was connected by some odd networking standard I don’t recall.

    At the time, the Old Hands thought this was an immense amount of computational power.

    Although any smartphone has far more RAM, and works with far wider data and address paths, at far higher speeds, no one would run a plant like this on a smartphone. Indeed, the cost of setting up a comparable inventory control system today in a similar plant would be, in adjusted dollars, still over 75% as high. It would still take as many people as much time, and that is most of the cost.

    Read More
  7. @Gandydancer
    "One would think that the growing decrepitude of our nukes would be a fine time to dismantle and junk these horrible weapons."

    No, getting rid of all nuclear weapons is an insane idea. The toothpaste cannot be put back in the tube. Do we really want a world in which ONLY North Korea has nukes?

    And, yes, if we're going to have nuclear weapons they need to work, and designs well over 50 years old are of dubious reliability. My concern over the roomful of computers in Cheyenne Mountain isn't how powerful they are, but how reliable they would prove to be if called upon. Who's still making the spares?

    As to being able to afford it when "44 million people live on food stamps", there's a basic distinction between things that are a proper function of government and accumulating functional crap. All except damn few need to be responsible for buying their own food.

    Nuclear weapons have spared us three major world wars, the way I see it, each as big as World War One. They have caused the deaths of millions in proxy wars, such as Vietnam and the ongoing Middle East disasters, but even in raw numbers it has been less. I say let us keep our nukes and keep them in top shape.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Rehmat
    During WW 1 no country had nukes. Same goes in the early days of WWII until the US tested two of its three nukes on Japanese cities even after Tokyo waved the WHITE FLAG.

    Since WWII nuclear America failed to win a single major war even in Afghanistan or Iraq. Nukes are GOOD Deterrents but in the hands of coward Generals cannot win a war.

    So as a deterrent, Israel-born British author Gilad Atzmon says - Iran must have a few nukes.

    https://rehmat1.com/2013/09/15/gilad-atzmon-iran-must-have-nuclear-deterrent/
  8. @Former Darfur
    Nuclear weapons have spared us three major world wars, the way I see it, each as big as World War One. They have caused the deaths of millions in proxy wars, such as Vietnam and the ongoing Middle East disasters, but even in raw numbers it has been less. I say let us keep our nukes and keep them in top shape.

    During WW 1 no country had nukes. Same goes in the early days of WWII until the US tested two of its three nukes on Japanese cities even after Tokyo waved the WHITE FLAG.

    Since WWII nuclear America failed to win a single major war even in Afghanistan or Iraq. Nukes are GOOD Deterrents but in the hands of coward Generals cannot win a war.

    So as a deterrent, Israel-born British author Gilad Atzmon says – Iran must have a few nukes.

    https://rehmat1.com/2013/09/15/gilad-atzmon-iran-must-have-nuclear-deterrent/

    Read More
    • Replies: @Carroll Price
    Good points Rehmat, but the US hasn't won a war since WW 2 because they don't want to win a war. Winning WW 2 was quickly recognized as having been a major blunder never to be repeated - the economy don't you know...
  9. Anonymous says:     Show CommentNext New Comment
    @Diogenes
    A sensible suggestion to restrain senseless military bravado. The problem is that the American Power Elite did not heed President Eisenhower's warning to curb the "Military Industrial Complex" which was mad for unrestrained power and profit. It has grown into a behemoth which consumes half the US yearly budget to bring death and destruction on America's hapless victims.
    Yes, nuclear weapons "grow old" and lose their potency due to radioactive decay of U235 and enrichment is an expensive process.
    It's ironic that human's are cursed with a primitive stone age limbic system and a highly evolved cortex have the promethean power that they are not capable of restraining.
    It is an existential defect in the Human species. Sadly it remains in the power of those least capable of responsibly handling it; the military and political classes!

    U235 has a half-life of 703,800,000 years it decaying has noting to do with nukes growing old. Plutonium is used in modern nuclear weapons and only small nuclear power would use U235. US weapons use tritium as a neutron initiator and it is the part that is growing old the fastest(12.32 years half-life).

    Read More
    • Replies: @Quartermaster
    The problem with weapon aging is twofold, the tritium initiator, as you point out, and the explosives used as compressive charges in uranium weapons.
  10. “No major effort has been made to assemble the world’s declared and undeclared nuclear powers and hammer out a plan to junk all nukes and make sure they are not replaced.”

    There was, and resulted in the Non-Proliferation Treaty or NPT. The NPT is often seen to be based on a central bargain: “the NPT non-nuclear-weapon states agree never to acquire nuclear weapons and the NPT nuclear-weapon states in exchange agree to share the benefits of peaceful nuclear technology and to pursue nuclear disarmament aimed at the ultimate elimination of their nuclear arsenals”

    The USA signed that, and ignored it, as this author has.

    Read More
  11. Priss Factor [AKA "Anonymny"] says: • Website     Show CommentNext New Comment

    “President Barack Obama has fulsomely preached for the past seven years on the need to get ride of the nukes. Very nice. Yet once away from the microphones, Obama has let the military-industrial-financial complex generate plans to refresh and update the US nuclear arsenal in a massive project estimated to cost at least $1 trillion.”

    Obama the pompous jerk loves to make grandiose pronouncements. But it’s all empty talk.
    When it comes to action, he just obeys the System.

    Read More
  12. @Anonymous
    U235 has a half-life of 703,800,000 years it decaying has noting to do with nukes growing old. Plutonium is used in modern nuclear weapons and only small nuclear power would use U235. US weapons use tritium as a neutron initiator and it is the part that is growing old the fastest(12.32 years half-life).

    The problem with weapon aging is twofold, the tritium initiator, as you point out, and the explosives used as compressive charges in uranium weapons.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Diversity Heretic
    Tritium replacement in the gas-boost mechanism is necessary because of the relatively short radioactive half-life of tritium. Plutonium 239 may also be subject to some americium ingrowth but I'm not a physicist so I don't know how serious a problem that is. The more urgent problems generally result from the deterioration of the high explosives used to compress the plutonium and the adhesives attaching those explosives to the plutonium "pit." Most nuclear explosives were designed with about a twenty-year service life, after which it was assumed that the weapon would be retired in favor of the next generation. Weapons may also be retired because newer safety systems are developed; fire resistant plutonium pits and insensitive high explosives in my day--perhaps something else today.

    Delivery systems are much the bigger ticket items. I personally see no reason to replace ICBMs: they simply draw fire towards our homeland, so what's the point? Put the strategic missiles out to sea in subs and keep some tactical nukes around; essentially the reasonable solution that France has arrived at. Britain, if it keeps a nuclear deterrent at all, puts everything out to sea in Trident submarines.
  13. Philip Owen [AKA "Soarintothesky"] says:     Show CommentNext New Comment

    Of course there should be plans to replace the nukes. But Plans, not one plan for a trillion dollars. Layers and layers of affordable options.

    Read More
  14. Could there be anything more disappointing than a dud nuclear warhead?

    “Oh yeah, well, I’m gonna turn your capital city into a sheet of glass!”

    Whoooooooooooooooooooosh

    THUD!

    “Let’s give sanctions another try.”

    Read More
  15. @The Alarmist

    "Way back in the early 1980’s, I was invited to inspect the US Air Force’s Space Command HQ and Air Defense Command buried deep inside Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado. I was shown a hanger-size room filled with a hundred upright computers, all whizzing away. An officer whispered to me, ‘ my laptop has more power than all these computers together.’"
     
    His laptop would have likely been a Grid 1101, and while it was a gee-whiz device in those days, It would likely not have more processing power than the rest of the room. I do recall telling people who asked about mine that I had more processing power than was used to put a man on the moon, but I was talking out of my ass to get a good laugh.

    Computing power is vastly over-rated. Most of the ‘power’ in modern computers is used to show flashy video ads and run the graphic user interface etc. To do a real physical task – like guide a missile, or operate an oil refinery – it’s surprising how little raw computer power you need.

    And more: the older, simpler systems are much easier to validate, and many are immune to hacking (because they don’t need to connect to the internet for ‘updates’, and because your average Elbonian hacker doesn’t have pre-fabricated software tools that work on them).

    Now a modernized ballistic missile MIGHT need sophisticated software if it needed to jam enemy defenses, but the core job of a ballistic missile would be better and more reliably done with very simple software.

    Read More
  16. @Quartermaster
    The problem with weapon aging is twofold, the tritium initiator, as you point out, and the explosives used as compressive charges in uranium weapons.

    Tritium replacement in the gas-boost mechanism is necessary because of the relatively short radioactive half-life of tritium. Plutonium 239 may also be subject to some americium ingrowth but I’m not a physicist so I don’t know how serious a problem that is. The more urgent problems generally result from the deterioration of the high explosives used to compress the plutonium and the adhesives attaching those explosives to the plutonium “pit.” Most nuclear explosives were designed with about a twenty-year service life, after which it was assumed that the weapon would be retired in favor of the next generation. Weapons may also be retired because newer safety systems are developed; fire resistant plutonium pits and insensitive high explosives in my day–perhaps something else today.

    Delivery systems are much the bigger ticket items. I personally see no reason to replace ICBMs: they simply draw fire towards our homeland, so what’s the point? Put the strategic missiles out to sea in subs and keep some tactical nukes around; essentially the reasonable solution that France has arrived at. Britain, if it keeps a nuclear deterrent at all, puts everything out to sea in Trident submarines.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Anonymous
    I suppose it depends on how many missiles a nation wants always available. If the answer is "dozens," then submarines alone would be a sufficient, though expensive, solution. If the answer is "several hundred," then most of the missiles will be land-based. These days, the US Air Force has 450 Minuteman missiles, half what it once had deployed. The Navy has 14 Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines, each carrying 24 Trident missiles. I suppose they spend half their time at sea in position, so 14x24/2 = 168 missiles available.
    , @Mr. Anon
    "Plutonium 239 may also be subject to some americium ingrowth but I’m not a physicist so I don’t know how serious a problem that is."

    I believe that weapons designers are also concerned with metalurgical changes in the plutonium due to dislocations caused by alpha-decay and the subsequent entrapping of helium. I'm no expert in the field (obviously - if I was, I wouldn't be discussing it here). In any event, there are - as you say - concerns about the pits themselves, not just the tritium and the HE.

    I very much agree with your view of what the deterrent should look like: sea and air-based, not land based. I think we can maintain a smaller yet still credible deterrent, and at much lower cost than what we have been spending since the end of WWII.
  17. Anonymous says:     Show CommentNext New Comment
    @Diversity Heretic
    Tritium replacement in the gas-boost mechanism is necessary because of the relatively short radioactive half-life of tritium. Plutonium 239 may also be subject to some americium ingrowth but I'm not a physicist so I don't know how serious a problem that is. The more urgent problems generally result from the deterioration of the high explosives used to compress the plutonium and the adhesives attaching those explosives to the plutonium "pit." Most nuclear explosives were designed with about a twenty-year service life, after which it was assumed that the weapon would be retired in favor of the next generation. Weapons may also be retired because newer safety systems are developed; fire resistant plutonium pits and insensitive high explosives in my day--perhaps something else today.

    Delivery systems are much the bigger ticket items. I personally see no reason to replace ICBMs: they simply draw fire towards our homeland, so what's the point? Put the strategic missiles out to sea in subs and keep some tactical nukes around; essentially the reasonable solution that France has arrived at. Britain, if it keeps a nuclear deterrent at all, puts everything out to sea in Trident submarines.

    I suppose it depends on how many missiles a nation wants always available. If the answer is “dozens,” then submarines alone would be a sufficient, though expensive, solution. If the answer is “several hundred,” then most of the missiles will be land-based. These days, the US Air Force has 450 Minuteman missiles, half what it once had deployed. The Navy has 14 Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines, each carrying 24 Trident missiles. I suppose they spend half their time at sea in position, so 14×24/2 = 168 missiles available.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Diversity Heretic
    You make good points. I note that the next generation Fleet Ballistic Missile Submarine (Nuclear-powered) carry 16, not 24 missiles, as do both the British and French FBMS(N)s. I suppose that's a precaution against losing too many missiles if one submarine is sunk. It is true that Russia plans to retain ICBMs indefinitely, but the USA is much a more maritime power than Russia.
  18. Now, why would the US be interested in scrapping a cash cow like nuclear weapons have proven to be? The MIC is hooked on terror weapons. Nukes are going no where except up in price, so get used to

    Read More
  19. @Rehmat
    During WW 1 no country had nukes. Same goes in the early days of WWII until the US tested two of its three nukes on Japanese cities even after Tokyo waved the WHITE FLAG.

    Since WWII nuclear America failed to win a single major war even in Afghanistan or Iraq. Nukes are GOOD Deterrents but in the hands of coward Generals cannot win a war.

    So as a deterrent, Israel-born British author Gilad Atzmon says - Iran must have a few nukes.

    https://rehmat1.com/2013/09/15/gilad-atzmon-iran-must-have-nuclear-deterrent/

    Good points Rehmat, but the US hasn’t won a war since WW 2 because they don’t want to win a war. Winning WW 2 was quickly recognized as having been a major blunder never to be repeated – the economy don’t you know…

    Read More
  20. Replacing aging weapons is not the same as developing a far-advanced new technological generation of smart weapons with destabilizing capabilities. The big money is going into that new technology, not into the nuclear weapon part at all.

    So yes, the very old bombs may be aging out. That is significant, but it is not the current budget question.

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  21. @Anonymous
    I suppose it depends on how many missiles a nation wants always available. If the answer is "dozens," then submarines alone would be a sufficient, though expensive, solution. If the answer is "several hundred," then most of the missiles will be land-based. These days, the US Air Force has 450 Minuteman missiles, half what it once had deployed. The Navy has 14 Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines, each carrying 24 Trident missiles. I suppose they spend half their time at sea in position, so 14x24/2 = 168 missiles available.

    You make good points. I note that the next generation Fleet Ballistic Missile Submarine (Nuclear-powered) carry 16, not 24 missiles, as do both the British and French FBMS(N)s. I suppose that’s a precaution against losing too many missiles if one submarine is sunk. It is true that Russia plans to retain ICBMs indefinitely, but the USA is much a more maritime power than Russia.

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  22. @TG
    Computing power is vastly over-rated. Most of the 'power' in modern computers is used to show flashy video ads and run the graphic user interface etc. To do a real physical task - like guide a missile, or operate an oil refinery - it's surprising how little raw computer power you need.

    And more: the older, simpler systems are much easier to validate, and many are immune to hacking (because they don't need to connect to the internet for 'updates', and because your average Elbonian hacker doesn't have pre-fabricated software tools that work on them).

    Now a modernized ballistic missile MIGHT need sophisticated software if it needed to jam enemy defenses, but the core job of a ballistic missile would be better and more reliably done with very simple software.

    Quite right.

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  23. For the US to abandon nuclear weapons would be foolish for two reasons:

    1.) Other nations have them

    2.) We may (will) eventually need nuclear weapons to deal with a bolide on collision course with the Earth.

    We need to maintain the infrastructure to build and launch nuclear weapons, and maintain a credible deterrent. We could still reduce spending on nuclear weapons, and military spending in general by:

    1.) Eliminating ground based ICBMs, relying only on sea-launched ICBMs and air and sea-launched cruise missiles.

    2.) Closing one of the major weapons labs (Livermore)

    3.) Stop building aircraft carriers, and decommisioning most of the ones we have. They are an anachronism, everybit as much as battle-ships.

    4.) And – of course – end the forever-war in the middle-east, and get out of other people’s business.

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  24. @Diversity Heretic
    Tritium replacement in the gas-boost mechanism is necessary because of the relatively short radioactive half-life of tritium. Plutonium 239 may also be subject to some americium ingrowth but I'm not a physicist so I don't know how serious a problem that is. The more urgent problems generally result from the deterioration of the high explosives used to compress the plutonium and the adhesives attaching those explosives to the plutonium "pit." Most nuclear explosives were designed with about a twenty-year service life, after which it was assumed that the weapon would be retired in favor of the next generation. Weapons may also be retired because newer safety systems are developed; fire resistant plutonium pits and insensitive high explosives in my day--perhaps something else today.

    Delivery systems are much the bigger ticket items. I personally see no reason to replace ICBMs: they simply draw fire towards our homeland, so what's the point? Put the strategic missiles out to sea in subs and keep some tactical nukes around; essentially the reasonable solution that France has arrived at. Britain, if it keeps a nuclear deterrent at all, puts everything out to sea in Trident submarines.

    “Plutonium 239 may also be subject to some americium ingrowth but I’m not a physicist so I don’t know how serious a problem that is.”

    I believe that weapons designers are also concerned with metalurgical changes in the plutonium due to dislocations caused by alpha-decay and the subsequent entrapping of helium. I’m no expert in the field (obviously – if I was, I wouldn’t be discussing it here). In any event, there are – as you say – concerns about the pits themselves, not just the tritium and the HE.

    I very much agree with your view of what the deterrent should look like: sea and air-based, not land based. I think we can maintain a smaller yet still credible deterrent, and at much lower cost than what we have been spending since the end of WWII.

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  25. The argument in favor of ICBMs is “promptness.” At least, this is what the Air Force says. It goes something like this.

    First, unlike bombers, they don’t have to be moved into position but can hit virtually any target from their silos. Also, the enemy will see bombers coming for hours and might try to shoot them down. SLBMs don’t have quite the range as ICBMs and so may have to be moved into position to strike a target. A sub goes 30 knots max, so it might be a while before they get there.

    Second, it is said that command and control are more secure and faster from the President to ICBM silos than to SSBNs. I am not sure I believe this, as some in the military have cast doubt on it.

    The first argument is real, though. However, one must ask: how likely is a situation in which a President needs to nuke something within 30 minutes? Typically, tense situations build and you can move your subs into position. Even in the event a surprise attack, there will be a necessity period of regrouping and figuring out what happened and what to do. In that time, you can position your subs.

    Subs and bombers are useful in other roles. The ICBM is not. For at least 20 years, the military has kicked around and idea called “prompt global strike,” which means putting conventional warheads on ICBMs. The problem with this of course is that if you are some other country’s early warning system and you see an ICBM or two coming your way or overflying your territory, are you going to necessarily wait it out and see where it’s going and what’s the warhead? Or are you going to order a retaliation? One just doesn’t know, which makes it too iffy to use, which is why we haven’t done it.

    So I am inclined to think we could lose the ICBMs without losing much. Beyond this, everyone knows where they are, they can’t be moved, so any well armed enemy is going to target them. The AF says the silos are invulnerable, but the only way to test that is by nuking them, and who wants that? They may (or may not) be invulnerable juicy targets, but they are definitely juicy targets.

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