~The Daily Telegraph
Where the World Stands
Interesting to see McCain described as the Republican front runner for 2008. McCain/Lieberman? That’d be an interesting ticket. Drive the wings on both sides completely nuts. Strong center and cross party appeal, obviously.
More interesting perhaps, and certainly of more immediate relevance, is the article’s disclosure that submarine ballistic missiles are being refitted with conventional warheads. How odd. Why?
1) Ballistic missiles are not known for their precision. According to the Directory of US Rockets and Missiles (not a DoD site), the circular error of probability for a Trident D5 warhead, which is the circular zone in which the weapon is likely to strike, is 300 meters (1000 feet or 1/5 of a mile) across. That is not precise. Of course, if you’re detonating half a megaton of thermonuclear hell in that zone, in essence giving birth to a small star there, it doesn’t matter. If, however, you’re detonating a 2000 lb warhead, it matters a lot. Missing by 500 feet is missing by a lot. Will this conventional warhead be finely maneuvering in its terminal phase? It would have to, in order to be effective. Optically guiding perhaps? GPS? Infrared imaging? Who knows. This speaks of years of development and I hadn’t heard a word about it until now. Interesting.
2) Ballistic missiles like the Trident D5 are very, very expensive. That makes sense too. They’re designed to be fired from underwater, from half a world away, go into orbit, then open and dispense from 6 to 14 independently targeted nuclear warheads which then re-enter the atmosphere onto their target points. Behind each warhead is an immense factory, refinement facility and assembly complex which created the atomic bomb trigger, plus the exotic blends of deuterium and lithium used in the hydrogen-fusion portion of the weapon. Also included are inertial guidance systems, telemetry systems, fusing and safety mechanisms, rocket engines, etc. All to produce several hundred weapons. Each weapon costs a small mint as a result. Throw in all the R&D, testing, tooling, deployment costs, training, crews, submarines and bases and you’re up to a large mint.
1. Why not use Tomahawk cruise missiles? Why ballistic missiles instead? Those were my first questions. And the answer was immediately obvious. Tomahawk missiles are large, fat, slow moving vehicles that spend a lot of time cruising over the ground on their jet engines. Any air defense system the Iranians purchased from the Russians would, necessarily, contain an anti cruise missile capability. It would be a “must have” provision for the Iranians. But shooting down a ballistic re-entry vehicle, that’s a different matter! You can’t go out and buy one those. Unless you’re buying from Lockheed/Raytheon/Boeing/IAI, and I doubt they’re selling.
2. Re-entry vehicles have immense terminal velocity. Think of a meteorite. That energy can be put to use in ground penetration.
3. The infrastructure for these weapons systems is already in place and paid for. Why not take advantage? All that’s left is to refit with a properly designed conventional weapon.
4. The US can park a submarine off their coast and hit them at will. No fleet surface ships necessary to telegraph your intentions. The strike can come out of nowhere with essentially no notice. By the time the Russians monitor the launch, call the Iranians, and the mullahs hit the panic button, the weapons will be almost on top of them. Ten minutes later B-2’s arrive hitting command, control and intel assets. That should make quite a mess.