July 23, 2006

Nuclear-tipped ABMs

One of my more experience readers, who fought in WWII, then was a major league professional athlete, and then worked in high tech defense projects, including ABM, responds to my idea that we should practice perfecting a hit-to-kill ICBM interceptor, but then, if we ever are attacked, arm the interceptors with nuclear warheads (kind of like practicing skeet shooting with a rifle but then going bird hunting with a shotgun) responds:

That is a super idea. A not-so-short narrative to explain why we no longer have 'em. When we began serious work on ABM (anti-ballistic missile) systems, they were all nuclear. The first attempt at defenses was the Nike-Zeus system deployed around some of our cities in the 60's to intercept Russian bombers. There were citizens' uprising against upgrading this system to be capable of missile intercepts. The thing that really bothered the people was the idea that there would be nuclear-tipped interceptors underground near their homes.

What they didn't know was that there were already nuclear-tipped interceptors deployed near their homes. Nike-X, the improved system (on which $400 million a year in 60's dollars was being spent), was specifically designed to work against ICBMs. The long-range interceptors (Spartans), out-of-the atmosphere interceptors, carried megatons of yield (yes, megatons). The short-range ones (Sprints), which had to make the intercept after the atmosphere had filtered out pen-aids were fast, agile, and carried a small yield nuclear warhead. McNamara was the steward.

The idea of deploying this system in cities was abandoned, but a bowdlerized version of this system was actually deployed around our retaliatory missile silos in the northern midwest during the NIxon administration. We gave it up for SALT, even though we were permitted to have it. Good. Because it wouldn't have worked.

A combination of political pressures and new technology which seemed to promise hit-to-kill capability resulted in adopting the idea that we would do missile defense without nuclear weapons. President Reagan, or his people, specified non-nuke for the Star Wars program. (The atomic physicists who made the A-bomb and the H-bomb have really been against nuclear weapons for decades. I assume it's a guilt complex for having been responsible for the deaths of, was it? 150,000 innocent Japanese in WWII.)

All the time I worked in and around these programs, virtually everyone agreed with your idea, but the decisions were made and we shutup. I'm relying on memory for this. More would require research.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

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