Nuclear Friday: Panic Mode

Just a short video and commentary post this week. It’s been a rough one. Got to meet the Death Nurse this week. At least that’s what I call her. The point of home hospice care is to keep my dad out of the hospital. That means you can’t call 911, because they’d take him to the hospital. So, instead of calling 911 you call a nurse who comes to the house. It’s a very good system and I was impressed with her skill. She was able to solve a breathing problem he’d been having for a month now just with her voice. Turns out he was having something like a panic attack for most of a month, but now he has learned to apply the self calming skills he had been taught by his respiratory therapist months ago to his now more severe condition. It’s actually working. The increased morphine allowance helps too, but it’s also concerning because I know each increase correlates with the eventual end.

So, I’ve had no time at all to do anything for The Board so continuing with the theme of anxiety and panic I will simply present this 1960 Air Force intelligence report. It’s super secret stuff that gives away how well the US was able to spy on the USSR. So don’t share this with the Rooskies! The report then attempts to extrapolate what Soviets will do and to an extent gets things right, but mostly fails badly. It’s a perfect example of post Sputnik panic:

It all starts off reasonably enough. I think in 1960 it would be fitting to describe Soviet goals at that time as superiority. However, I would argue that several events in the sixties would lead the USSR to change their objectives to something I would describe as Robust Sufficiency.

Video mentions that the US had monitored 21 ICBM related tests. Good work team! Long and interesting discussion of RADINT (radar spying) and ELINT (transmission and telemetry interception). But absolutely no mention of U-2 recon flights. Did they not have access to that information? Did they have it and were ordered to not talk about it? This might explain the unrealistic projections that happen later in the video.

9:18, Notice the map from East Germany to North Vietnam is all one color as if there was one unified Communist Bloc instead of separate countries? Not realistic, but it reflects late 1950’s SAC war plans. Nuke everything from Hanoi to Berlin was the only option. Nuance would come later.

11:30, This is a fairly accurate assessment of the R-7’s capabilities, though the USSR would never put more than a 3 megaton warhead on it. Estimates of the CEP are accurate for early R-7 configurations, though the Soviets would eventually get down to around a mile. Anticipated improvements in accuracy kept the Soviets from increasing the yield.

12:50 The video makes some predictions here that didn’t pan out. The R-7 was a cumbersome machine. While there were mobile versions, they could not stray far from their large support crews. The large size and cumbersome shape of the R-7 kept them from being placed into hardened launchers. The USSR would eventually develop such capabilities, but this would start with an entirely new generation of missiles in the late sixties.

15:05, Yep, That’s exactly what ICBMs are for. Gotta use them to take out the nuclear assets of the other side. Other targets can be bombed later.

15:20, Totally wrong. 50 ICBMs in 1960 and 250 by 1961? In 1961 the USSR was able to keep 4 R-7s at full alert at any one time. It was a fine space launch vehicle and was the backbone of the Soviet space program into the eighties, but it was almost useless as a weapon.

16:00. Now this is just not quite right. Yes, the USSR had some good medium range bombers, and a lot of them. But there is no way they would count on refueling them over the pole and sending them on a kamikaze mission. But I suppose you gotta plan for the worst. I do think Soviets would actually try this if Warsaw Pact forces were collapsing or nukes were already in play though. It just wouldn’t be part of a first strike as described in the video. Like the song says, the Russians love their children too.

17:01 Accurate estimates of USSR missile strength, but 5-8 years later when new missile designs became available.

18:48. Now we are getting less accurate as they estimate changes after 1964. Notice they said that the Tu-95 Bear will be replaced with a nuclear bomber? What they mean is that the Bear will be replaced by a plane with supplemental nuclear engines. The US experimented with a nuclear powered aircraft using the B-36 platform and the USSR did some tests with a reactor on a Tu-95. Reactors and aircraft do not mix well and both programs were abandoned.

And there’s mention of a potential supersonic intercontinental bomber. The US tried like hell for one of these several times and all we got was the B-1B. The USSR gave up quicker and stuck to short range aircraft.

And there’s a discussion about air to surface standoff weapons. Yes, the USSR would start developing many standoff weapons in the late sixties, but not for a strategic attack on the US. Their primary focus was on blasting the US Navy, not grandma’s house. Grandma will get it for sure once the USSR would switch strategies later, but she ain’t gonna die like this in 1968.

How we know these projections were unrealistic:

Cuba. There’s no way the USSR would have taken the strategic risk of stationing nuclear weapons in Cuba if they had so many cool and reliable weapons back home.

The risky Cuba gambit was made tempting because the Soviet Union simply did not have the capabilities it was projected to have in this video.

 

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