I came across this post from Maimgara who posted this excellent prose on SA’s AIRPOWER/Cold War thread. Without further ado, I present Maimgara’s
ICBM Basing Modes – Where can I hide my ICBMs today?
I recently came across the fantastic Arms Control Wonk blog and podcast, which on Oct 10 did an episode on a feasibility study done by DoD in December 1980 on where to base the up-and-coming MX weapons system (known today as LGM-118 Peacekeeper). Parts of this is so Cold War and hilarious today, that I thought I’d share.
The document is available here http://www.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a956443.pdf
The MX program started in the 1960s and resulted in 50 Peacekeeper missiles being deployed in Minutemen silos, starting from 1986. The Peacekeepers became a casualty of the START II arms treaty with Russia and the last was decommissioned September 2005.
The MX/Peacekeeper is meant to be a survivable weapon, to be used either as a first strike counter-force (blowing up opponents silos/C3/HQ) or a second-strike weapon, which in short deters a first strike, because the weapon will survive a surprise first strike and still strike back at the Soviets.
It’s essential that the weapon system will survive a targeted counter-force nuclear attack, receive attack authorization and target data and be able to launch. Each MX had 10 warheads with a 300kT yield each, with an accuracy (CEP) of 330 ft.
To survive and launch post strike, the authors of this document considered 30 options, from extant and well-known over unusual all the way to lunacy. Each of the 30 options are graded on 11 criteria:
3 Survivabiliy and independence criteria.
3 Operational Feasibility, detailing if it’s possible to keep civilians away, are the weapons secure from conventional attack/sabotage and is the military able to operate the weapons
5 Other criteria, considering if new technology is needed, how big an environmental impact the system has and cost. Treaty violations are mentioned too, but in the most throw-away fashion.
Each of the 30 options are graded on the 11 criteria on a 4 point scale: Major Negative Feature (X*), Negative Feature (X), Satisfactory (V) and Major Positive Feature (V*)
THE LEAST INSANE:
These options are included in the document mostly for having a baseline, they are tried and tested methods of ICBM storage and launching.
Option 30: MX/MPS (Multiple Protective Shelter) “Racetrack”
I mention this, not because its (comparatively) crazy, but because it was the recommendation from the report and as such most planning was done.
4600 hardened shelters are placed over 5500 square miles connected by road, each shelter at least 1 mile apart. In these 4600 shelters are hidden 200 real missiles and 4400 decoys, with transporters shuffling missiles and decoys from shelter to shelter. The idea is that each shelter is spaced and hardened such that a warhead can only take out one shelter. With decoys and shuffling, the soviets would have to expend 4600 warheads to be sure they got them all.
Grades from this basing mode is all “satisfactory” or better.
This basing mode is the recommendation from the report, which to me seems to skip too easily over the costs of building 4600 hardened shelters, 6000 miles of gravel road and 4400 decoy missiles plus the cost of the 200 real missiles. Each shelter would need fibre optic communications and power cables.
The MX/MPS layout was okay’ed by President Carter in 1979 and cost was estimated to be $37 billion ($99 billion inflation adjusted). At first Utah was in on the idea, however the Mormons shot it down and it was killed by Reagan in 1981 as “a Rube Goldberg scheme”. As mentioned the MX missiles ended up as Peacekeepers in Minutemen silos.
Option 14: Hard Rock Silo
A Minuteman style silo is placed in hard rock, such as granite. This would harden the silo to about 3000 PSI (everything but a direct hit) but be more costly and slower than a known silo.
This basing option is judged to be vulnerable to increasingly accurate Soviet warheads. Bonus style points for the name.
Option 18+19: Commercial Rail / Dedicated Rail
In the 80,000 miles of rail in NW continental US, trains of a locomotive, 5 support cars and 2 missile carrying cars roam, able to launch from either existing or new sidings. Civilian train personnel operate the locomotives, while a 42 man crew service and launch the missiles. This setup got to the prototype stage, with a complete set of components being manufactured. The system was canceled over costs and security concerns (warheads and propellant would be bad in an accident, especially as the cars were meant to be painted as normal refrigerator box cars.
The Dedicated rail option was purpose-built automatic trains and TEL-cars on 22000 miles of dedicated railway over 90000 square miles. This would take care of the security concerns, but the costs of new rail materiel and land would be substantial.
As a sidenote, the Soviet fielded the RT-23 Molodets (SS-24 Scalpel) and had 56 missiles on trains upto approx 2000.
Option 15: Deep Tunnel
Here we head into the Cold War weeds, with increasing cost and insanity.
A suitable mesa or mountain of hard rock is found and several 3000 ft deep shafts is drilled, down to a tunnel network connecting the launch shafts and living/maintenance areas. In the tunnel system, a group of TELs carry missiles, which are launched through the 3000 ft shafts (or Vertical Exit Ports) towards Russia. The scale of the base varies from one monster-base with all 200 missiles and about 100 shafts to about 10 bases with 20 missiles each. To disable a base, each exit must be hit by a direct hit, otherwise the missiles can be launched through even a single open exit. After nuclear Armageddon, base personnel would dig their way out of their citadel somehow.
This option grades high on survivability but badly on costs and technology. Would make for bitching secret evil mastermind lairs though.
There are several more options that made it to the prototype stage (Option 9: Wide Body Jet) or saw widespread use in Soviet (Option 20: Off-Road Mobile), but I’ll focus on the totally Cold War from now on.
A BAD IDEA:
Option 7: Sea Sitter
A 2 million pound amphibian plane carrying 4 ICBMs. The monster seaplane (B-52 max takeoff weight is 488,000 pounds) has a 375 ft wingspan and would fly from its home base, land at a random location and sit there before relocating and eventually returning to base. If it needed to launch its missiles, it would take off and launch during flight. I’m sure building such a seaplane would be no problem, and there would be no problems at all operating in bad weather or with saltwater ingestion in the engines.
Option 21: ICBM HOVERCRAFTS (Okay, the name is really Ground Effect Machine)
Okay, I have a really great idea! Let’s make a 260,000 pound hovercraft with a ICBM on it, build 600 of them and let them roam over 90,000 square miles!
Yes, this is a proposal, but I’m not sure how serious it is. The hovercrafts are pretty vulnerable to the overpressure from blasts, so they would need an excessive area to disperse over. Furthermore, the terrain is important, as hovercrafts cannot handle steep grades or trees
This is graded badly on survivability and practicality. For some reason the hovercrafts are planned as unmanned vehicles.
Option 28: Pool (or 4600 giant swimming pools)
In this proposal, the MX missiles are placed in 200 canisters, which can erect and launch while submerged in one of 4600 pools of water, each 300 ft long, 100 ft wide and 40 ft deep.
Between these 4600 pools, 10 transporters move – and either move a real missile from pool to pool or shuffle around decoys, so it is impossible to know which pool contains a real missile or a decoy. The water is dyed and a roof over the pool conceal which pools contain a MX and which are decoys.
I’ll note here that each pool contains 6.5 million gallons, or 10 olympic swimming pools, and the system would need 4600 of them. These 4600 pools are spaced 1 mile apart, so one warhead cannot hit more than one. Besides the phenomenal amount of water, the system needs 5000 miles of heavy-duty road for the 1,400,000 pound transporters and power/communications for each pool.
Option 4+5: HYDRA / ORCA
An ICBM is placed in a waterproof canister, and released in the ocean. Yup. 200 ICBMs in tin cans floating in the ocean. No manned command posts or anything, just warheads in a can floating in the ocean. It’s a SLBM without all that expensive submarine part. At launch, the canisters would receive radio message to launch and blast off towards Russia.
The similar ORCA system is the canisters tethered to the ocean floor, staying there until launch where they would release, float to the surface and blast off.
These are given majorly negative ratings in that ships could ram the canisters and flood them, which would be bad.