US Airpower in this Global Thermonuclear War scenario

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armedupdate

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Unread post11 May 2017, 02:54

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I been hearing about this about theory about a potential global thermonuclear war with Russia. Not probable but so are most war games.

The current US strategic nuclear arsenal is:
(ICBM)~400 Minuteman II each with 400 Kt Warhead-Total 400 warheads
(SLBM)~239 Trident II MIRVed with either 100-400 Kt warhead-Total 900 warheads
(BOMBER)~80 Strategic Bombers with cruise missiles and bombs
~Total Megatonage:~500 Megatons

The current Russian arsenal is:
(ICBM)
~46 R-36 MIRVed with a total of 460 warheads
~72 Mobile Topol with a total of 72 warheads
~60 Silo Topol-M with 60 warheads
~18 Mobile Topol-M with a total of 20 warheads
~63 Yars Mobile with 252 warheads
~10 Yars Silo with 40 warheads
(SLBM)~160 missiles with 704 warheads
(BOMBER)~66 Strategic Bombers with cruise and bombs
~Total Megatonage~800 Megatons

In the Cold War in the theory of MAD it is said it is needed 400 Megatons total to cause "unacceptable casualties" on the Soviet Union. That is 30 percent of Soviet population killed and 50 percent of the Soviet production destroyed. By 1970s, the US had around 1,000 Minuteman ICBMs that MIRV capable far exceeding the current ICBM megatonage. Soviet SLBMs and ICBMs simply didn't have the accuracy to destroy a majority with them in the first strike, although worries of a potential pindown by debris was there hence the MX program.

However Russian ICBMs and SLBMs are increasingly accurate just as US ones. Russian subs will get stealthier and stealthier and easier to sneak up on US coasts.

The theory is if Russians can ever master a sub capable of penetrating US lines to get to the coast, and accurate to destroy the entire US ICBM force. Lets say 400-800 warheads. Lets say a chunk of the Russian SSBN force is on patrol and they are able to penetrate US lines. 1/2 of US SSBN are on patrol(as usual) having a total of 500 warheads. The US doesn't have constant bomber patrols anymore but lets say the Russians launch lets say 20 bombers it the air for this first strike. The Russians fire a depressed trajectory shot from their Bulavas, both in destruction and X-ray pindown,as well as disrupting US comms, then use high accuracy Yars ICBM to finish off the US force of pinned down ICBMs. A majority of US ICBM are destroyed plus all Ohio class submarines are destroyed.

Around 400 SLBM and 400 ICBM from the US side is destroyed. 500 Russian warheads are used to make this happen. Russia has has used a total of lets say 200 SLBM warheads and 300 Yars ICBMs(and some Topol) warheads from silos. The Russians immedietly launch their SSBNs and road mobiles from port/base to prevent destruction.

The US immediately responds with their Trident force riding up to Russian borders and firing 150 warheads total taking out the entire Russian silo force. The US has a total of 350 SLBM warheads remaining.The Russians have 500 SLBM warheads remaining and 80 road mobiles warheads left.

Both sides have a megatonnage around 100 or less. Remaining Russian subs fire 4 missiles taking 2 British SSBN and 2 French SSBN parked at port.

War breaks out between conventional forces fighting on the Eastern front. NATO is getting an edge so Russian has begun using tactical nuclear weapons from cruise missiles, artillery, and bombs. Most NATO tactical nukes is reliant airpower?

Now the scenario above, I have neglated the nuclear airpower wing of the Nuclear triad. So I have quick questions?
How many Russian warheads to destroy a majority of bomber and fighter airbases(both in US and abroad)? Is it enough to dent US airpower in this large ground battle?

The theory is if Russia is able to hide it's fighters, spread out in multiple of makeshift airbases and launch a huge chunk of their bombers before first strike they have a huge chunk of their nuclear triad survive destruction from US SLBM. Does the US hide it's fighters at all?

If Russia can destroy a huge portion of US airpower via first strike, they can fly unmolested to provide close air support, and do nuclear bombing over NATO cities with little resistance for majority of NATO airpower is destroyed, and their SAM force is still strong, while NATO SAMs are not so numerous. Of course there are US aircraft carriers which are pretty much too hard to target since they are not static, but airpower is dented enough for a Russian edge in air power to be able to support troops on the ground trash Europe.

If this happens US and NATO has two choices:
1) Surrender, give up Europe
2) Commit strategic nuclear attack with remaining SLBM arsenal on Russian civilian and production targets, don't have enough Megatonagge to completely destroy Russia(and still possibly loose the tactical battle), and get nuked in return, potentially harder. London, Paris, and Berlin in flames and US split on decisions.
3) Continue the tactical battle, where Russian tactical nukes will have the edge

How plausible is the scenario? Are NATO air forces spread out and hidden to prevent this? From what I know most US fighters like F-22 and F-35 are based in super complexes rather than spread out in hidden airbases. Can lets say lets say 50 warheads destroy a majority of US airpower? Main airbases only have one airfield.
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Unread post11 May 2017, 07:24

Your scenario has few weak spots.
A majority of US ICBM are destroyed plus all Ohio class submarines are destroyed.

How the Russians are to achieve a surprise destruction of all Ohio class submarines?

Russians launch lets say 20 bombers it the air for this first strike.
They would never make it to the target. They have to fly over Alaska and Canada and there are a lot of radar sites and fighter bases along the route. If they choose to fly along Norway, Iceland and then Canada maybe some will make it to lunching spot for cruise missiles.

When you say NATO nuke you have to remember that UK and France sill have strategic assets. For UK is probably circa 160 warheads on Trident missiles and France circa 250 on M51 missiles.

How many Russian warheads to destroy a majority of bomber and fighter airbases(both in US and abroad)?
If you include all Guard bases, all bases abroad, all bases were Air Force is temporary - the number goes into hundreds.

Reasonable leader starts the war to win and gain something, and yours everyone will lose. A game with a negative sum.
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Unread post11 May 2017, 07:32

Not all Ohio's go on patrol. As I say usually 40 percent of US SSBN fleet go on patrol. In this scenario I said 500 warheads survive the first strike.

The bombers dont do the first strike. They attack one SLBM takes out enemy bomber and fighter bases.

How many bases usually hold bombers and fighters
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Unread post11 May 2017, 16:35

Well, first of all the scenario is really static.

Second, all parties have long lost anything worth keeping at the branching point in it...
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Unread post11 May 2017, 21:06

First off, SLBMs whether Russian or US don't need to "penetrate" some defensive line or get close to another nation to launch their missiles. They can be launched from heir home ports and still strike anywhere they'd want. The missiles don't become more "accurate" the closer they are launched to their targets.

The issue there is, more likley, being able to trail them constantly when they do go on patrol so as to have an idea of where they are and if they are preparing for an attack (and possibly destroy them before they do so, or complete doing so). Obviously US activities or abilities in this area are the most closely guarded secrets in the universe, but we can guess its a lot more so than Russia's abilities. Just a guess.

If 40% of US SSBNs are in port, what % do you think it is for Russia? And what effect would all Russian SSBNs deploying have on warning the US of what's about to happen? That would be a very rare, and well observed, event.

Second, why do you think Russia has the ability to disperse its assets on such short notice without the dispersal itself being noticed and being a warning sign of an upcoming attack? Do you think Russia has more places to "disperse" its air assets, for example, then the US? With thousands of large civilian airports? Highly unlikely either side would be able to do this preemptively without giving away its game. (certainly unlikely Russia would have this ability. Such dispersal would take weeks, if not months, and would be poor secrets)

Certainly neither side has the ability to take out the other's side nuclear arsenal...and...take out its conventional forces, population centers or production capacity...at the same time. That was the point of the arms reduction treaties. Most ICBM sites aren't likley to be attacked by a single MIRV or warhead; there may be 2 or 3 targeted for each shelter (actually it's not "may". It certainly is 2-3 warheads per shelter that are used). After all, a CEP of 200m means that 50% of your warheads can fall outside of that, and if you're a MIRV-ed missile the warhead size isn't all that big and may not be sufficient to ensure the destruction of an ICBM shelter. Accuracy is really important in this case and "close enough" may not be close enough. So you're not relying on only 1 warhead per ICBM shelter or target.

(and of course real accuracy of such missiles isn't something any side is interested in advertising truthfully, or at all.)

So you run out of warheads really fast once you figure out all the critical nuclear targets you have. Then take into account the opponent's ability to retaliate before you have had a chance to destroy said ICBMs, which is of course more then likley, which would mean your first-strike may not have been all that useful anyway if all they hit is empty ICBM shelters.

There's a reason this is called MAD.

And lastly, purely comparing total number of warheads isn't ALL that informative for such a scenario. For example, prior generation Minuteman III warheads are claimed to be roughly as accurate as current generation Russian MRIVs. Ok, that sounds great. Except that current generation Minuteman III M87 warheads are claimed to be about twice as accurate then the prior generation warheads. So even through a Minuteman III with an M87 warhead has only 1, and appears to be at a significant disadvantage to a Russian ICBM with, for example, 3 warheads...the reality is that they both have about the same ability to take out something like a hardened shelter, because it would take 3 MRIVs to have the same kill probability as the single M87 warhead. (this is before the non-M87 Minuteman III guidance upgrades, which probably also brought them to M87 levels).

So number of warheads needs to be put into context of how many such warheads are needed to ensure a sufficient kill probability on a single hardened target like an ICBM shelter. In the US case, the claim is 1 for M87-armed missiles (and, guessing, also so for upgraded guidance missiles). Which is the reason they got rid of MRIVs because they really weren't needed. In the Russian case, judging by the huge size of the single-warhead ICBMs, the accuracy isn't good, and the MRIVed ones are 3-4, which is probably the number of MRIVs required to achieve a 90%+ kill probability on a single target.

So does Russia really have an advantage in terms of warheads? I don't think so, but you be the judge. In either case, neither side can realistically carry out the scenario you described.
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Unread post12 May 2017, 20:01

In addition, not all Russian ICBMs/SLBMs are capable of first-strike capability (first strike as in being able to take out US ICBM shelters, credibly). Things like SS-18 and SS-19 don't have the accuracy for that. So there's about 150 Topol/Topol M systems (all with single warhead) that have some first-strike capability (relying more on their larger warhead than on accuracy), and about 100 Yars ICBM (with 4 warheads, but that doesn't mean they can strike 4 ICBM shelters at once. More than likley, 3 or all 4 would be targeted at a single shelter to achieve a high enough probability of destruction).

So that's enough for 250, or lets round up to 300 Minuteman III shelters which in a best-case scenario could be taken out (assuming of course that the US doesn't retaliate before the strike is complete, in which case none of this matters at all since the shelters will be empty).

The US has 431 active Minuteman III missiles. I'm not sure if that's also the number of shelters, or if there are additional shelters as well (I remember something about 100 reserve shelters where missiles could also be deployed, which would complicate matters for the attacking side)

Taking out all 431 US Minuteman III shelters would, realistically, eat up Russia's entire first-strike capability. And then some. It may be the case that the Russian's really don't have enough accurate ICBMs to go around for this task.

Their SLBMs don't appear to be accurate enough for this sort of a scenario (judging from open-source claims of accuracy, and MIRV yields). If, for example, their latest Bulova missile only has a CEP of 350m, and carries 6 warheads of 150kt each, that would really mean that all 6 would need to be targeting a single ICBM shelter to get something above a 90% kill probability. Which is possible, but that means that they would still be using up all their missiles for this purpose. And older generation SLBMs are far less accurate.

So is it realistic they could do all this and have plenty left over? No. I don't think so.

By comparison US Trident II are claimed to have a CEP of 90m. That's good enough to ensure 90+% kill probability against a hardened shelter with a single warhead. Which is also why the Minuteman III, or ICBMs in general, are...not...the US's primary nuclear deterrent. The Ohio's and their Trident IIs are because they are both much more numerous but also have credible first-strike capability and are virtually immune. The ICBM force is there, in my opinion, more or less as a hardened target for the enemy to waste its warheads on.

Also keep in mind that in reality each side would get about 10% failure rate on missiles: either missiles failures or warhead failures. So bump up all estimates by 10%. But you don't know which 10%, which makes things difficult if you don't plan some overlap between missiles or MIRVs. But that would likley increase the number needed by more than 10%.

PS: This has implications for US ABM defense as well. It may well be the case that US ABM (current or whatever may be coming in the future, which is very likley), will let in these warheads targeting ICBM shelters. Instead of wasting effort and ABM missiles on these targets, they would focus on the less-accurate non-first strike Russian warheads, which due to their nature, are more likley to be targeting cities, industrial centers or conventional forces, rather than US nuclear forces. That at least reduces the number and types of warheads that need to be intercepted
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Unread post12 May 2017, 21:16

Russia can surprise launch all it's SSBN's at port right when the first strike starts. Remember we are talking about surprise nuclear attack during peacetime. Usually they only have 1-2 subs at sea. Blasting SLBMs over our missile fields(SLBMs going near our coast, the launch will be too quick for launch on warning) is enough to stop a launch known as "X-ray pindown" and destroying early warning systems while their more accurate Yars ICBM kills all the ICBMs.

Russian fighters and bombers don't need to "secretly move". Like the SSBNs they can a launch right when the first strike.
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Unread post12 May 2017, 22:45

armedupdate wrote:Russia can surprise launch all it's SSBN's at port right when the first strike starts. Remember we are talking about surprise nuclear attack during peacetime. Usually they only have 1-2 subs at sea. Blasting SLBMs over our missile fields(SLBMs going near our coast, the launch will be too quick for launch on warning) is enough to stop a launch known as "X-ray pindown" and destroying early warning systems while their more accurate Yars ICBM kills all the ICBMs.


Again, a FEW things missing here: their SLBMs aren't accurate enough, they don't have enough (or accurate enough) ICBMs to take out all our ICBMs...and even if they took out the early warning sites first, why would that stop us from a retaliatory strike? We already know we're under attack. And lastly, our ICBMs aren't our primary nuclear force: our SSBNs are and our SLBMs are very accurate.

As for "X-ray pindown", if that is a real thing and not science fiction, look at how widespread our ICBM locations are. How many detonations would it take to do this over a 15-30 minute period? A good way to waste a few hundred warheads, while our main nuclear force in SSBNs is unaffected.

As for getting in close with your SSBNs and not providing enough warning time or reaction time: the distance between North Dakota and San Francisco is approximately 2,000 km. Even if a Russian SSBN was parked by the Golden Gate Bridge, it would take about 15 minutes of flight time to reach North Dakota ICBM locations. I would assume, that's not where the Russians would be parked, so in any scenario, you can't really get to within 20 minutes of flight time to where the ICBM's are located. That's why they were placed there, to minimize the possibility of a surprise strike to which we can't retaliate.

There's no scenario where the attacking side gets away with it.

Part of me thinks the US intentionally stayed with silo-based ICBMs purely to offer a tempting and necessary target for the Russians to waste their entire nuclear arsenal on. If we went with un-targetable mobile ICBMs, we leave the Russians no option but to attack the cities since there's no point in trying to target our nuclear forces. You give them a nice juicy target that they can't ignore, and you've reduced their nuclear capability by at least half or more.
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Unread post13 May 2017, 00:25

Yes I understand Russian SLBMs are not as accurate, but they will get more and more accurate in the future.

From what I know our ICBMs are fairly clustered. The airbursts that produce X-rays, fireball and debris is enough to stop ICBM from taking off.

SLBMs can probably travel around between Mach 15-20 in this trajectory. That is under 10 minutes if parked near Washington. Enough to prevent launch on warning. That was the risk, and why US wanted the MX program.
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Unread post13 May 2017, 01:32

armedupdate wrote:Yes I understand Russian SLBMs are not as accurate, but they will get more and more accurate in the future.


Yes they will. We'll see about when it does. Right now they don't seem to be so.

armedupdate wrote:From what I know our ICBMs are fairly clustered. The airbursts that produce X-rays, fireball and debris is enough to stop ICBM from taking off.


They are spread out as far as 100km in each direction. X-rays are, supposedly, to disrupt communications. Not sure how much that is real, relevant, or science fiction at this point. The blast effect is to knock missiles out of the sky as they are ascending the atmosphere. To do that you'd need probably several dozen nukes going off over the wide area, and not just once but repeatedly over some period of time. The blast effect dissipates at the speed of the blast, so preventing launch for 30 seconds is probably not a convincing strategy for preventing launches.

armedupdate wrote:SLBMs can probably travel around between Mach 15-20 in this trajectory. That is under 10 minutes if parked near Washington. Enough to prevent launch on warning. That was the risk, and why US wanted the MX program.


Much of time required for a ballistic missile is spend in the ascent phase. So on average they aren't flying anywhere near that fast over the duration of their flight. It's still going to be 15-20 minutes realistically, since I doubt they would be parked in the Potomac launching their missiles, but probably about 1,500km in the Atlantic Ocean.

Bottom line is this (in my opinion): there is no way to win a first strike scenario, and there is nothing to gain by concentrating on taking out Minuteman III ICBMs. In fact, that would be doing the US a huge favor in a nuclear war if Russia decided to spend the vast majority of its arsenal targeting our secondary nuclear arsenal. As long as our SSBN force is around, is as numerous, and has as capable missiles as Trident IIs, there's no way anyone could be stupid enough to think they can win a surprise attack.

And my broader point was that one can't look simply at the number of warheads and assume that that is the number of targets that can be attacked: 1 warhead with high accuracy is better than 3 warheads with poor accuracy, because one is forced to use all 3 for one target to assure target destruction. Russia has that problem to a greater extent than the US, and hence the math doesn't add up as to one side being really able to take out the other's arsenal, without facing certain destruction.
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Unread post13 May 2017, 20:31

http://www.nytimes.com/1982/07/21/us/pi ... ssile.html

So this where this "X-ray pindown" idea came from. NYT. So fake news (even back then).

This is pretty unrealistic. EMP wouldn't be an issue. X-rays are traveling pretty fast, so it's a momentary effect which would have no impact if you didn't time it perfectly right (the x-ray effect they are talking about is basically, heating. But that is only relevant in space as it is pretty effectively blocked by the atmosphere). This is how some of the ABM missiles defeated their targets, but obviously they were timed perfectly right. Assuming the Russians can launch missiles from the other side of the globe to intercept ICBMs at just the right second of flight with X-rays is absurd. The other issue is ionized atmosphere which may cause radar balckout, but that wouldn't make any difference to an ICBM.

X-rays are blocked pretty effectively by the atmosphere, so detonating warheads in space will have no effect on missiles in flight within the atmosphere, for example. X-rays in exoatmospheric conditions could be more effective for their heat effect, but again the timing needs to be perfectly right since the ICBM is also traveling much faster exoatmospherically and the effect is very short-distance (in terms of the speeds involved).

The real effect is the blast and heat effect (x-rays are part of the cause of the heat effect, but only in space and not inside the atmosphere). So it's the same defeat mechanism as nuclear-armed ABMs used, only in reverse. But it's pretty absurd when you think of all the timing issues that it would take to do it. It's about as complicated at the ABM mission itself. Detonate the warhead too low in the atmosphere to get the blast effect, and you get no x-ray heating effect. And the blast effect itself is very short. Detonate it too high to get x-ray heating effect and you get no blast effect. And the x-rays dissipate at the speed of light, so you better time it perfectly.

And all this would require multi-megaton warheads to create the desired effects. Such warheads aren't numerous, or even operational at all, by the Russians anymore. (the only missiles capable of carrying them are the old SS-18s and SS-19s, and I'm not sure if any of them still carry the single multi-megaton warheads). It's not really possible to do it with the smaller MIRV warheads of today. The effect area would be too small.

Now there is some small truth to this NYT article in that the MX basing idea was pretty stupid. Placing 100 missiles in such a small area and in such close proximity to each other would mean that much of the area could be covered by the blast of a single warhead, and for the duration of its effect, could prevent other missiles from launching. But that was an MX basing problem, not a Minutemen III problem where they are spaced out much further away.
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Unread post14 May 2017, 02:57

Starfish Prime

http://www.bbc.com/future/story/2015091 ... ng-results

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Starfish_Prime

In 1963, it was reported that Starfish Prime had created a belt of MeV electrons.[16] In 1968, it was reported that some Starfish electrons had remained for five years.
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Unread post14 May 2017, 03:05

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Multiple_ ... ry_vehicle

Imagine, at the end of each line, that contacts ground, is a multi-hundred kiloton explosion. With appropriate spacing, the blast waves would actually reinforce each other.

Peacekeeper-missile-testing.jpg
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Unread post14 May 2017, 03:22

It's gamma radiation which primarily ionizes the air, causing incandescence, that sets off E1 and the "blast" of electrons, and ultimately synchrotron radiation, from the presence of Earth's magnetic fields.
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Unread post14 May 2017, 11:40

Just a few points,
Minuteman I & II are all retired.
"First strike capability" should read "Hard strike capability" which refers to the Trident Missiles ability to hit hardened Russian Silo`s. The D5 Trident II was the first SLBM to really have this capability.
There is a reason why the US has most of its counterstrike force at sea and the Russians are trying to do the exact same thing in catch up.

Those missile silo`s are very difficult targets to destroy and they are built to withstand massive overpressures. They are not targeted with one warhead, they would receive multiple hits because you basically have to get a direct hit on one to take it out and guarantee its destruction.
We don`t really know how accurate our missiles are going to be since we test east to west, not the other way around, in a shooting war we would launch west to east over the pole.

Tidbit, during the cold war Moscow was slated to receive 200 warheads delivered by NATO strategic nuclear missile forces to saturate its ABM defences, of which we found out later, they were ineffective against multiple ICBMs with decoys and could only handle 2 inbound missiles.
Interestingly they would have been very effective against MRBMs like Pershing , the Moscow ABM systems could supposedly handle 40 inbounds, due to the lower trajectory they attain during flight compared to ICBMs.

Some of the deep bunkers would have been targeted by up to 70 warheads outside of Moscow.
Frightening.
2 methods of supposedly disabling warheads depending on whether they are outside of the atmosphere or inside when attacked, neutron flux or X-rays from nuclear detonations.

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