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ICBM carrier

iverson

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The entire MX & basing & Midgetman issue sounds foolish to me.

I mean, in the British and French cases, SLBM got the final word...
- tactical nukes and airborne deterrent: died with WE.177, 1998 / languished with ASMP-A but at very small scale
- silo-based: GB had zilch, zero - France shut down Plateau d'Albion in 1996

Is it just me, or is the entire basing / MX / Midgetman saga is essentially - USAF never, ever accepting the SLBM had won the "deterrent war" ? Put otherwise - most expensive interservice rivalry, ever ?

Were there attempts at shutting down the US silo-based ICBM force / never replacing the Minuteman III ?
It's not just you. The whole Triad idea was developed to protect the Air Force's bombers and land-based missiles. Remember the B-36 vs. USS United States as well. But don't blame interservice rivalry alone. The defense industry and regional Congressional delegations were the ones that really kept these obsolete concepts alive.

And yes, as far as I remember, there was talk of not replacing Minuteman III and the B-52 as well. But we got a small M-X force and the B-1 instead, even after President Carter cancelled them.
 

Hank58

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The entire MX & basing & Midgetman issue sounds foolish to me.

I mean, in the British and French cases, SLBM got the final word...
- tactical nukes and airborne deterrent: died with WE.177, 1998 / languished with ASMP-A but at very small scale
- silo-based: GB had zilch, zero - France shut down Plateau d'Albion in 1996

Is it just me, or is the entire basing / MX / Midgetman saga is essentially - USAF never, ever accepting the SLBM had won the "deterrent war" ? Put otherwise - most expensive interservice rivalry, ever ?

Were there attempts at shutting down the US silo-based ICBM force / never replacing the Minuteman III ?
It's not just you. The whole Triad idea was developed to protect the Air Force's bombers and land-based missiles. Remember the B-36 vs. USS United States as well. But don't blame interservice rivalry alone. The defense industry and regional Congressional delegations were the ones that really kept these obsolete concepts alive.

And yes, as far as I remember, there was talk of not replacing Minuteman III and the B-52 as well. But we got a small M-X force and the B-1 instead, even after President Carter cancelled them.
Manned bombers have a number of qualities that make their leg of the triad unique. Most notable is their ability to scramble on warning, and then be recalled if it is a false alarm. That's kind of hard to do with a ballistic missile. The worry that land-based ICBMs can be destroyed in their silos by a preemptive first-strike puts a lot of pressure on them to be launched on warning. Use them or lose them. Sub-launched ICBMs ride around in huge targets that are more than likely tailed as soon as they steam out of harbor. The very real concern that a new technical means to make the oceans transparent to the sensors of our adversaries (ultra-sensitive sonar, or radar measurement of the wake or the surface bulge created by a large-displacement boomers) also looms large over the SLBM force. Finally, the then Soviet Union, and now Russia, are extremely paranoid about their expansive northern arctic border. Nuclear-tipped cruise missiles coming from bombers flying over the pole are still unstoppable by Russian air defenses. The more they try, the more they have to spend, and with oil at $50 a barrel, they will go broke.
 

danwild6

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Yes you have to remember both the USA and USSR developed ICBM's SLBM's and Strategic Bombers. France and Britain's decision was also heavily influenced by economic reality that they could not afford to maintain an effective triad or even ICBM's with SLBM's. Of the three I'd agree that if you had to choose one then yes SLBM's would be the way to go but cost was not as much a factor for the US and USSR
 

Archibald

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The very real concern that a new technical means to make the oceans transparent to the sensors of our adversaries (ultra-sensitive sonar, or radar measurement of the wake or the surface bulge created by a large-displacement boomers) also looms large over the SLBM force.
There are rumors that NASA Seasat radarsat in 1978 accidentally did that - and the US military was not pleased at all...
 

iverson

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The entire MX & basing & Midgetman issue sounds foolish to me.

I mean, in the British and French cases, SLBM got the final word...
- tactical nukes and airborne deterrent: died with WE.177, 1998 / languished with ASMP-A but at very small scale
- silo-based: GB had zilch, zero - France shut down Plateau d'Albion in 1996

Is it just me, or is the entire basing / MX / Midgetman saga is essentially - USAF never, ever accepting the SLBM had won the "deterrent war" ? Put otherwise - most expensive interservice rivalry, ever ?

Were there attempts at shutting down the US silo-based ICBM force / never replacing the Minuteman III ?
It's not just you. The whole Triad idea was developed to protect the Air Force's bombers and land-based missiles. Remember the B-36 vs. USS United States as well. But don't blame interservice rivalry alone. The defense industry and regional Congressional delegations were the ones that really kept these obsolete concepts alive.

And yes, as far as I remember, there was talk of not replacing Minuteman III and the B-52 as well. But we got a small M-X force and the B-1 instead, even after President Carter cancelled them.
Manned bombers have a number of qualities that make their leg of the triad unique. Most notable is their ability to scramble on warning, and then be recalled if it is a false alarm. That's kind of hard to do with a ballistic missile. The worry that land-based ICBMs can be destroyed in their silos by a preemptive first-strike puts a lot of pressure on them to be launched on warning. Use them or lose them. Sub-launched ICBMs ride around in huge targets that are more than likely tailed as soon as they steam out of harbor. The very real concern that a new technical means to make the oceans transparent to the sensors of our adversaries (ultra-sensitive sonar, or radar measurement of the wake or the surface bulge created by a large-displacement boomers) also looms large over the SLBM force. Finally, the then Soviet Union, and now Russia, are extremely paranoid about their expansive northern arctic border. Nuclear-tipped cruise missiles coming from bombers flying over the pole are still unstoppable by Russian air defenses. The more they try, the more they have to spend, and with oil at $50 a barrel, they will go broke.
The "uniqueness" of the manned bomber force was, of course, the USAF party line from 1945 through at least the 1980s. But "unique" does not mean cost-effective or necessary.

The alleged first-strike vulnerability of missile silos was debatable. It assumes an implausibly high accuracy, reliability, and/or yield on the part of Soviet ICBMs. It also ignores the fact that the USAF was, at the same time, arguing that the higher accuracy of its land-based missiles compared to the Navy's early SLBMs--a first-strike advantage--was the reason why the US needed them.

The "scramble on warning" argument is only as good as the warning and thus cuts both ways. Strategic bomber bases make excellent fixed targets for minimally accurate missiles with megaton-range warheads.

The claimed vulnerability of US submarines is suspect. US boats are and were known to be quiet enough compared to Soviet craft that it seems unlikely that they could be successfully tailed, especially if the latter were already being shadowed by USN attack boats. What's more, there has never been any evidence that US nuclear submarines can be detected under real-world conditions. Imagined, futuristic "new technical means" are simply fiction and, in any case, again cut both ways. We could just as well insist that "new technical means" in the form of laser-armed satellites will at any moment make all aircraft, manned and unmanned, highly vulnerable to Russian defenses.

Finally, I'll concede that bombers launching cruise missiles over the pole can successfully attack Russia. For that matter, B-52s carrying gravity bombs and Cessna 182s can probably do the same, given the real state of Russian defenses. But that is not the point. The point is that we did not and do not need three redundant and fantastically expensive ways of doing the same thing, even if we assume that nuclear warfare is a need.
 

RLBH

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During the early 'triad' period, the idea was that bombers could deliver weapons more accurately than missiles, so were needed to attack precision (i.e. hard) targets. They were also more flexible than the early missiles, which couldn't easily be retargeted. By comparison, fixed-base ICBMs were highly responsive, though inaccurate and comparatively vulnerable, and SLBMs were both inaccurate and slow to respond but highly survivable.

Advancing technology gave missiles equal or greater accuracy to bombers, and improved their retargeting ability. ICBMs have become much harder to kill than bombers, though probably easier than SLBMs, but remain more responsive than the latter. With land-based missiles, you can say to an opponent 'if you take that course of action, we will launch' - submarine-based missiles have a longer response time so that's less credible.

For the nuclear mission, the main remaining advantage of the air-breathing bomber is flexibility of routing: if (for example) the US wants to hit Iran with ICBMs, you have no option but to fire them over Russia. The Russians might very well take a dim view of that. You can send a force of bombers in by whatever weird route you like to avoid overflights. The same thing can be done with SLBMs, but rather more slowly and in a more limited way.
 
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kaiserd

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Of the triad the bomber (equipped with nuclear tipped cruise missiles) is the least essential from a nuclear deterrent role. But these bombers are also by far the most useful and flexible from a non-nuclear war perspective. And for the the US and Russia (and probably shortly for China) it is a useful adjunct to discourage any attempt by another of the nuclear powers at a blanket “Star Wars” type missile defence because it demonstrates how inefficient and limited such a defence would inevitably ultimately be.
The various proposals for airborne ICBM carriers never showed this flexibility or variation in threat (or comparable persistent survivability as SSBNs) so it’s not really surprising they were never proceeded with.
 
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