View Full Version : US Nuclear Forces in 1979
01-05-2009, 12:43 PM
This was documentary put out in 1979 about the US Deterrent Forces ability to survive a First Strike and Retaliate. In short it doesnít end well for the US Deterrent Forces. At the very least I suggest watching the first part of the documentary. The question I pose is, were the US Deterrent Forces really this badly off in the late Ď70s and if they were why didnít the Soviets play this situation to there advantage?
01-05-2009, 01:29 PM
For the Soviets to have believed that a first strike could do that much damage, they would have to gamble that the entire ICBM flock would not be launched earlier, and that their own ICBMs would be accurate enough to destroy missile silos. In addition, several of the stations communicating with submarines were "fail-deadly", meaning that a communications failure was also an order to strike. Thus, they would have to ensure that all submarines were sunk instantly without warning either other submarines or NORAD. SSBNs are not easy to track, and even a few of them with MIRVed missiles could destroy significant soviet population centers. To gamble on taking a first strike, you would have to accept the risk that significant sections of your country would be destroyed even if your first strike was mostly successful in eliminating enemy weapons.
01-05-2009, 03:59 PM
Please note, that we have two(ok - three) independent threads here:
 Military-industral complex lobbing. Please note that one of speakers even encourages returning to mandatory conscription in USA - which even today didn't happen. There is also strong (even if justified) lobbing for MX missile.
 Need to partialy justify massive revitalization of US armed forces in general; not only strategic ones. Some points, especially mentioning token US Air Defence, were proved valid - see 9/11. Ground based fighters failed to intercept any of hijacked planes, and it was a Navy that responded first with air-umbrella over east coast.
 Soviet equipment.
At the beginning of '80 Soviets began to close many gaps - both in technology and organization. While their capabilities were still exagareted at most points, vast improvements in certain areas (ICBM and SLBM power and accuracy, early warning systems, missile defence, improvement in semiconductor electronics, more sustainability in systems design - e.g. common, modern reactors on submarines) were introduced. In my opinion, they had or were close to qualitative parity (e.g CEP for MIRVs) while retaining quantitive superiority in some areas (conventional strike aircraft, air defence, armour and particulary artillery). Also, US struggled with legacy of Vietnam war and usual cycle of developing next generation weapon was in that time not in favour of US - for example, F-16 and F-15 quickly faced very oposition from MiG-29 (early versions clearly superior in air to air role against early versions of F-16s) and Su-27s - almost match for F-15 (poor radar and not cutting edge missiles on good engines and wonderful airframe).
Directly to your question:
Contrary to common belief, Soviet leadership wasn't obsessed with demolishing the western world. Most of Soviet war plans were - believe it, or not - defensive in nature. Most of these assumed, that they must stop surprise first attack somewhere between Eastern Germany - Middle Poland and then - mostly by means of Northern Army Group - win conventional war in Europe. Their plans for preventive strikes were also drawn on principle of disturbing inevitable Western attack.
Also, while Soviets could have advantage in strategic forces, please mind that:
- strategic forces are built for deterrent, which for both sides worked; neither of them actually executed first strike. Deterrent is a credible _threat_ of incapacitating, retaliatory, counter-value strike. It is NOT capability to execute actual counter-force strike, as it would cleary trigger "use-it-or-loose-it" situation for adversary and therefore triggered the situation, which detterent was meant to prevent - nuclear war.
- there was recently article about US seeking "nuclear primacy" and it's goals to "encircle Russia" or developing NMD system in order to allow for first strike and survive any token retaliation that may follow. (check www.russianforces.org (http://www.russianforces.org) for discussion). Even today, you can't be certain of success for such attack. Even with NMD in place and super-precise RVs.
To sum up: while Soviets had some important advantages that time, they lacked sufficient margin (if there's such thing at all) and above all - REASON - to execute this scenario (which I find very well done, by the way). You may wish also to see movie "Day After Tomorrow" (not to be confused with late '90s environmental movie of similar title) where some scenes from First Strike were used.
01-05-2009, 07:52 PM
I believe the movie in question was called "The Day After"
01-06-2009, 11:04 AM
The Day After was a TV movie made by ABC. It used some of the footage seen in the clips above, which presumably confuses you.
First Strike was a documentary about the capabilities of US nuclear defence.
01-06-2009, 12:52 PM
Note on the Day After: I've seen that TV movie but it takes a slightly different approach to the situation then this documentary.
I generally tend to agree with what DesktopArmor and Antey have said. Which leads me into another question. I've read in several articles that deterence would fail if a terrorist group or radical nation obtained a nuclear capability, so what validity does that statement have and how might the US react or change its defense policy to better deter terrorist groups or radical nation from obtaining or using nuclear weapons? Also if a nuclear weapon was detonated in the US by a terrorist group or radicial nation how would the US respond?
01-06-2009, 01:45 PM
One may argue if failure in scenario for which device (or doctrine) wasn't designed is real flaw or just plain, expected consequence. Indeed MAD had it's deficiencies too - for example, how reliably you may find guilty of launching previously unrecorded type of missile from Russian-Chinese border ?
Non-state actors have another advantage - you can in theory retaliate against their state protectors, but you have to know them first. And even then, there's no smoking gun - only smoking rubble. Moreover, "non-state actors" are unlikely to use missile - if they obtain a device, it is likely they will attempt another means of delivering it.
Basically, deterrence is aimed at adversary with similar mindset, and self-preservation attitude. Threat to kill someone for who death in such struggle is a bless, is no threat at all.
For cases you mention, there's only prevention - and should (God forbid!) something like this happen, it's only "paying and crying", and perhaps, difficult investigation.
01-06-2009, 02:04 PM
I didn't watch First Strike, yet.
Were US forces that badly outmatched, simple answer no. Lot 70's and 80's books on military matters are basically made for few purposes, agenda is same as late fifties and early sixties "missile gap" to increase military budget. Missile gap was real until late 60's or early 70's, it was that USA had more numerous and capable nuclear deterrence, but in at early seventies Soviet started to get massive numbers of out of production effort so earlier feared missile gap starting to form. Soviet Union had disadvantage in generations of weaponry, but on early 70's caught on as they got numbers on second and third generation of ICBM's.
1st gen ICBM's were launched from above ground facilities and those used non storable liquid fuels that reduced readiness capability of weapons, they required long time to fuel and to make ready for launch. Another feature with 1st gen missiles was that launch readiness could not maintained for extended periods. USA was faster to field 2nd generation missiles that were silo launched and used storable liquid fuels. They were much faster to make launch ready. USA was also faster on 3rd generation of missiles, that used solid fuel so they were basically ready to lauch practically indefinitely.
Difference between 2nd and 3rd gen missiles is bit fuzzy as Soviets had R-36 family that had NATO designation SS-9 for original models and SS-18 later models, both are storable liquid fuel missiles but SS-18 lot better in characteristics like throw weight and guidance. SS-18 still forms basis of Russian deterrence but missiles are close to end of their service life. Basically SS-9 was 2nd gen and SS-18 can be considered 3rd gen. SS-9 had special variant with greatly reduced payload, the Fractional Orbital Bombardment System. FOBS is not exacly ballistic weapon but as name implies lauches war head to orbital flight, it was banned as space based nuclear weapon. Difference to ballistic trajectory is it takes bit longer flight time to reach target but as ballistic missiles were launched above north pole, FOBS was launched around south pole. It was basically 1st strike capable weapon as USA didn't complete radar warning system in southern hemisphere, it had capablity strike US targets with much shorter warning time, just like short range missiles in Cuba did. SS-18 is NATO designation later R-36 models. Those are most powerful ever fielded weapon systems. SS-18 has single warhead model with 25mt yield (witch was also used in SS-9). MIRVed variants of SS-18 are also biggest of their type those had 8-10 550-750kt warheads depending on sub type. Soviets planned but didn't field 38 warhead MIRV version that would have had 250kt yield warheads. SS-18 also carried many decoy re-entry vehicles, it's throw weight is unmatched in ICBM's.
In addition to that Soviet nuclear triad had air craft and submarine components like americans. I'll make another post over brief description of those and bit more on both Soviet and American ICBM force.
01-07-2009, 05:04 PM
The Day After:
Powered by vBulletin® Version 4.2.0 Copyright © 2013 vBulletin Solutions, Inc. All rights reserved.