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Nuclear Warfare II – Technology Developments


We saw the general nuclear strategy was focused around MAD, Mutually Assured Destruction. Since attack was the only defense for nuclear war in this phase, each country was maximizing its capability of attack and people were busy minting nuclear weapons left and right. The defense was primarily concerned with preserving the ability of attack rather than minimizing the destruction.  Following were some interesting developments that took place as each country balanced its own arsenal against the threat.

Underground bunkers –

This is perhaps the most widely used, most common measure countries take against possible nuclear attack. A bunker in a mountain is the safest place you can have against nuclear attack. In early 60s Soviet Russia developed technology to build and operate several such nuclear-resistant bunkers. These bunkers were so well dug and developed that if required ,a small scale version of entire government, a command and control cell, could be operated from a bunker.

To counter these bunkers, bunker buster bombs were developed. But they have limitations and no known measure can guarantee destruction of a concrete bunker buried under large amount of clay and and rocks.

Nuclear Submarine:

If missiles and stealth bombers are rooks and bishops of the game of chess of nuclear warfare, nuclear powered nuclear armed submarine is the undisputed queen of this game. You could store your second strike missiles on deep underground bunkers. But if enemy knew the location of your bunkers, they would direct extra firepower or a weapon like bunker buster bomb. Submarine offers you the option of burying your nuclear missiles under the sea.

So a traditional submarine could offer you a good second strike option. But traditional diesel or electric submarines need to come on surface every now and then to get breathable air. So they cannot travel far from the border.

A nuclear submarine, with a few kgs of nuclear fuel can remain operational for months at stretch. It can recycle its own water and air as it has abundant energy. This means it can travel far, even to the doorsteps of your enemy if required.  Given that sea covers 70% of earth surface, more than double the land area, it offers the nuclear submarine huge roaming field, making it impossible to locate positively at all times. The nuclear submarines can be quite large, carry more crew and weapons than their traditional counterparts. Considering the strategic objective equation in last post again,

SO : N x PS x PH x BA > TA,

where N = no. of nuclear weapons,

PS = probability of survival of the weapons,

PH = probability of weapons hitting the target and BA = area destroyed by the bomb,

Nuclear submarine is difficult to detect, thus maximizing it chances of survival, thus high PS.

Nuclear submarine can be taken almost to enemy shore, thus maximizing chances of the missiles hitting the target, thus high PH.

Nuclear submarine can carry much large number of weapons, thus high N.

So nuclear submarine scores high on three of the four counts, thus making it the queen of the game of nuclear-chess.

Thats why nuclear powers with small geographical footprint , namely Britain and France, have all their nuclear arsenal mounted on nuclear submarines. With wide coverage and  excellent stealth capability compared to other nuclear delivery mechanisms, nuclear submarine is an ace in hand. The nuclear war is not over till you destroy your enemy’s last nuclear submarine.

The  Internet:

If I were to give stars to to each development, this development would unequivocally be worth five stars.

Believe it or not. Internet was born as a countermeasure to nuclear war. In fifties and sixties the architecture of the communication infrastructure in USA was “hub and spokes”. So for each city, there was a big central telephone exchange, which handled all the traffic for that city as well as traffic from that city to the rest of the world. This central exchange made ideal target for a nuclear weapon. If such an exchange were to be destroyed, an entire city would be disconnected from the world.

So DARPA, one of the defense research body of USA Government, launched a project to experiment a network where several nodes would be connected to several nodes forming a complex map. We know that in a mathematical map, the redundancy level of connections between different nodes increases inverse- logarithmically with the number of connections between the nodes. So even if you destroy a few nodes from this map, still most of the nodes will remain connected with the other nodes.

What started as a network to connect universities was later expanded to include commercial organizations, government offices and well, very soon pretty much the whole world.

Global Positioning System, aka GPS

Consider the old strategic objective equation again.

AOA2: N2a x PS2a x PH2a x BAa > TAr

As we observed, if you could increase the probability of your missiles hit their target by a factor of two, you cut down the required number of missiles by half. So what better way could be there to increase the accuracy than to devise a system that tells the missiles very accurately where it is now and where it is headed.

GPS achieves this by using a constellation of satellites. At any point no less than 23 GPS satellites are active in orbits around earth. This number ensures that at any point a GPS receiver device located anywhere on earth or in space around earth could have at least 4 and maximum 7 satellites in line of sight. The GPS satellite transmit signals containing valuable information, such as the exact time the signal was transmitted. The receiver calculates the distance from the satellite using the time at which it received the signal and calculating the time difference , which when multiplied by speed of signal (speed of light) gives distance from satellite.

We live in three dimensional world, so ideally only three satellites would be enough. But every measurement has some error. If the three satellites seen by the device are orthogonal to each other, then this error would be minimum. But if they are very close to each other ,say all of them are to the east of the device, then the measurement in one dimension would be accurate, whereas measurement in other two dimensions would be highly inaccurate as co-axial measurement errors amplify each other. Thus we need 4th satellite to correct errors because most likely your locator satellites will not be orthogonal to each other.

Need is the mother of invention, and the need to win or at least survive nuclear war was mother of lots of inventions. But rapidly expanding number of nuclear countries poses a new challenge, nuclear proliferation. More on that in the next post.

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