7 thoughts on “China’s Nuclear Arsenal”

  1. 1. Remember the “dense pack” ICBM deployment during the Carter administration?
    2. I was at the Rand corporation when a number of analysts were lectured by a General whose name, now, escapes me. He was claiming that satellite photos showed that the USSR was building an underground, nuclear bomb pumped laser. Presumably to take out incoming US ICBMs. The story eventually made it’s way to Aviation week and pretty soon afterwards dropped. The last I heard about it was the Russkies claiming it was a ram jet test facility where the exhaust products were vented into an underground chamber to keep the secret of what fuels they were using from the prying eyes of US intel sats.

  2. Dense pack is only advantageous if a nation either has a robust ABM system or is planning on first launch (i.e. offensive, not defensive or MAD).

    So, which is the CCP planning on?

    1. No, dense pack was its own ABM system. I worked TRW Ballistic Missiles Division from 1980 until 1993, and started my career on development of the Peacekeeper ICBM. I was at the very heart of ICBM development, as the SE/TA contractor co-located with the Air Force Ballistic Missiles Office at Norton Air Force Base.

      After Reagan was elected, all of the potential Peacekeeper (then MX) basing modes were revisited. Ones such as Multiple Protective Shelter Sites (MPSS), Rail Garrison, and Distributed Peacekeeper in Minuteman Silos (PIMS) all had one underlying concept: “Preservation of Location Uncertainty”, or PLU. Don’t let the enemy know where your missiles really are.

      Dense Pack was the one and only basing mode that not only didn’t rely on PLU, it actively flouted it. Dense Pack relied on the integrity of super-hardened silos against a single warhead detonation, presented a well-defined target to draw enemy fire, and relied on nuclear fratricide to ensure there would never be a second detonation. In other words, it relied on the attack itself as an ABM. And providing a single, “densely packed” target for that first warhead guaranteed the ability to mount a second strike – at least, according to the theory. There was also the thought that an ABM system (such as the fully developed Safeguard System) could augment the defense, since the attack approach direction would always be known exactly. But that was never the primary motivation.

      I never learned the deeper details of this, being too immersed in the development of the missile itself. I don’t know whether it would have worked or not. Ultimately, we just did PIMS, but without the periodic swapping of front ends among “active” and “inactive” missiles.

    2. Russia holds some territories that China once claimed. They can probably work a deal with Russia short of war but you never know.

  3. Isn’t dense-pack at least partially defeated by MIRVs? Or is this case an exception, because it would still take a dozen ICBMs (actually SLBMs, because under current treaties, they’re the only ones carrying MIRVs) to put enough warheads onto the field to take out all of the silos?

    Ironically, with current US technology, the best solution is probably to develop conventional MIRVs with enough accuracy to hit the silo doors, which is something that was suggested in official circles during the Bush Administration, but was rejected strongly because the launch of such a weapon could cause any other nuclear-armed opponent to launch their own nukes before realizing that it wasn’t aimed at them. Most other conventional alternatives would take a relative eternity in a nuclear exchange, and would be of little value outside of niche scenarios.

    The other solution is to continue ABM development, including a lot more GBIs in Alaska, continued development of the Aegis ABM system, and perhaps even development of a laser-based system. In addition, StarShip will make orbital solutions economically viable, even things like Brilliant Pebbles.

    1. Yeah, agreed. I understand R**2 physics and have a hard time with dense pack as well. You can harden silos all you want, but you can time warhead delivery with MIRV so that fratricide is highly unlikely. After all if that weren’t the case, you would not be able to effectively use MIRV (aka smaller yield and less massive, easier to launch, longer range, warheads) on dense “soft” targets (cities) either. Maybe there is good solid data from all the underground testing of the 60s and 70s to enable hardening, but relying on launch after first detonation seems iffy at best to me. No, IMHO the real (unsaid) message of dense pack to the Soviets was, we have enough confidence in our missile detection methods that we can discriminate between types of attack early enough to enable launch on warning. You’ll be hitting (newly) emptied silos. And the ‘Peacekeeper’ Michael, as you well know, was a weapon to be reckoned with and fearful of.

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