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A Farewell to Arms
October 25, 2011 2:59 PM   Subscribe

The B53 wasn’t just any old megabomb. It was the first bunker buster. U.S. nuclear doctrine called for it to be delivered over suspected underground Soviet command-and-control facilities. The dumb bomb wouldn’t destroy them so much as it would destroy everything remotely near it, leaving — literally — a smoldering crater. That was the U.S. plan for “victory” in a nuclear war right up until the implosion of the Soviet Empire. (related)

The current point of the US nuclear spear is represented by ~ 228 UGM-133 Trident II submarine-launched ballistic missiles.
posted by Trurl (75 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
Pfft. It ain't no Tsar Bomba.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:05 PM on October 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


Hope it goes better than this.
posted by Artw at 3:06 PM on October 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


Pfft. It ain't no Tsar Bomba.

Tsar Bomba is pretty insane, but Pluto/SLAM is still the most insanest.
posted by Artw at 3:07 PM on October 25, 2011 [19 favorites]


It wasn't really the first bunker buster. Maybe the first nuclear bunker buster, but the Tallboy and Grand Slam were conventional bunker busters both used in WW2.
posted by Grimgrin at 3:09 PM on October 25, 2011


So, I don't understand the physics of this:

15 psi Complete destruction of reinforced concrete structures, such as skyscrapers, will occur within this ring. Between 7 psi and 15 psi, there will be severe to total damage to these types of structures

Atmospheric pressure is about 14.7 psi, and 33 feet underwater, it's two atmospheres, or about 30 psi. I'm reading this as, if I magically submerged a reinforced concrete structure 33 feet under water, the structure would be completely destroyed as if hit by a nuke. Clearly, I'm missing something.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:09 PM on October 25, 2011


In 10th grade I wrote a little computer program for Science Fair that did pretty much the same thing as link 3, except I expressed it in ergs. Had a lot of help with the algorithm from a friend's dad who was a mathematician. It ran on the Commodore PET 2001 & I spent a lot of time on drawing the concentric circles in order. I did it mostly for the title, which was some ridiculous thing 3 lines long & full of 50 cent words that I forgot how to recite years ago. The judges didn't share my dark sense of humor, so I lost to some kid who did something or other with breeding fruit flies.
posted by scalefree at 3:11 PM on October 25, 2011 [5 favorites]


I worked on the Trident II missiles.

Knowing my coworkers, I wouldn't put too much faith in that spear point.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 3:11 PM on October 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


CPB: The shock wave is 15 PSI in one direction. Underwater, it comes from all directions so nothing really happens.
posted by seanmpuckett at 3:13 PM on October 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


The shock wave is 15 PSI in one direction.

And the heat. My God, the heat!
posted by Trurl at 3:15 PM on October 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've visited the Mimoyecques V3 site, where you can see the craters left by tallboys - pretty deep, but that bunker complex is still more or less there.

Weirdly if you into the bunker there is a little shrine to Joe Kennedy inside.
posted by Artw at 3:16 PM on October 25, 2011


if I magically submerged a reinforced concrete structure 33 feet under water, the structure would be completely destroyed as if hit by a nuke. Clearly, I'm missing something.

Perhaps submerged is the wrong concept. Perhaps if you placed a 33' column of water into a ship the width of the building (ie ten tonnes per square meter), turned the building on its side, then placed the ship on top of the building, the building would pretty clearly be crushed like a tin can.

I don't know if that's really the physics of it, but submerged doesn't seem analogous.
posted by -harlequin- at 3:17 PM on October 25, 2011


Nuclear ramjet at low altitudes? Holy crap, what could possible go wrong with that...
posted by Iosephus at 3:17 PM on October 25, 2011


Well, wrong is relative when your design basically involves irradiating everything in your path.
posted by Artw at 3:20 PM on October 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


Mea cupla.
I completely did not catch that Trurl linked to a Tsar Bomba thread in his OP. My bad. Guess I was enjoying my Belgo a bit too much.

In penance, I will link to where I go to get my thermonuclear freak on.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:22 PM on October 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


There were a couple of stabs at the concept of nuclear powered long range bombers as well, but the extra consideration of not killing the ground crew and everybody on board meant that a bunch of shielding was required, the weight of which probably killed the concept. As noted, PLUTO didn;t really hold with such restrictions. The thing really was a perfect horror.
posted by Artw at 3:24 PM on October 25, 2011


So, I don't understand the physics of this:

15 psi Complete destruction of reinforced concrete structures, such as skyscrapers, will occur within this ring. Between 7 psi and 15 psi, there will be severe to total damage to these types of structures



To expand on seanmpuckett's answer to your question, 15 PSI is a lot of pressure on a building; think about just a door: 72x28 inches is a pretty typical size, which comes out to 2016 square inches; 15 PSI would give over 30 thousand pounds of pressure on just a door; you can imagine what the pressure on an entire building would work out to. This is also why you can't open emergency exits on airplanes while they are in flight.

I find it interesting that the B-53 could be delivered by the B-52.
posted by TedW at 3:27 PM on October 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


Artw ain't lying. the Pluto/SLAM is one of those projects that you read about and wonder how many evil geniuses had to be pulled out of their skull shaped island fortresses to sort out the logistics.

It's basically a low altitude unshielded nuclear reactor flying at supersonic speeds spewing hard radiation over everything it passed by.
posted by quin at 3:35 PM on October 25, 2011 [6 favorites]


Or on lack of preview; Yes! What they just said!
posted by quin at 3:37 PM on October 25, 2011


That scene in "Dark Star" has always chilled me, Artw. Other than that, pretty hilarious movie.
posted by zomg at 3:40 PM on October 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ah, the olden days. When there was no problem so large we couldn't just blow it up.
posted by Mcable at 3:49 PM on October 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


That scene in "Dark Star" has always chilled me, Artw. Other than that, pretty hilarious movie.

I'd have thrown in some Beneath the Planet of the Apes action too if i could find the right clip.
posted by Artw at 3:50 PM on October 25, 2011


Artw: Also, when your design being used means there's an honest to god nuclear war going on, 'going wrong' and 'going right' become largely academic distinctions.
posted by Grimgrin at 3:51 PM on October 25, 2011 [7 favorites]


The explosive lens is a mixture of RDX and TNT, which is not insensitive.

Well. That must make the dismantling of 50-odd year old weapons... festive.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 3:53 PM on October 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


Thorzdad: the U.S. did a lot more testing than your site knows or tells about. For which, see
this book on Area 51 and Nevada.
posted by Postroad at 4:00 PM on October 25, 2011


the Pluto/SLAM is one of those projects that you read about and wonder how many evil geniuses had to be pulled out of their skull shaped island fortresses to sort out the logistics

No, just young men making a success of their careers.

For some at Livermore, a lingering nostalgia about Pluto remains. "It was the best six years of my life," says William Moran, who oversaw the production of the Tory fuel elements. Chuck Barnett, who directed the Tory tests, succinctly sums up the gung-ho spirit at the lab: "I was young. We had lots of money. It was very exciting."
posted by Trurl at 4:02 PM on October 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


I think we need to start doing research on Project Orion style nuclear powered spaceships, though.
posted by delmoi at 4:07 PM on October 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


Young, dumb and full of isotopes.
posted by basicchannel at 4:08 PM on October 25, 2011 [6 favorites]


I remember reading about Pluto in an old Popular Mechanics magazine I found in the shop class bookshelves in 6th grade. Ridiculous project. IIRC, it was designed to orbit about dropping submunitions on the enemy -- followed by its own reactor. Insane.

FWIW, as horrifying as many Cold War programs were, they possess an allure which is difficult to ignore. The engineers behind those programs 'solved' some truly ridiculous problems -- like building a working anti-ICBM missile battery or a continental over the horizon warning system -- through sheer brute force. Where brute force failed, they cheated like the devil. Altogether, they probably designed, assembled -- and subsequently threw away -- more interesting human artifacts than we'll see in the next 1000 years.
posted by Kikkoman at 4:10 PM on October 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


Young, dumb and full of isotopes.

I think you mean radioactive white-hot semen.
posted by Sebmojo at 4:11 PM on October 25, 2011


Oh we haven't even started on subs.
posted by Artw at 4:16 PM on October 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


Artw wrote: Tsar Bomba is pretty insane, but Pluto/SLAM is still the most insanest

When this is brought up, I must always recommend History of Flight: Project Pluto. This Discovery Channel show has original film of the testing of the nuclear rockets.
posted by wierdo at 4:19 PM on October 25, 2011


Atmospheric pressure is about 14.7 psi, and 33 feet underwater, it's two atmospheres, or about 30 psi. I'm reading this as, if I magically submerged a reinforced concrete structure 33 feet under water, the structure would be completely destroyed as if hit by a nuke. Clearly, I'm missing something.

This is talking about 15 psi from one direction. In the air and underwater, you may be under 15psi, but it's from all directions. If you had full atmosphere 15psi on one side of your body and perfect vacuum on the other side of your body, that's an effect more like what we're talking about.
posted by chimaera at 4:20 PM on October 25, 2011


Well, I am dead.
posted by nathancaswell at 4:21 PM on October 25, 2011


Kikkoman wrote: a continental over the horizon warning system

I see your DEW line and raise you an OTH-B.
posted by wierdo at 4:29 PM on October 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


I grew up next to one of these buggers. Pretty sure that in the event of nuclear war we would have all been lucky enough to be casualties in the first wave of attacks.
posted by Artw at 4:34 PM on October 25, 2011


The picture of the B-53 on the wikipedia link freaks me out. I just can't handle a weapon like that being towed around by a forklift driven by a dude in a baseball cap and t-shirt.

Thankfully wikipedia links to the Flickr source which leads me to believe the bomb in the pic must be a disarmed shell ready for disposal.
posted by mullacc at 4:40 PM on October 25, 2011


Sometimes I'm glad we havent managed to travel to other planets, because if we had you could bet the military would be testing these weapons there right now.
posted by blue_beetle at 4:41 PM on October 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Well, there has been talk of using the nuclear ram-jet concept as propulsion for Jupiter probes.
posted by Artw at 4:44 PM on October 25, 2011


Altogether, they probably designed, assembled -- and subsequently threw away -- more interesting human artifacts than we'll see in the next 1000 years.

The ICBM intercept clip you have is from a declassified SDI project summary. I can't seem to find the whole video on the web, but it is interesting. The first time I saw it, it oddly felt like watching the 'Genesis Project Summary' in Star Trek II.

Although one can safely say the SDI was a failure as a unified, workable system, there were many small successes that advanced aerodynamics, computing, and many other fields significantly. In a way, the realization that an all-encompassing SDI program would not work ended up as a decent wake-up call to even the most die-hard 'winnable war' proponents. Almost worth the money. Almost.
posted by chambers at 4:50 PM on October 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


"The picture of the B-53 on the wikipedia link freaks me out. I just can't handle a weapon like that being towed around by a forklift driven by a dude in a baseball cap and t-shirt."

Eh, as a former Aircraft Armament Systems Specialist (whew!) assigned to SAC that's kinda the way packages are moved. They are transported, on base anyway, on specialized trailers towed by aircraft tugs. You can tell it's inactive by the fact that there's only one guy there any actual critical component requires the use of Two Man Concept. Any tow crew would have two guys, one driving and one quite literally riding shotgun (and there would a metric shit-ton of heavily armed people around). I never saw a B53, I was more of a B61/B83/SRAM kinda guy. Hold on, there's someone at my doo.....
posted by MikeMc at 5:04 PM on October 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


Cool, this is exactly the kind of stuff I used to do, on the same aircraft (B-1B).
posted by MikeMc at 5:07 PM on October 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


You would have totally been the guy i needed to talk to when I needed to source B-1B bomb bay images a while back... (IIRC we ended up just making it up entirely)
posted by Artw at 5:11 PM on October 25, 2011


I'm pretty sure Vault-Tec could build something that would shrug off a couple direct hits from those.
posted by Naberius at 5:24 PM on October 25, 2011


The ICBM intercept clip you have is from a declassified SDI project summary.

That was a Sprint. Sprint had been designed, tested, briefly deployed, and retired before Reagan introduced SDI.

Sprint: 0 to Mach 10 in something like 10 seconds. Accelerated at 100g. Because fuck you, that's why.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:27 PM on October 25, 2011 [12 favorites]


The Sprint launch videos are some of the very few that have made me sit back in my chair and utter an actual, audible "whoa". Anything that can make a normal rocket launch seem slow is worthy of some respect.
posted by Skorgu at 5:28 PM on October 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


Casaba Howitzer is literally a plasma cannon
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 6:15 PM on October 25, 2011 [4 favorites]


Me, I like the Rods from God simple, yet effective. Just slide on down the gravity well.
posted by Freen at 6:47 PM on October 25, 2011


Sure would be fun if we had an extra planet sitting around to blow a few holes in.

blue beetle: Sometimes I'm glad we havent managed to travel to other planets, because if we had you could bet the military would be testing these weapons there right now.

sigh... fine... This is why we can't blow up nice things!
posted by kprincehouse at 6:52 PM on October 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


This thread is the best Command and Conquer ever. Now I just need to make sure I have enough suppy-depots...
posted by rosswald at 6:53 PM on October 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Cool Papa Bell , it helps if you know that those are 'overpressures,' that is, they are values that indicated pressure above 1 atm.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 7:17 PM on October 25, 2011


That was a Sprint. Sprint had been designed, tested, briefly deployed, and retired before Reagan introduced SDI.

Sprint: 0 to Mach 10 in something like 10 seconds. Accelerated at 100g. Because fuck you, that's why.
posted by ROU_Sprint at 5:27 PM on October 25 [4 favorites +] [!]

EponyFTFY.
posted by Sebmojo at 8:32 PM on October 25, 2011


You could have highlighted the ROU part and it would work just as well.
posted by Justinian at 8:43 PM on October 25, 2011


Wow. I can't believe two people in this thread, TWO worked with nuclear weapons.

Feel like Dr. Strangelove getting a big ole Cold-War style stiffy over here just thinking about it.

You people are scaring me.


...and turning me on a little bit.
posted by Skygazer at 9:14 PM on October 25, 2011


...As for the B53, I find it sad that the B52 is losing it's good friend B53 to the scrap heap. I bet they were good buds over many years and enjoyed many a fun time in the sky over the North Pole together.
posted by Skygazer at 9:16 PM on October 25, 2011


The atomic cannon.
posted by Artw at 9:17 PM on October 25, 2011


"Wow. I can't believe two people in this thread, TWO worked with nuclear weapons."

The great part about working with nukes is having plenty of time to play cards. Whenever people accuse you of slacking you just say: "You don't want me doing my job for real, if I have to do this for real we're all dead."
posted by MikeMc at 9:35 PM on October 25, 2011 [5 favorites]


posted by ROU_Sprint

They even look a little like ROUs -- conical, but without some of the bumpy bits where we keep our... business.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:36 PM on October 25, 2011


Freen: Me, I like the Rods from God simple, yet effective. Just slide on down the gravity well.

Unfortunately, the Rods from God concept wouldn't work as advertised. Either it would take the rods 90 minutes or so to deorbit normally, making them useless against anything not a stationary target, or you'd have to shuttle up a rocket with enough fuel to make a quick deorbit (almost as much as you need to go into orbit), making the thing impractically large.

It sounds cool, but it was in the same league as the nuke detonated X-Ray laser.
posted by happyroach at 11:36 PM on October 25, 2011


Project Pluto always reminds me of A Colder War. Partly because it features in the story, and partly because the prospect of nuclear war and the prospect of being eaten by Cthulu occupy a similar "horrifying thing" area in my brain.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 2:16 AM on October 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


Unfortunately, the Rods from God concept wouldn't work as advertised.

In addition, somebody or other worked out the math to find out that it would make lots more sense just to take the beefy launcher you'd need to put the rods in orbit and just throw that at the offending tank directly.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:06 AM on October 26, 2011


MikeMc: ""Wow. I can't believe two people in this thread, TWO worked with nuclear weapons."

The great part about working with nukes is having plenty of time to play cards. Whenever people accuse you of slacking you just say: "You don't want me doing my job for real, if I have to do this for real we're all dead."
"

This does not work in the mail room. Just an FYI.
posted by Splunge at 6:06 AM on October 26, 2011


Wow. I can't believe two people in this thread, TWO worked with nuclear weapons.

You'd be amazed just how many people were directly involved with nuclear weapons at the height of the Cold War. The military's primary purpose for a long time was being able to launch as many nuclear weapons, through as many unique vectors, in as quick and organized a fashion as they could manage. My father was the chief nuclear weapons officer on his destroyer, which mostly harassed Soviet submarines by chasing them around the Persian Gulf in the mid-70's. 'But why does a destroyer need nuclear ordinance?' I hear you ask. Great question; they certainly don't launch cruise missiles or any sort of ballistic weapons off a ship that small. But they did keep nuclear-tipped torpedoes on hand, and that required an officer who was cleared to handle them. In case they absolutely needed to take out an underwater target, and didn't care that the blast radius of the torpedo was significantly larger than the range of the torpedo motor.

It all seems kind of wacky and speculative-sci-fi now, but that must have been an absolutely horrifying few decades for anyone who knew anything about the respective arsenals of the US and the USSR.
posted by Mayor West at 6:27 AM on October 26, 2011 [4 favorites]


I read about something called "Palisades of Fire" in a book on the arms race, but can't quite remember what it was supposed to do. Like, set the atmosphere on fire or something? With a nuclear payload of around a gigaton? Google doesn't return that much... maybe someone on this thread has a sharper memory.
posted by Zerowensboring at 7:58 AM on October 26, 2011


It all seems kind of wacky and speculative-sci-fi now, but that must have been an absolutely horrifying few decades for anyone who knew anything about the respective arsenals of the US and the USSR.

The thing is, those arsenals are mostly still in place. We can only destroy the earth 2-10x instead of 100-200x, but that doesn't really make much difference for anybody not profiteering from making the weapons.
posted by Chuckles at 8:27 AM on October 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


that must have been an absolutely horrifying few decades

It blows my mind that so many people think that we're in so much more danger now than we were during the cold war. Growing up, I honestly figured there would be nuclear destruction before I turned 45. It just seemed inevitable.
posted by rmd1023 at 8:45 AM on October 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Sprint: 0 to Mach 10 in something like 10 seconds. Accelerated at 100g. Because fuck you, that's why.

Amazing bit of "throw power at the problem." The best part of the design was the explosive charges that threw the concrete cap off the launch silo during launch. The silo ejection piston then pushed the missile out at almost Mach 1, then the first stage ignited, putting 660klbf (2.9MN) of thrust into the craft in 1.2 seconds. Wowzers.

Problems. Atmospheric friction was a *bitch*. The nosecone would hit 6200°F in the 10 second flight, which is why it was made of the same stuff they slathered on the ass end of an Apollo Command Module. You had to make most of the turn to intercept the moment you left the silo, because the faster you're going in the air, the harder it is to turn, and this beast went very fast indeed.

But if you really want insane performance, you want HiBEX. Only 2.1MN thrust, but it burned for 1.1 seconds, and the missile mass was basically a third of Sprint's, thus, it accelerated at 400g, reaching 3km/sec.

Then they put a 2nd stage on it. :-)

The problem with HiBEX was that you simply couldn't turn it fast enough, which meant you had to deal with a very fast training launcher out in the open -- not very good for protection. Thus, Sprint "only" boosted at 100g.
posted by eriko at 9:03 AM on October 26, 2011


Metafilter: Because fuck you, that's why.
posted by Skygazer at 10:02 AM on October 26, 2011


Sprint: 0 to Mach 10 in something like 10 seconds. Accelerated at 100g. Because fuck you, that's why.

It's worth pointing out that this variant of ABM had neutron-bombs on the interceptors. No point in half-measures.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 11:16 AM on October 26, 2011


Yeah, fuck you Northern Canada!
posted by Artw at 11:17 AM on October 26, 2011


And of course the ABM stuff would be useless against FOBS and MIRVs.
posted by Artw at 11:20 AM on October 26, 2011


MikeMc: ""Wow. I can't believe two people in this thread, TWO worked with nuclear weapons."


Make it 3. Polaris missiles in my case. Nothing like spending 3 months underwater with 16 nuclear missiles and a reactor. It allows me to laugh when people in job interviews discribe a systems administrator's job as "high stress".
posted by cmdnc0 at 11:46 AM on October 26, 2011


I told you we'd get to the radioactive seamen.
posted by Artw at 11:47 AM on October 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yeah, fuck you Northern Canada!

Sprint was the point defense weapon to catch the missiles that got through Spartan, so Sprint's nukes would be going off not that far from the targeted cities/bases.

It was the Spartan's *looks* OMG... 5MT nukes that would be going off over Canada.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:54 PM on October 26, 2011


cmdnc0: Make it 3 Polaris missiles in my case.

Three people in this thread. Holy fuck. There's something almost mythical about the idea of nuclear weapons, and I can understand their existence on cerebral level, but to know of the reality of people who actually worked with and touched such unbelievably apocalyptic things, gives it a level of realism I'm hard put to want to believe. I mean, you might as well be telling me you guys knew the Easter bunny and the Boogie Man, cos my brain goes into a loop of uncomprehending disbelief. Weird.

Nothing like spending 3 months underwater with 16 nuclear missiles and a reactor.

Sounds like my Ex-gf.
posted by Skygazer at 8:08 AM on October 27, 2011


"worked with and touched such unbelievably apocalyptic things"

I once used a worklight to make shadow puppets on a B-83. It was was only a little later in life that it dawned on me that the government actually trusted the 19 year old me to go hands on with the most destructive weapons ever made. What were they thinking? In all fairness 19 year old me was vetted, trained, capable and never fucked anything up.
posted by MikeMc at 6:40 PM on October 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


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