The Weakening of Babylon the Great

U.S. military edge has eroded to ‘a dangerous degree,’ study for Congress finds

Shane Harris

November 14 at 12:01 AM

The United States has lost its military edge to a dangerous degree and could potentially lose a war against China or Russia, according to a report released Wednesday by a bipartisan commission that Congress created to evaluate the Trump administration’s defense strategy.

The National Defense Strategy Commission, comprised of former top Republican and Democratic officials selected by Congress, evaluated the Trump administration’s 2018 National Defense Strategy, which ordered a vast reshaping of the U.S. military to compete with Beijing and Moscow in an era of renewed great-power competition.

While endorsing the strategy’s aims, the commission warned that Washington isn’t moving fast enough or investing sufficiently to put the vision into practice, risking a further erosion of American military dominance that could become a national security emergency.

At the same time, according to the commission, China and Russia are seeking dominance in their regions and the ability to project military power globally, as their authoritarian governments pursue defense buildups aimed squarely at the United States.

“There is a strong fear of complacency, that people have become so used to the United States achieving what it wants in the world, to include militarily, that it isn’t heeding the warning signs,” said Kathleen H. Hicks, a former top Pentagon official during the Obama administration and one of the commissioners. “It’s the flashing red that we are trying to relay.”

The picture of the national security landscape that the 12-person commission sketched is a bleak one, in which an American military that has enjoyed undisputed dominance for decades is failing to receive the resources, innovation and prioritization its leaders need to outmuscle China and Russia in a race for military might reminiscent of the Cold War.

The military balance has shifted adversely for the United States in Europe, Asia and the Middle East, undermining the confidence of American allies and increasing the likelihood of military conflict, the commission found, after reviewing classified documents, receiving Pentagon briefings and interviewing top defense officials.

The U.S. military could suffer unacceptably high casualties and loss of major capital assets in its next conflict. It might struggle to win, or perhaps lose, a war against China or Russia,” the report said. “The United States is particularly at risk of being overwhelmed should its military be forced to fight on two or more fronts simultaneously.”

In its list of 32 recommendations, the commission urged the Pentagon to explain more clearly how it intends to defeat major-power rivals in competition and war. It assailed the strategy for relying at times on “questionable assumptions and weak analysis” and leaving “unanswered critical questions.”

Eric Edelman, a top Pentagon official during the Bush administration, who co-chaired the commission along with retired admiral Gary Roughead, said the report wrestled with the consequences of years of ignored warnings about the erosion of American military might.

Russia and China have “learned from what we’ve done. They’ve learned from our success. And while we’ve been off doing a different kind of warfare, they’ve been prepared for a kind of warfare at the high end that we really haven’t engaged in for a very long time,” Edelman told Michael Morell, the former acting director of the CIA and a fellow member of the commission, during an episode of Morell’s podcast, “Intelligence Matters.”

Edelman said people had lost sight of how complicated the international security environment had become for the United States, and argued that for a lot of reasons the American public and Congress haven’t been as attentive to the urgency of the situation as they should be.

The commission argued that despite a $716 billion American defense budget this year, which is four times the size of China’s and more than 10 times that of Russia, the effort to reshape the U.S. defense establishment to counter current threats is under-resourced. It recommended that Congress lift budget caps on defense spending in the next two years that in the past have hobbled the military’s ability to plan for the long term.

“It is beyond the scope of our work to identify the exact dollar amount required to fully fund the military’s needs,” the report concluded. “Yet available resources are clearly insufficient to fulfill the strategy’s ambitious goals, including that of ensuring that (the Defense Department) can defeat a major-power adversary while deterring other enemies simultaneously.”

The call for even more robust defense spending comes as the Democrats take over the House and seek rollbacks of key Pentagon programs. It also comes after the White House instructed the Pentagon to pare back its planned budget for the coming year by some 4.5 percent, or about $33 billion, after the federal deficit increased sharply following last year’s tax cut.

White House national security adviser John Bolton recently said he expected the defense budget to remain relatively flat in the coming years, as the administration seeks to cut discretionary spending, and suggested the Pentagon would need to reshape the military with funds derived from cuts to other areas.

Money saved from planned Pentagon reforms will prove insufficient to make the kind of investment the military needs to execute the new national defense strategy, the commission found. It also said Congress should look at the entire federal budget, including entitlement spending and tax revenue, to put the nation on more stable financial footing, rather than slash defense spending.

To counter Russia and China, the commission said the Navy should expand its submarine fleet and sealift forces; the Air Force should introduce more reconnaissance platforms and stealth long-range fighters and bombers; and the Army should pursue more armor, long-range precision missiles and air-defense and logistical forces.

In its recommendations, the report advocated seeing through the modernization of the U.S. nuclear arsenal and putting a top Pentagon official in charge of developing additional air and missile defenses.

Another area of focus for the commission was innovation.

It described current Pentagon acquisition programs as too risk-averse, and urged the Defense Department and Congress to create a new category of pilot programs aimed at “leap-ahead” technologies that could serve as breakthroughs to help retain American military dominance.

The report also resurfaced questions about the civilian-military divide that arose after retired Marine Corps general Jim Mattis took over as defense secretary, thanks to a vote in Congress that waived a requirement for military officers to be out of uniform for 10 years before serving in that role.

In his nearly two years as secretary, Mattis has relied more on current and former military officers for expertise than his recent predecessors have.

Without singling out Mattis, the commission warned that “responsibility on key strategic and policy issues has increasingly migrated to the military,” and urged Congress to exercise oversight to “reverse the unhealthy trend in which decision-making is drifting increasingly toward the military on issues of national importance.”

Babylon the Great Builds Up Her Nuclear Horn

Published 12:58 p.m. ET Oct. 22, 2018 | Updated 6:48 p.m. ET Oct. 22, 2018

WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump said Monday he would build up America’s nuclear arsenal in response to what he portrayed as growing threats from Russia and China.

“Until people come to their senses, we will build it up,” Trump said in reference to U.S. nuclear weapons capacity. “We have more money than anybody else by far.”

Trump also reiterated his intention to withdraw from a landmark nuclear weapons treaty with Russia, which he accused of violating the pact.

“I’m terminating the agreement,” Trump told reporters before leaving for a campaign rally in Texas. “Russia has not adhered to the agreement. This should have been done years ago.”

Trump first announced plans to withdraw from the three-decades-old accord, commonly referred to as the INF Treaty, during a campaign rally over the weekend. The agreement, signed in 1987 by then-President Ronald Reagan and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, required the U.S. and Russia to destroy ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of between approximately 310 and 3,400 miles, along with supporting equipment.

The White House says Russia is breaking the accord by producing or testing ground-launched nuclear cruise missiles with that range. Russia has repeatedly denied the allegations.

Trump made the threat of a nuclear weapons build-up shortly after his national security adviser, John Bolton, landed in Moscow for a series of previously scheduled meetings.

White House officials said Bolton would focus on a broad range of issues, from arms control to the Syrian civil war. But Putin’s spokesman said they would use the meetings to demand answers from Bolton about the fate of the nuclear accord.

Russian President Vladimir Putin expects “a detailed explanation” of Trump’s threat to withdraw from a landmark nuclear weapons treaty, a Kremlin spokesman said Monday before Bolton’s meetings began.

“Putin has always said that scrapping this document would cause damage to global security and stability,” Dmitry Peskov, the Russian leader’s spokesman, said Monday, according to the state-controlled media outlet Tass. “We would like to receive a detailed explanation from the U.S.”

European leaders have not disputed U.S. allegations of Russian cheating. But they’ve expressed concerns that Trump’s plan to nix the treaty will lead to a new nuclear arms race.

The INF treaty “contributed to the end of the cold-war and constitutes a pillar of European security architecture since it entered into force 30 years ago,” the EU said in a statement Monday. It noted that the treaty led to the elimination of nearly 3,000 missiles with nuclear and conventional warheads have been removed and verifiably destroyed and urged the U.S. and Russia to resolve its differences over the accord.

“The world doesn’t need a new arms race that would benefit no one and on the contrary would bring even more instability,” the EU statement says. .

Trump’s announcement also sparked concern among some members of Congress.

“They’re a nuclear power, and I think it’s foolish of us to get out of the INF treaty willy-nilly or flippantly,” Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., told reporters during a conference call Monday. “We should be appointing arms negotiators to work out our differences.”

Senate Foreign Relations chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., told CNN on Sunday that Trump’s decision could undermine other disarmament agreements. He said he hoped Trump would reconsider.

“Maybe this is just a move to say, ‘Look … if you don’t straighten up we’re moving out of this’,” Corker said. “… And I hope that’s the case.”

But Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said it was “absolutely the right move” to nix the treaty. “The Russians have been cheating,” Graham said on Fox News.

@AmbJohnBolton began his visit to Moscow by meeting with Nikolai Patrushev, Secretary of the Security Council of the Russian Federation. They discussed a wide range of topics including strategic arms control, Syria, Iran, North Korea and the fight against terrorism.

— Andrea Kalan (@USEmbRuPress) October 22, 2018

Contributing: The Associated Press

Forming the Nuclear Arm of Babylon the Great

Democrats next year will control the gavels for the defense and foreign policy committees in the House for the first time since 2010.

The party has been itching to check on a host of issues, from his relationship with Saudi Arabia to the ballooning defense budget.

But to get legislation through Congress, House Democrats will need to work with the Senate, which is still in Republican hands. And the chairmen poised to lead the defense and foreign policy panels in the upper chamber are seen as staunch Trump allies.

Here are the top foreign policy and defense fights to watch in a divided Congress:

U.S.-Saudi relations

Lawmakers in both parties have been eyeing ways to punish Saudi Arabia over the killing of U.S.-based journalist and Saudi critic Jamal Khashoggi.

House Democrats have said responses should include an end to U.S. military support for the Saudi-led coalition in neighboring Yemen’s civil war. Democratic lawmakers were already opposed to U.S. backing because of civilian casualties, but Khashoggi’s murder has given the issue new urgency.

Rep. Adam SmithDavid (D-Wash.), who’s poised to be chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, and Rep. Eliot (D-N.Y.), in line to lead the House Foreign Affairs Committee, are among the top Democrats who have signed on to a bill that would end military support for Saudi Arabia.

But Republicans have said the Yemen civil war and Khashoggi killing are two separate matters. Continuing support in the civil war, they argue, is imperative to countering Iran, which supports the rebels in Yemen.

GOP senators have talked about sanctions as a possible response. Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho), who is expected to take over the Senate Foreign Relations Committee from retiring Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), signed on to a committee letter last month triggering a sanctions determination by the administration.

But Risch is a Trump loyalist who is seen as much more likely to be deferential to the president than Corker. Trump, who has fostered a close relationship with the Saudis as central to his Middle East strategy, has waffled on how to respond to the Khashoggi killing.

On Tuesday, Trump said he’d have a “stronger opinion on that subject over the next week.”

Space Force

The Trump administration has said it wants the establishment of a “Space Force” included in next year’s defense policy bill. That position has contributed to increasingly diverging opinions between House and Senate lawmakers.

Republicans in the Senate — who were initially skeptical of creating a separate branch of the military for space — have appeared more open to the idea since Trump got involved.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman James Inhofe (R-Okla.), a Trump ally who will keep the gavel in the next Congress, has said he has an open mind but is awaiting more cost details.

The Senate may lose one of its most vocal Space Force critics, albeit on the Democratic side. Sen. Bill Nelson(D-Fla.), who led the chamber’s opposition to a similar plan from the House last year, is fighting for his political life in a reelection race that appears headed toward a recount.

Meanwhile, Democrats in the House have grown more entrenched in their opposition to Space Force ever since Trump injected himself into the debate.

Smith, who supported the House’s space corps plan last year, came out against Space Force in September. He said that while he believes the military needs to do a better job of prioritizing its presence in space, a separate branch is not the most cost-effective way to do so.

Space Force still has some key Democratic support in the House. Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.), who worked alongside Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) to lead the chamber’s space corps push, said in September that he hopes Trump’s involvement doesn’t “ruin the debate” about it.

Defense budget

Smith has said this year’s defense budget of $716 billion is “too high,” and in a Thursday letter announcing his run for chairman he vowed to target “inefficiency and waste” at the Pentagon.

The Washington Democrat has argued that lawmakers need to start making tough choices about spending and taxing as rising deficits have been compounded by the GOP’s 2017 tax-cut law.

Defense hawks and the Pentagon pushed for the $716 billion to help address what they characterized as an urgent readiness crisis. Few Democrats argue that the military is not facing readiness issues, but Smith has said the military needs to be “smart” about how it spends its money. He has cited the Navy’s 355-ship goal, saying the focus on a number is flawed logic because “capability matters.”

Senate Republicans argue that defense cuts would reverse any readiness progress that’s been achieved. They say the budget needs to continue the growth trend from the past two years in order to fully emerge from the readiness hole.

Asked by The Hill in October about the potential House-Senate split and the looming return of budget caps, Inhofe expressed confidence that the defense budget would at least stay flat.

“We have to catch up,” Inhofe said. “We have to keep that up, or all that we have done in catching up in those last two fiscal years will go out the window. So that’s not just going to happen.”

But in this case, Democrats may actually have an ally in Trump, who recently ordered his administration to propose a $700 billion defense budget for fiscal year 2020 — a $16 billion cut from this year and $33 billion less than the initial plan for 2020.

Nuclear weapons

One of Smith’s longtime concerns has been the U.S. nuclear arsenal. He opposed the Obama administration’s modernization plans, arguing they weren’t affordable.

With the Trump administration’s Nuclear Posture Review calling for new capabilities, Smith has stepped up his criticism, vowing to scrutinize the nuclear budget to look for savings in the overall defense budget.

In his Thursday letter, Smith said Democrats must “take substantial steps to reduce America’s overreliance on nuclear weapons.”

Adding to Democrats’ nuclear anxiety is Trump’s intention to withdraw from a Cold War-era arms accord with Russia known as the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. Smith and Engel wrote a letter to the administration last month warning they “will neither support, nor enable, a precipitous course of action that increases the risk of an unconstrained nuclear arms race.”

Congress is limited in its power to prevent Trump from withdrawing from the treaty, but it could block funding for any new missiles that would be out of compliance with the accord.

Inhofe backed the administration’s Nuclear Posture Review and is unlikely to support reduced funding for weapons in the defense policy bill. Risch, meanwhile, issued a statement of support after Trump announced withdrawal from the INF Treaty, saying “the time has come to set the treaty aside.”

Babylon the Great Is Woefully Unprepared for Nuclear Strike

Related imageU.S. Is Woefully Unprepared for Nuclear Strike

Its health system lacks the capacity to respond to attacks that use high-powered modern weapons

Sara Reardon, Nature magazine

August 28, 2018

The United States is not prepared to deal with the aftermath of a major nuclear attack, despite North Korea’s efforts to develop nuclear weapons and the increasing tensions between nations overall. That was the blunt assessment of public-health experts who participated in a meeting last week on nuclear preparedness, organized by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

The gathering is “an acknowledgement that the threat picture has changed, and that the risk of this happening has gone up”, says Tener Veenema, who studies disaster nursing at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, and co-chaired the conference in Washington DC .

Since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, the United States’s research and preparedness efforts for a nuclear strike have focused largely on the possibility of a terrorist attack with a relatively small, improvised 1-kilotonne weapon or a ‘dirty bomb’ that sprays radioactive material.

But North Korea is thought to have advanced thermonuclear weapons—each more than 180 kilotonnes in size—that would cause many more casualties than would a dirty bomb (see ‘Damage estimates’). “Now that thermonuclear is back on the table, we’re back to people saying, ‘We can’t deal with this,’” says Cham Dallas, a public-health researcher at the University of Georgia in Athens.

Veenema says that the science academies decided to do a study in November 2017, three months after North Korean leader Kim Jong-un threatened to launch a nuclear weapon at the U.S. territory of Guam. The academies wanted to bring together the different government, academic and private sectors that would be involved in the medical response to a nuclear attack, Veenema adds. The academies’ committee plans to release a report in December that lays out how the United States could plug the gaps in its response capabilities.

The U.S. government’s spending on nuclear-weapons research and response has dropped drastically over the past few decades—as has the number of health workers with training in radiation medicine and management. According to a 2017 study by Dallas, more than half of emergency medical workers in the United States and Japan have no training in treating radiation victims.

The same study suggests that even trained medical professionals might be too frightened to enter a nuclear-fallout zone or to treat radiation victims at the scene—Dallas’s group found that 33% of medical professionals said they would not be willing to respond in such a scenario.

Compounding these concerns, treatments for radiation exposure and burns might not be available in sufficient quantities in the aftermath of a nuclear attack. James Jeng, a burn surgeon at Mount Sinai Health System in New York City, says that the detonation of a nuclear bomb can leave behind hundreds of thousands of burn victims. The best treatment for such injuries is skin grafting, he says, but there are only about 300 burn surgeons in the United States who know how to perform the procedure. It might also be difficult to quickly transport enough donor skin to treatment sites, Jeng adds.

North Korea’s threat to Guam last year made clear to public-health officials there how limited their response capabilities are, says Patrick Lujan, emergency-preparedness manager for the Guam Department of Public Health and Social Services. Guam, an island of 163,000 people, has only three hospitals and no burn units. “We realized there’s just so much you can do, being on an island,” Lujan says.

This article is reproduced with permission and was first published on August 28, 2018.

Babylon the Great Upgrades ‘Earth-Penetrating’ Nuclear Bomb

US Air Force Tests Upgraded ‘Earth-Penetrating’ Nuclear Bomb


The US Air Force sent out a B-2 stealth bomber to deploy an upgraded B61-12 nuclear bomb recently in an effort to review the weapon’s accuracy and ability to carry out its various attack options.

According to Warrior Maven, the latest upgrades enable the nuclear bomb to be able to carry out “earth-penetrating attacks, low-yield strikes, high-yield attacks, above surface detonation and bunker-buster options,” giving the Air Force a five-in-one kind of deal.

“The main advantage of the B61-12 is that it packs all the gravity bomb capabilities against all the targeting scenarios into one bomb,” Hans Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project, told the website. “That spans from very low-yield tactical ‘clean’ use with low fallout to more dirty attacks against underground targets.”

“A nuclear weapon that detonates after penetrating the earth more efficiently transmits its explosive energy to the ground, thus is more effective at destroying deeply buried targets for a given nuclear yield. A detonation above ground, in contrast, results in a larger fraction of the explosive energy bouncing off the surface,” Kristensen added, noting that the B-2 bomber presently carries nuclear bombs of the models B61-7, B61-11 and B83-1.

© AP Photo / U.S. Air Force

However, the B61-12 nuclear bomb won’t be the only piece of military equipment to receive a facelift. The B-2 bomber, first introduced in the 1980s, is expected to see upgrades to its Defensive Management System, hardware used to help the bomber recognize and deter enemy air defenses, Warrior Maven reported. The US Air Force operates an estimated 20 B-2 bombers. Its next-generation competition is the B-21 Raider.

The latest test, conducted at an undisclosed area, follows news in late June that the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and the US Air Force tested two B61-12 bombs on June 9 at the Tonopah Test Range in Nevada.

In a statement released on June 29, Brig. Gen. Michael Lutton, NNSA’s principal assistant deputy administrator for military application, indicated that the June tests were conducted in order to see whether “the B61-12 design meets system requirements and illustrate the continued progress of the B61-12 life extension program to meet national security requirements.”

The life extension program is part of a joint effort to preserve the critical elements of the US nuclear triad, a three-pronged military structure consisting of land-launched missiles, nuclear missile-armed submarines and strategic aircraft with nuclear bombs and missiles.

The June flight test included hardware designed by Sandia National Laboratories and Los Alamos National Laboratory. They were manufactured by plants from the Nuclear Security Enterprise.

The Modernization of Babylon the Great’s Nukes

The modern nuclear arsenal: A nuclear weapons expert describes a new kind of Cold War

Jenny Starrs

Secrecy, bombastic threats and doomsday talk abound when talking about nuclear weapons, so The Post sat down with expert Hans Kristensen to clear the air. (Jenny Starrs /The Washington Post)

With the flurry of talks with North Korea and the fallout from the U.S. withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, nuclear weapons have become a major topic of discussion in recent months. But secrecy abounds: Who has what weapons? How many? How much damage could they do?

Hans Kristensen tries to answer those questions. As the director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists, Kristensen and his colleagues delve into open source data, analyze satellite imagery and file requests under the Freedom of Information Act to get the most accurate picture of the world’s nuclear-armed countries. The initiative produces reports on nuclear weapons, arms control and other nuclear matters, and gives recommendations on how to reduce the role and number of nuclear weapons worldwide.

Kristensen sat down with The Washington Post to discuss how the United States’s nuclear capabilities stack up with the rest of the world, and potential problems down the road. The questions and answers have been edited for brevity.

Why do you have to come up with estimates about the stockpiles? Why don’t we have hard data?

KRISTENSEN: Countries like to keep nuclear weapons data secret. That’s the tendency. It varies from country to country a lot. In the United States, there’s a lot of information available. It wasn’t always like that. There has been a process in the United States where the government has gradually become more at ease, if you will, with disclosing a certain amount of information. There are still secrets, by all means. But a lot of information can come out.

In other countries, it’s not like that. So it varies tremendously from country to country. In some countries, even if you try to collect this information, you go to jail. So we find ourselves in a very interesting role where for countries like China, we can provide information to people in China that want to have a discussion about nuclear weapons, because they can use information coming from outside. They don’t have to do their own homework.

One thing that really sticks out on your bio was that in 2010 you almost completely accurately estimated the U.S. stockpile. How much were you off on that?

KRISTENSEN: 13 weapons out of a stockpile of 5,113. But of course that didn’t come about because of one person doing some work over six months. It came about because many, many people over the years have been digging in and gleaning information from congressional hearings, budget documents, declassified documents that were released under the Freedom of Information Act. And so I was sort of standing on the shoulders of the giants that have created the methodology to do this and just happened to get really, really close to the real number, this top secret number, when the Obama administration in 2010 finally decided to declassify the actual number of nuclear warheads in the U.S. military stockpile.

So that was the number then, and now it has changed?

KRISTENSEN: That was the number then. Since then, they have reduced more. We’re down to about 4,000 now. There’s always been these fluctuations in the nuclear stockpile, but since the end of the Cold War, the trend has been very consistent going south. Fewer and fewer nuclear weapons. Now it’s sort of leveling out a bit and it’s sort of part of a broader trend, if you will, of nuclear reductions worldwide, where it is if the nuclear weapon states are sort of slowing down the disarmament process and are beginning to look at the long term and seeing, how do we want to exist as nuclear weapon states 20, 30 years from now? And what’s going to be the role of nuclear weapons in the world at that time? So there’s a lot more reluctance to progress toward zero these days than there was just 10 years ago.

There is a dilemma here for the countries to figure out the international security order as we progress down to deep cuts and eventual elimination, potentially. So that’s a really tough issue. But what we’re seeing now is also that we have an up-flare of an adversarial relationship again, most dramatically illustrated by the deterioration of relations between Russia and the West. We are back in a real Cold War type adversarial relationship again. It’s not at the scale or intensity of the Cold War, but it has all the characteristics.

Could you talk about the nuclear triad, who still maintains it and why?

KRISTENSEN: The United States has a triad of strategic nuclear forces. That means we have a land-based ballistic missile force, long-range ballistic missiles. They are in silos in the Midwest. We have about 400 of those silos loaded right now with long-range ballistic missiles. Each of those missiles currently carries one nuclear warhead, but some of them can be uploaded to carry more if we need them to. They have such a long range, they can reach anywhere on the planet where they need to go. That means in Russia, China, North Korea, wherever.

Then we have a second leg, which is the ballistic missile submarine force at sea, on board strategic submarines, nuclear powered submarines, very big ships that dive and disappear in the ocean for three months. And their role, essentially, is ultimately to hide so that if an adversary decided to conduct a first strike and try to wipe out everything on land, there was no way they could avoid a devastating retaliatory strike from those submarines.

They also have a third leg, which is the air leg, which is long-range strategic bombers. They can carry a variety of weapons, gravity bombs of different kinds, but also long-range cruise missiles. So either they can fly all the way into their target and drop a gravity bomb on it, or they can loiter off the coast and employ their nuclear cruise missiles from those positions and they will they find their way into their targets.

They also have a fourth leg we don’t normally hear about when we talk about triads. There’s also a leg that is a nonstrategic leg, a tactical leg. It consists of shorter-range fighter aircraft and shorter-range missile systems that can for example go on ships and submarines. They may be designed to blow up other ships or attack land targets. Or the Russians, for example, today still have nuclear torpedoes for their submarines that could be used to shoot other submarines, but with nuclear explosives.

Is cost one reason that some countries don’t maintain nuclear triads, and how has that discussion gone in the U.S.?

KRISTENSEN: Cost is important, but by and large, countries make the sacrifice they need to make if they really think it’s important. The thing with nuclear forces is that they’re very expensive to develop: you have to go through a very long testing program, both for delivery systems and for the warheads themselves, command and control, all these elements that constitute a nuclear posture. And that costs a lot of money to develop. Once you have it, you can maintain it at much less of a cost. You need to overhaul it from time to time.

But if you look at the U.S. nuclear arsenal today compared with what the entire defense budget costs, it’s only a small portion of it. And so there are a lot of people who fall for the temptation to say, see, nuclear weapons are very cheap. So we shouldn’t worry about a modernization program. But that’s not exactly how it works. Any country doesn’t want just nuclear weapons. They want a full military, and nuclear weapons are not very useful because you can’t use them. So you need to have them in the background, so to speak. So you don’t want too much nuke and you don’t want too much nuke to eat up too much of the total defense budget, because then you have to take that money from other conventional programs that might actually be more usable and more vital for the military operations you’re planing to do.

So what we’re seeing right now is that, in the case of the United States, the share of nuclear weapons eat up something in the order of about 4 percent of the defense budget. Because of the modernization program we’ve set in motion, that might increase to about 6, 7, 8 percent in the next decade. So we hear this argument a lot that, oh, it’s very cheap, but it actually creates some serious problems for defense planning.

In your analysis, is the path we’re on a sustainable one?

KRISTENSEN: The current modernization program, to the best we can see, is not sustainable economically. It’s not that the United States couldn’t pay for all of those modernizations if it really wanted to, of course it could. But it would have to take that money from somewhere else. So we’d have to cut some conventional programs and use that money on nuclear instead. And that’s a huge dilemma inside military planning.

So what’s happening now is that there are so many warning signs already that in the ’20s, the cost of the nuclear modernization program is going to force cuts elsewhere in the defense budget, if you want to pay for it. So right now there are people who are out saying, well, why don’t we adjust the nuclear modernization program now, so we don’t have to make these catastrophe cuts later in that may mess up a program or create confusion about our posture and all these types of things.

But we have a very die-hard nuclear advocacy group or community right now that, every time they go to Congress and testify about the nuclear modernization program, it’s like, “Oh no, this is the only one, this is all we can do. Oh no, we can pay for it, it’s only a small portion of defense budget.” They just keep perpetuating this and all the warning signs are out that there are going to be some nasty adjustments that have to be made.

The US and Tactical Nukes (Daniel 7)

U.S. Submarines Will Soon Carry Tactical Nuclear Weapons

Critics argue it’s a bad idea. Here’s why.

Kyle Mizokami

Jul 26, 2018

The U.S. Navy’s fleet of ballistic missile submarines will soon carry tactical nuclear weapons, as Congress prepares to fund development of a new, low-yield nuclear warhead. The submarines, which form a functional invulnerable retaliatory force in case of surprise nuclear attack, will soon be able to launch missiles with less powerful tactical nuclear weapons. Not everyone is sold on the new weapon, which critics charge is unnecessary and could lower the threshold for nuclear war.

The U.S. Navy’s fourteen Ohio nuclear ballistic missile submarines provide a powerful deterrent to surprise nuclear attack. The submarines embark on lengthy deterrence patrols, hiding in the world’s oceans, effectively a moving cache of nuclear weapons that an adversary would find extremely difficult to destroy. As long as the subs are at sea, the U.S. maintains the ability to counter a surprise attack with a counterattack of its own.

Every four years, the sitting presidential administration conducts a review of U.S. nuclear forces. The 2018 Nuclear Posture Review, commissioned by President Trump, calls for replacing some of the existing nuclear warheads on the Ohio-class submarines with low-yield warheads. The goal is to have the ability to strike urgent, time sensitive targets virtually any place on Earth.

Each Ohio submarine carries twenty Trident D-5 missiles, and each missile is outfitted with an unknown number of W76-1 nuclear warheads. (The U.S. keeps the number of submarines at sea and warheads per submarine intentionally ambiguous, although we know Washington has pledged to never deploy more than 240 missiles at sea at any one time.) Now it appears at least some of those warheads will be replaced with the W76-2, which has a much smaller explosive yield.

The Administration argues that the U.S. may need to strike quickly strike targets with tactical nuclear weapons. An example might be a nuclear-armed missile sitting on a North Korean missile launch pad. Most tactical nukes are aircraft delivered bombs, and could take the better part of a day to ready and then reach their target. A tactical nuke delivered by a submarine-launched ballistic missile, on the other hand, could be delivered in less than an hour.

The training version of a B61 bomb.

Wikimedia Commons

How small a warhead yield are we talking about? That’s a good question. The existing W76-1 warhead has an explosive yield of 100 kilotons (for reference, the Hiroshima bomb was 16 kilotons.) The B61-12 tactical nuclear gravity bomb has a “dial-a-yield” mechanism that allows for yields of .3 (or just 300 tons of TNT), 1.5, 10, and 50 kilotons. The W76-2 would likely have a yield similar to the B61-12’s low end.

Critics, on the other hand, believe the new warhead is unnecessary and dangerous. They believe that the W76-2 is a solution in search of a problem, noting that sudden “bolt from the blue” crisis that suddenly demands a tactical nuclear weapon placed on a target in less than an hour is very unlikely. They believe that existing tactical nuclear weapons would be forward deployed near a potential crisis, making them available more quickly than commonly believed.

The new weapon also comes under fire for being needlessly escalatory. The United States has an overwhelming amount of conventional firepower, which critics of the new weapon argue can just as effectively destroy a time-sensitive threat. Using a tactical nuclear weapon could be just plain unnecessary. Furthermore, unless nukes have already been used in the conflict, the use of the new warhead would cause the the United States to cross the nuclear threshold first, inviting adversaries to use their own nukes against U.S. and allied forces.

Congress is preparing to fund development of the W76-2, to a tune of $65 million. The process won’t involve building any new weapons–instead the government will convert existing W76-1 warheads into low yield versions. Meanwhile, the controversy as to whether the weapons are needed and ultimately dangerous to U.S. national security rages on.

The Truth About The Bowls of Wrath (Revelation 15)

Which countries have nuclear weapons?

There are nine countries that possess nuclear weapons. Five of these (the US, Russia, the UK, France and China) are members of the official owners club, who made their weapons early and had them legitimised in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) signed in 1968, the key piece of international law governing nuclear weapons possession.

NPT has arguably been quite successful. In the 1960s it was widely anticipated that dozens of countries would get the bomb, as it appeared to be the fast track to clout and status on the world stage. But so far there have only been four rogue nuclear weapons states who ignored the NPT and made their own bombs. In order of acquisition, they are Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea.

Has any country ever given up its nuclear weapons?

More countries have given up nuclear weapons programmes than have kept them, coming to believe they were more of a liability than an asset for national security.

The apartheid regime in South Africa secretly built six warheads, but dismantled the bombs and abandoned the whole programme in 1989 just before the system gave way to democracy.

Even Sweden had an advanced and ambitious plan based on heavy water reactors to build up to a hundred warheads, but gave up the project in the 1960s, preferring to spend defence funds on fighter planes.

The military juntas in both Argentina and Brazil pursued covert weapons programmes, although they stopped short of making a bomb, and the two countries gave up their programmes in the early nineties and joined the NPT.

Taiwan and South Korea began developing plutonium production programmes in the late sixties and early seventies before the US persuaded them to halt in the mid-seventies and rely on Washington for security. Japan is generally considered to have a “bomb in the basement”, in that it has all the materials and know-how to build a warhead quickly if it decided to follow that path and leave the NPT. At present that course seems unlikely.

Three successor countries to the Soviet Union – Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Belarus – inherited nuclear weapons in 1991, and all three agreed to surrender them, in Ukraine’s case in return for sovereignty guarantees from Russia that ultimately proved worthless.

In Iraq, Saddam Hussein dismantled his rudimentary nuclear weapons programme after the first Gulf war in 1991, and Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi handed over his nuclear weapons beginner’s set to the US in 2003. Their ultimate fate offers little incentive for future despots to give up their atomic dreams.

How do you make a bomb?

It is pretty difficult to make a nuclear weapon. If it was not we most likely would no longer be here. And it is difficult on two levels: making the fissile material and then constructing a device that will detonate it.

Material is fissile when the nucleus of an atom can be split by a neutron that has broken free of another atom, producing large amounts of energy and more neutrons. When those free neutrons go on to split the nuclei of other atoms, there is a chain reaction, causing a nuclear explosion.

Uranium and plutonium are used for nuclear weapons, but only specific atomic configurations, or isotopes, of those elements are fissile. The fissile isotopes used in nuclear warheads are U-235 and Pu-239. The numbers refer to their atomic weights. The biggest single challenge in making a nuclear warhead is producing enough of these isotopes from the elements found in nature.

Following the uranium path to the bomb requires converting refined uranium into a gas and then spinning it at very high speed in centrifuges to separate out the U-235, which makes up less than 1% of naturally occurring uranium. This has to be done repeatedly through “cascades” of centrifuges. Low-enriched uranium, used in civilian nuclear power, is usually 3%-4% U-235. Weapons-grade uranium is 90% enriched or more. Building enough centrifuges, and getting them to spin fast enough in unison, is the greatest technical challenge along the uranium route.

Plutonium Pu-239 is produced in significant quantities by extracting it from irradiated uranium fuel that has been through a reactor. Because it is more fissile, less plutonium is required for a weapon. A sophisticated modern warhead requires as little as 2kg of plutonium, or at least three times that much uranium.

Once you have enough fissile material, you have to make it go bang. And to achieve that you have to force the atoms close enough together to trigger a chain reaction. There are two ways of doing this, and therefore two basic bomb designs.

The most rudimentary is the gun-type warhead, which involves firing one chunk of fissile material into another at high speed with conventional explosives. The Little Boy bomb dropped on Hiroshima was a gun-type device using 64kg of highly enriched uranium (HEU).

A more sophisticated bomb type, which requires less fissile material and allows the use of plutonium (which does not work in a gun-type warhead) is the implosion device, in which a sphere of HEU or plutonium is surrounded by explosives rigged to go off at exactly the same time to violently compress the core. The Fat Man bomb dropped on Nagasaki was an implosion device with about 6kg of plutonium.

What is a hydrogen bomb?

Hydrogen bomb is the colloquial term for a thermonuclear weapon, a second-generation bomb design with vastly more explosive power than a simple fission warhead.

It is a two-stage device – a primary fission bomb which detonates and compresses a secondary bomb filled with two heavy isotopes of hydrogen: deuterium and tritium (hence the name hydrogen bomb). They undergo a process of nuclear fusion, forcing the nuclei of atoms together and multiplying exponentially the amount of energy released by the device. All strategic weapons in modern arsenals are now thermonuclear, or hydrogen, bombs.

Whatever happened to nuclear disarmament?

The bargain at the heart of the NPT was that member states without nuclear weapons agreed not to acquire them, as long as the states with weapons reduced their obscenely large arsenals, capable of destroying the planet many times over. That has indeed happened, to an extent – at first as the result of arms control agreements, and then the collapse of the Soviet bloc and the end of the cold war.

From a peak of 70,000 nuclear weapons in the world at the height of the cold war, in 1985, there are now about 14,000, according to the Federation of American Scientists (FAS), still enough to end life on the planet. Then and now, the overwhelming majority (93% in 2018) of these warheads belong to the US and Russia, with between 6,000 and 7,000 apiece, although only about a quarter of those arsenals are deployed and ready for use. The rest are in reserve stockpiles or in the process of being retired and dismantled.

Of the second-tier nuclear weapons powers, again according to FAS estimates, France has 300 warheads, China 270, the UK 215, Pakistan 130-40, India 120-30, Israel 80, and North Korea between 10 and 20.

The last successful arms control agreement, the New Start treaty, was signed by Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev in 2010, limiting the US and Russia to 1,550 deployed strategic warheads each. The hope at the time was that the two nuclear superpowers would pursue a follow-on treaty and at one point Obama suggested he might reduce the US arsenal unilaterally by another third. But that did not happen.

What are the chances of a nuclear weapon falling into the hands of a terrorist group?

The terrorist nuclear weapon is one of the scariest scenarios the world faces. Unlike states, such groups cannot be deterred from using a weapon as the perpetrator could be very hard to identify in the wake of a blast, difficult to find, and ready to accept death as the price of inflicting devastating damage. Terrorist groups would not need expensive missiles to deliver their warheads. They could be sailed into a port in a shipping container or across land borders in the back of a truck.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the US spent substantial resources on dismantling many of its weapons and production facilities as well as ensuring that its many nuclear scientists had alternative employment so as not to be tempted to sell their wares and expertise to the highest bidder. But serious concerns about nuclear weapons security remain. Pakistan in particular is a source of anxiety as its military and intelligence services have radicalised elements within them, with links to terror groups.

There are also fears that a cash-strapped or vengeful North Korea could sell one of its warheads for the right price. A more recent emerging threat is that a rogue group could hack into a nuclear power’s command and control computers, triggering a launch, or into an early warning system, giving the impression an enemy attack is imminent.

How likely is accidental nuclear war?

As the years have passed since the cold war, it has become increasingly clear that we had several lucky escapes from nuclear weapons use during that era as the result of miscalculation or technical glitches. For example, in 1979, when a US watch officer left training tapes in the early warning system when he finished his shift, those in the incoming shift saw their screens light up with the tracks of multiple incoming Soviet missiles. It was only good judgment of the duty officers that avoided a nuclear alert.

In such situations, if the glitch is not identified lower down the chain of command and passed upwards as a seemingly genuine alert, a national leader has only a few minutes to decide whether to launch his or her country’s missiles before the apparent incoming salvo destroys them. Nearly three decades after the cold war, the US and Russia still keep hundreds of missiles on hair-trigger alert, ready to launch within minutes, in anticipation of just an occasion.

In the US system, there is no institutional check or barrier to the president launching those missiles once he has identified himself to the Pentagon war room using his nuclear codes.

What next?

Arms control will be on the agenda when Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump meet in Helsinki on Monday. One option is that the two presidents could extend the New Start treaty by another five years, as allowed for in the agreement. The biggest barrier is Trump’s distaste for any arrangement inherited from Obama. It is more likely he would argue for a more ambitious arms control agreement he could put his own name to. But Putin will be hard to convince, without the US scaling back its missile defence system, and that is unlikely at the moment.

The threat of a conflict with North Korea has receded somewhat since the Singapore summit, but it is increasingly clear that Pyongyang has no intention of disarming any time soon. The big question is what will Trump do once that becomes apparent to him.

The chances of a nuclear standoff with Iran, meanwhile, are rising. In May, Trump walked out of the 2015 nuclear agreement with Tehran, which curbed Iranian nuclear activities in return for sanctions relief. The US is now piling on sanctions and telling the world to stop buying Iranian oil. Sooner or later it is possible, likely even, that the Iranian government will stop abiding by the agreement and start stepping up its uranium enrichment and other activities. That is likely to raise tensions in the Gulf dramatically and make other regional players rethink whether to acquire nuclear weapons themselves.

Taking all these developments into consideration, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has decided to set its “doomsday clock” to two minutes to midnight, the closest to catastrophe it has been since 1953.

Nuclear weapons in popular culture

The darkest day of the cold war produced some timeless comedy, from the classic movie of accidental apocalypse, Dr Strangelove, to the songs of the mathematician, musician and comedian, Tom Lehrer, with titles like So Long Mom (A song for WWIII), and in the UK, the civil defence sketch by Beyond the Fringe.

There are much darker works in the canon. On the Beach, in 1959, was the first major post-apocalyptic movie, in which survivors gather in Australia, the last continent left habitable. The Day After, in 1983, is even blacker. It starts with a nuclear blast obliterating a column of cars stuck on a highway as panicked people rush to try to evade the attack spreads.

More recent films, since the cold war, have dwelt on the threat of a single nuclear weapon detonated by terrorists or deranged geniuses or both. They include Broken Arrow (1996), The Peacemaker (1997) and The Sum of All Fears (2002), in which – because there is just one bomb involved – the detonation is no longer treated as an exctinction-level event. In that, art is following reality. The use of a nuclear weapon is now more likely than any time since the worst days of the cold war, but the probability of humanity being wiped out entirely by nuclear war is, for the time being, diminished.


The Means to an End: Massive Nuclear Proliferation (Revelation 15)

image-433The Risk to the World: Massive Nuclear Proliferation

David Axe

Donald Trump every so often suggests he’d like to pull the United States out of the the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, knowing full well that would be the end of NATO as we’ve known it for almost 70 years. And such hints, the most recent of them last week at a summit in Brussels, must make Vladimir Putin’s crocodile smile spread from ear to ear.

Indeed, going into the Helsinki summit with Trump on Monday, Putin is surely aware that it was not necessary for Trump to pull the U.S. out of NATO in a formal sense for him to harm the alliance — and benefit Russia. Official statements notwithstanding, merely threatening to walk away from the Atlantic Alliance has been deeply destabilizing, and no amount of frantic damage control by Trump underlings is likely to fix that.

“In casting doubt on America’s commitment to defend NATO countries against attack, Trump is forcing these countries to begin preparing to go it alone or realign themselves under a new European-based alliance to provide collective defense without U.S. support,” Bruce Blair, a Princeton University nuclear expert, tells The Daily Beast.

If Trump actually did withdraw, Europe would become right away much more vulnerable to Russian nuclear attack or, more likely, intimidation. But immediate nuclear fire isn’t the only danger.

More realistically, the Americans leaving NATO would force European countries that currently lack nuclear arms to toss aside the 1968 Non-Proliferation Treaty and rush to acquire them, all in order to deter the Russians without the Americans’ help.

The treaty’s disintegration could then lead to countries all over the world pursuing their own nukes. “Trump is increasing the chances of the bomb spreading and the key treaty keeping the lid on such proliferation collapsing,” says Blair.

Unconstrained nuclearization is one nightmare scenario that is becoming increasingly plausible as Trump escalates his criticism of the 69-year-old North Atlantic alliance. For three quarters of a century, American nukes have made it unnecessary for many European countries to possess nukes of their own.

Because of that, these countries could safely sign on to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, bolstering international efforts to limit nuclearization all over the world. “Among the benefits of NATO, a key one is that it has helped to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons,” Kingston Reif, an analyst with the Arms Control Association, told The Daily Beast.

But that was long before Trump’s rise as a political force. In 2017, the former reality-T.V. star declared NATO “obsolete.” In Brussels on July 11, Trump again questioned the organization’s usefulness. “What good is NATO?” he asked. The next day at a meeting of NATO leaders, Trump threatened that he might “do his own thing” if alliance members didn’t immediately increase their military spending.

Trump’s words sent a chill through European capitals. The United States is by far the biggest military spender in NATO and, according to Mark Simakovsky, a fellow with the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center, the “glue” that holds the alliance together. “Don’t forget, there are huge divisions in Europe,” Simakovsky said.

NATO’s 29 member states range from illiberal Turkey, Hungary and Poland on the alliance’s eastern flank to stalwarts France and Germany at the heart of the continent and the restive United Kingdom in the west.

At present just two non-U.S. NATO states – the U.K. and France – possess nuclear weapons. France fields around 300 nukes. The U.K., around 215. By contrast, the United States maintains an arsenal of no fewer than 3,800 atomic warheads, only slightly fewer than Russia possesses. The U.S. military keeps 180 warheads in Europe for use by its own forces and the forces of certain NATO members, most notably Germany.

Practically speaking, America is Europe’s nuclear shield.

Under Article V of the NATO charter, an attack on any NATO state represents an attack on every other state – and the alliance is obligated to respond. That applies to a nuclear strike as well as conventional attack. If Russia nuked, say, Lithuania or Poland, the United States would be obligated to nuke Russia right back.

That mutual nuclear threat has helped to keep the peace in Europe since the Soviet Union exploded its first atomic bomb in a test in 1949, the same year as NATO’s founding.

But with France and the U.K. possessing so few atomic warheads compared to Russia, deterrence in Europe could begin to collapse without American nukes. And that risk could drive European countries to create their own, more powerful deterrents – either collectively or individually.

“The loss of U.S. reliability to deter aggression against NATO Europe would prompt France and the U.K. to expand their nuclear capabilities and Germany and other non-nuclear countries to consider building their own nuclear arsenals despite strong public opposition,” Blair said.

Some European officials are already thinking in those terms. In 2017, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, chairman of Poland’s ruling Law and Justice Party, called for Europe to build up a combined nuclear arsenal as powerful as Russia’s own arsenal. Conservative German parliamentarian Roderich Kiesewetter endorsed the idea.

If the United States were to leave NATO, Europe could build its own deterrent under the umbrella of a diminished NATO structure, or opt for a new structure based on the European Union. In the last decade or so, the E.U. has begun to establish a rudimentary military organization, but has deployed troops only rarely – and then mostly in Africa on peacekeeping duties.

The realignment could get complicated. Albania, Canada, Iceland, Norway and Turkey are in NATO, but aren’t in the E.U. Austria, Finland, Ireland, Malta and Sweden are in the E.U., but aren’t in NATO. Ireland, for one, is strictly opposed to nuclear weapons. “There are European Union members with nuclear capabilities, but how those capabilities would be employed outside of a NATO context – it’s never been fleshed out,” Simakovsky said.

For Trump to even threaten to pull back America’s atomic umbrella is dangerous, Simakovsky said. “What it encourages is instability.”

And that instability – and the resulting mistrust between former allies – plays into the hands of Russian president Vladimir Putin. It could even, in the most extreme scenario, tempt Putin to launch his own limited nuclear strike in the context of a wider war in Europe.

In the last decade Russia has invaded two of its European neighbors – Ukraine in 2014 and the Republic of Georgia in 2008. Neither Georgia nor Ukraine is a full member of NATO, although both countries have signalled their desire to join the alliance.

The Eastern European states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia – all former Soviet republics – and Poland, formerly a Soviet satellite, are NATO members and view themselves as the main targets of Russia’s aggression. This year, Russia deployed nuclear weapons to Kaliningrad, a Russian enclave on the Baltic Sea between Poland and Lithuania.

The Trump administration criticized the Russian deployment as “destabilizing.” But the greater threat of destabilization comes from the administration itself as it continues to dismantle rhetorically a security structure that has preserved the peace – and deterred nuclear war – in Europe since 1949.

“If Putin somehow decides to cross the nuclear threshold, it won’t be because he thinks we don’t have enough nuclear weapons,” Reif said. “It will be based on a political calculation that he has a greater stake in the conflict and we and our allies won’t be willing to run the risk of escalation.”

The alternative is only less awful. That, in the absence of America’s nuclear guarantee as part of a transatlantic alliance, Europe might build up a large nuclear arsenal of its own and supercharge global atomic proliferation. “Nothing would do more to cause nuclear anarchy than wrecking NATO,” Blair said.

The Reason for Babylon the Great’s “Space Force”

4How America Planned to Win a War Against Russia: Nuke the Satellites

What could possibly go wrong?

by David Axe

In 1962, U.S. president John F. Kennedy was in a bind. He was eager to negotiate a nuclear test ban with the Soviet Union. But the Soviets had recently shattered a three-year test moratorium and now Kennedy was under pressure to respond with a display of strength.

One eventual result was America’s Cold War nuclear satellite-killer — a missile that could lob an atomic warhead into Earth’s orbit and fry enemy spacecraft. So-called Program 437 was active between 1963 and 1975 and remained a secret for a full year.

Bowing to pressure from his more hawkish advisers, Kennedy approved the Project Starfish atmospheric nuclear tests.

The tests had an interesting and frightening side effect, as the Stimson Center’s Michael Krepon  wrote:

At least six satellites were victimized by Starfish Prime: the British Ariel I, the U.S. Traac, Transit 4B, Injun I, Telstar I and the Soviet Kosmos 5. The most famous victim of Starfish Prime’s electromagnetic pulse effects was Telstar, which enabled the transmission of images across the Atlantic, just as the British music invasion of the U.S. airwaves was building.

Before the Beatles scored their first number-one hit and transfixed viewers on the  Ed Sullivan Show , another British band, The Tornados, topped the U.S. charts with Telstar, an instrumental inspired by the satellite. Telstar was dying from nuclear effects while it was #1 on the  Hit Parade .

The Pentagon was thrilled at the accidental proof that a nuclear device exploding in the high atmosphere could knock out spacecraft. Now America had a way of shooting down Soviet satellites. U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel Clayton Chun described the resulting Program 437 in a paper for the Air University Press in 2000:

he Air Force was able to rapidly cobble together an operational system out of deactivated missile components, existing launch pads, and a space tracking system to create the capability to use nuclear antisatellite weapons in a direct ascent mode to destroy orbiting space vehicles. …

[Air Force] Secretary [Eugene] Zuckert’s operational concept for the program incorporated two bases, Johnston Island and Vandenberg [Air Force Base]. The Johnston Island site provided launch pads for two Thor [anti-satellite] boosters on continuous alert. The Air Force would use Vandenberg AFB as the support and training facility for Johnston Island.

The Air Force planned to airlift Thor boosters, crews, nuclear weapons and support equipment to Johnston Island as needed. As envisioned by Zuckert and others, the location of Johnston Island, west southwest of Hawaii, would allow the Air Force to intercept a hostile satellite before it reached the continental United States.

The Air Force established the 10th Aerospace Defense Squadron to operate the satellite-killers and conducted a series of non-nuclear tests.

In 1964, the Pentagon revealed the program to the public. But there were problems, Chun explained:

The use of an atomic weapon to kill an enemy satellite might inadvertently signal the start of a nuclear war. The U.S. might launch such an attack suspecting that the Soviets were launching a surprise strategic attack from space. The USSR in turn might react by launching an all-out nuclear offensive thinking the United States was preparing for a nuclear first strike.

Even if an ASAT mission were successful and did not start an all-out nuclear war, the residual radiation and EMP effects likely would have had unintended consequences. For example, such an ASAT attack might accidentally destroy friendly satellites as had happened during the Starfish Prime test.

Wear and tear and funding cuts took their toll on the Thor missiles, and in 1975 the Pentagon shut down Program 437.