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Nassau Agreement falls through

Archibald

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Folks,

everybody had Very Scary Broken Arrows back then. The 50's were completely (and criminally) inept as far as nuclear power and weapons were concerned. I use to consider 50's nuclear scientists and military, whatever their nationalities, as having the mentality of a seven year old kid playing with fireworks (I know what I'm talking about - I was that kind of crazy brat).
Except theirs could have blown the entire world.

Scary times.

Given the sheer number of aircraft of those generations that fell out of the sky vs zero nukes that even partially exploded - I‘d be far more concerned about the airworthiness and flight safety of the aircraft.
Surely, they did not exploded (a tribute to the safety systems, admittedly - but also a goddam miracle at times, hint - Goldsborough, cough, Palomares, cough, cough, Thulé). But the damn things burned pretty well, smearing nucleides all over the countryside.
 

CNH

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Does it say that? It just says there is a difference but not what or why, I see no reference to a lack of safety. And the UK variant doesn’t work!

The US one going from initiation to detonation is what high explosives are supposed to do. Otherwise they aren’t!

The issue with insensitive munitions is how they initiate. Having dealt extensively with UK weapons, including in and with the US, we are not in the same place as them, although getting there.
The US explosive was not used because the Ordnance Board regarded it as unsafe.

The UK explosive, which the Ordnance Board accepted as being safe, was less effective, and the design had to be modified.

Of course, if you like flying around aircraft which have dodgy atomic weapons on board, that's fine.
Except your quote evidences nothing of the sort.

Given the sheer number of aircraft of those generations that fell out of the sky vs zero nukes that even partially exploded - I‘d be far more concerned about the airworthiness and flight safety of the aircraft.
Oops, pressed LIKE again unintentional.

The Ordnance Board rejected the US explosive as too unsafe. Fact.
 

CNH

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If you want to see the official UK opinion of the US explosive used in nuclear warheads, here you are:

avia 65 912.png
DGAW = Director of Atomic Warfare.
D/AWRE = Director Aldermaston Weapons Research Establishment
DCAS = Deputy Chief of Air Staff.

Reference NA: PRO: AVIA 65 912. Use of American Missiles (especially Sky bolt) for the British deterrent: CGWLs actions

CGWL = Controller of Guided Weapons and Electronics.
 

zen

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It's rather after the opening up of sharing that the development of safer nuclear weapons got going.....I know 'safer' weapons......an oxymoron if ever you heard one!
 

Purpletrouble

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If you want to see the official UK opinion of the US explosive used in nuclear warheads, here you are:

View attachment 634600
DGAW = Director of Atomic Warfare.
D/AWRE = Director Aldermaston Weapons Research Establishment
DCAS = Deputy Chief of Air Staff.

Reference NA: PRO: AVIA 65 912. Use of American Missiles (especially Sky bolt) for the British deterrent: CGWLs actions

CGWL = Controller of Guided Weapons and Electronics.
And how many of these “less safe” US bombs went off? Even experts get it wrong, especially when it comes to “not invented here vs. what we invented and want more R&D funding for”.

Still more worried about the bomb or the aircraft you are flying in?
 

CNH

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So you're happy that the US deployed potentially unsafe nuclear weapons yet by good luck or good fortune managed to get away with it?

Okay.
 

Purpletrouble

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I suggest you re-read your extracts. You created the label “potentially unsafe” which does not appear in the extracts or as a judgement and appears purely as your own (uninformed?) view. The fact is that any working system carries risk - in this case on the service side to be reviewed (and thus held) at a higher level. This is no different from any system - indeed I spent most of today reviewing a risk analysis and identifying what would need to be escalated.

That higher level would need to balance the risks, potential mitigation measures - against the benefits, eg. Operational capability. Unless you have the outcome of that - no such judgement is evidenced here and this cherry picked extract is but an anecdote of a side issue.

In terms of US explosives, it is a fact that today they lead the world in insensitive munitions, something we in the UK aspire and are working towards. That doesn’t make our systems “potentially unsafe”, because we have more stringent procedures. It is after all, quite difficult to get a bomb or a missile or a round to go off inadvertently. A flare on the other hand, they are scary.

Again, the platforms proved far less safe than the weapons. That’s where any unhappiness should be focussed.
 

Purpletrouble

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It's rather after the opening up of sharing that the development of safer nuclear weapons got going.....I know 'safer' weapons......an oxymoron if ever you heard one!
True - but military intelligence is still the greatest oxymoron!

Obviously the pressure was to have working systems which with the risks of not having them justified risks with them, only then to refine them once that had been achieved. This is one argument against proliferation as the “mature” arsenals are relatively safe vs emergent powers still in the “get anything” phase.

After a world war where losses such as the Blitz, Bombing campaign, Pacific Campaign, NW Europe and so on had been experienced nearly first hand by those making the decisions - and the risks of being attacked by nuclear weapons dwarfed those - then it is easy to see why a working system was the overwhelming priority and “safety” was a very difficult line to draw. Certainly a world away from where we are now.

Getting bothered about the approach to safety in this period reminds me of Baldrick pointing out one could get a nasty splinter off that ladder pre going over the top...
 

Volkodav

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Risk appetite, different entities have different appetites at different times, the difference often being nothing more than a near miss verses a catastrophe. People learn, for a time at least, from catastrophe, but rarely from near misses, if by dumb luck they even dodge near missed then those raising concerns are nothing more than defeatists and panic merchants.
 

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I suggest you re-read your extracts. You created the label “potentially unsafe” which does not appear in the extracts or as a judgement and appears purely as your own (uninformed?) view. The fact is that any working system carries risk - in this case on the service side to be reviewed (and thus held) at a higher level. This is no different from any system - indeed I spent most of today reviewing a risk analysis and identifying what would need to be escalated.

That higher level would need to balance the risks, potential mitigation measures - against the benefits, eg. Operational capability. Unless you have the outcome of that - no such judgement is evidenced here and this cherry picked extract is but an anecdote of a side issue.

In terms of US explosives, it is a fact that today they lead the world in insensitive munitions, something we in the UK aspire and are working towards. That doesn’t make our systems “potentially unsafe”, because we have more stringent procedures. It is after all, quite difficult to get a bomb or a missile or a round to go off inadvertently. A flare on the other hand, they are scary.

Again, the platforms proved far less safe than the weapons. That’s where any unhappiness should be focussed.
'XW.59 employs Tsetse as the primary, and, as noted above, British version of this device, RO 106, has a somewhat smaller yield (owing to the use of a safer British explosive)'
From the document I've already quoted.
 
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Hood

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I would recommend Eric Scholsser's Command and Control for a good overview of US safety developments.

It is clear in some cases that the explosives did partially or fully detonate but in other cases some burned without exploding.

13 March 1961 - B-52 crash near Yuba City, California, the high explosive of both Mark 39 bombs shattered on impact and did not detonate or burn.
13 November 1963 - technicians disassembling Mark 7 bombs for decommissioning accidentally rubbed two explosive spheres together when removing them, one of them ignited and after burning for 45 seconds detonated which set off 123,000lb of explosives within the storage igloo.
November/December 1963 - B-52 crash at Savage Mountain, Maryland, the high explosive of both Mark 53 bombs did not detonate or burn.
8 December 1964 - B-58 accident on runway at Bunker Hill AFB while carrying 4x Mark 43s and 1x Mark 53, after the fire two bombs were intact, one scorched, one mostly consumed by fire and the fifth had completely melted into the tarmac. None of explosives detonated.
17 January 1966 - Palomares incident, the explosives of one of the Mark 28 bombs partially detonated on impact (20ft crater) after the parapchute failed to open, another also partially detonated with a parachute fall but other two did not.
21 January 1968 - Thule incident the explosives of all four Mark 28 bombs detonated on impact.

Sandia of course got concerned and in March 1968 Carl Walkse, the assistant to the Secretary of of Defense for Atomic Energy issued new safety guidelines; probability of premature nuclear detonation one in a billion in normal conditions and one in a million in abnormal environments. Sandia found the 1,200 warheads between 1950 and March 1968 has been involved in accidents. They began and in-depth safety investigation of the electronics, electromagnetic effects, lightning strikes, fire, crushing.
In 1970 the Nuclear Safety Department advocated a 'supersafe bomb' but the thick casing and internal cladding to stop premature explosive detonation after an impact icnreased weight by 3-4 times and the USAF dropped it.
The new director of Sandia-Albuquerque, Rob Puerifoy, in 1973 suggested using TATB explosives. Invented in 1888 and hard to dentoate and classified in the US as a flammable solid. Current weapons could only withstand impacts of 150ft/sec but TATB would withstand 1,500ft/sec. Faced with expensive modifications the USAF again baulked and relied on retiring the more vulnerable older weapons as they became obsolete.

So yes, while there was some risk with using US explosives the MoS was right to reduce the risks further. As can be seen by the Mark 28 bombs, the risk of premature explosives detonation was actually quite high in certain weapons. The US may have been lucky but if Britain had safer explosives then there was no reason not to use them. Risk is risk, the MoS and Air Ministry cant' have been too happy that a couple of failed Thor firings had resulted in aborts and destroyed missiles that had scattered the area with plutonium - in one case it hadn't even got off the launch pad. Thankfully most of the Thor sites were on the relatively unpopulated parts of the East Coast but the results could have been serious.
 
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Volkodav

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We covered the 1980 Damascus Titan missile explosion as a safety case study at work last year. The message being put across by the presenter was use the correct tools and follow procedure but it is interesting that the warhead survived the detonation of the fully fueled second stage upon being ejected from the launch silo by the exploding first stage.
 

Archibald

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I would recommend Eric Scholsser's Command and Control for a good overview of US safety developments.

It is clear in some cases that the explosives did partially or fully detonate but in other cases some burned without exploding.

13 March 1961 - B-52 crash near Yuba City, California, the high explosive of both Mark 39 bombs shattered on impact and did not detonate or burn.
13 November 1963 - technicians disassembling Mark 7 bombs for decommissioning accidentally rubbed two explosive spheres together when removing them, one of them ignited and after burning for 45 seconds detonated which set off 123,000lb of explosives within the storage igloo.
November/December 1963 - B-52 crash at Savage Mountain, Maryland, the high explosive of both Mark 53 bombs did not detonate or burn.
8 December 1964 - B-58 accident on runway at Bunker Hill AFB while carrying 4x Mark 43s and 1x Mark 53, after the fire two bombs were intact, one scorched, one mostly consumed by fire and the fifth had completely melted into the tarmac. None of explosives detonated.
17 January 1966 - Palomares incident, the explosives of one of the Mark 28 bombs partially detonated on impact (20ft crater) after the parapchute failed to open, another also partially detonated with a parachute fall but other two did not.
21 January 1968 - Thule incident the explosives of all four Mark 28 bombs detonated on impact.

Sandia of course got concerned and in March 1968 Carl Walkse, the assistant to the Secretary of of Defense for Atomic Energy issued new safety guidelines; probability of premature nuclear detonation one in a billion in normal conditions and one in a million in abnormal environments. Sandia found the 1,200 warheads between 1950 and March 1968 has been involved in accidents. They began and in-depth safety investigation of the electronics, electromagnetic effects, lightning strikes, fire, crushing.
In 1970 the Nuclear Safety Department advocated a 'supersafe bomb' but the thick casing and internal cladding to stop premature explosive detonation after an impact icnreased weight by 3-4 times and the USAF dropped it.
The new director of Sandia-Albuquerque, Rob Puerifoy, in 1973 suggested using TATB explosives. Invented in 1888 and hard to dentoate and classified in the US as a flammable solid. Current weapons could only withstand impacts of 150ft/sec but TATB would withstand 1,500ft/sec. Faced with expensive modifications the USAF again baulked and relied on retiring the more vulnerable older weapons as they became obsolete.

So yes, while there was some risk with using US explosives the MoS was right to reduce the risks further. As can be seen by the Mark 28 bombs, the risk of premature explosives detonation was actually quite high in certain weapons. The US may have been lucky but if Britain had safer explosives then there was no reason not to use them. Risk is risk, the MoS and Air Ministry cant' have been too happy that a couple of failed Thor firings had resulted in aborts and destroyed missiles that had scattered the area with plutonium - in one case it hadn't even got off the launch pad. Thankfully most of the Thor sites were on the relatively unpopulated parts of the East Coast but the results could have been serious.
Impressive list but you forgot Goldsborough, North Carolina, January 1961. B-52 crash, more Mk.28 scattered all over the countryside... and one didn't detonated only thanks to a single switch.
 
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Siberia

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It is pretty clear that without the Nassau Agreement (which still underpins it today) the UK could not maintain its nuclear deterrent.
Is it? France seems to have managed to obtain and maintain one. Would it have required large cuts and withdrawals to occur earlier than happened historically? Almost certainly, but that's a matter of priorities rather than an impossibility.


Silos for the likes of a Black Arrow MRBM would be much smaller than the original K11 silo.
Would a K11-sized silos be a deal breaker? A Titan II silo, to use a rough comparator from a quick search, had a footprint of 600 feet by 600 feet. Even allowing for extra open space around this and fencing I've wondered in the past about whether you could try building them as self-contained satellites at distances around RAF bases.

At the end of the day though Polaris was, and would remain, the best option.


Not so small matter on "use or lose".
How is this any worse than the V bombers? The whole point of silos is that they can survive the initial attack and launch their retaliation at leisure. If all–no doubt multiple redundant–outside communication links are lost then, never mind if you also happen to feel some powerful shaking, it's a pretty good indicator that something is up. The missile submarines had steps to take if they lost contact with the UK and what to do, a similar system for the silos seems logical enough.
 

Archibald

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France build its own missiles a) because it had more experience in solid-fuel (hint, Polaris and Minuteman) and b) because its economy was not in shambles like the British one.

These two points are paramount. Also as far as bombers go, the Mirage IV was a far better bargain than the V-force. Same for the ground-based deterrent: the Plateau d'Albion wasn't an enormous investment. Not many holes, not many missiles in the end.

It was very difficult to guess before 1960 that solid-fuel ballistic missiles aboard nuclear submarines would be the ultimate deterrent - considering the amount of hare-brained schemes explored by the United States (and others). With Skybolt and Blue Streak Great Britain picked the wrong horses.
IMHO by this point the move toward Polaris was logical, and clever. Then again, it only happened thanks to "special relationship" and because "NATO Multilateral Force". https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Multilateral_Force
The United States might have very well said NO to Polaris sales - for all Wikipedia flaws, it is pretty clear the negociations were not easy.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nassau_Agreement#Negotiations

As much as I like keroxide (note: as a space nerd, not to eat it for lunch !), and while it would have made some sense for a British Titan II in a silo - onboard a submarine, HMS Exploder and Kursk are vibrant testimonies it would have been a disaster.

By contrast, French SLBM (M1 / M20 / M45 / M51) on British submarines, now that would have been something.
 
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zen

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By contrast, French SLBM (M1 / M20 / M45 / M51) on British submarines, now that would have been something.
This takes us to the wider AH scenario of alternative behaviour after Suez in my opinion.
But it's a potentially interesting scenario.
 

CNH

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' Would a K11-sized silos be a deal breaker? '

Cost and siting [finding places in the UK with a low enough water table was an issue]. Also the amount of concrete required was a non trivial issue.
 
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CNH

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' the Mirage IV was a far better bargain than the V-force '

I believe the Mirage had the range to get to Moscow but not return. Is that right?
 

PMN1

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What were the overall dimensions and amount of concrete used of the various silos for Atlas, Titan and Minuteman?

What would have been the dimensions and concrete requirement for an operational Blue Streak and any estimate on those figures for and equivalent LOX H202 missile?

Would there have been an advantage for these earlier missile to be launched from their silos in the same way SLBM are launched from their tubes?
 
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Grey Havoc

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These might help a bit:


Interestingly, the Atlas missile silo video makes mention of a 30 megaton warhead option, though this may been a simple error. Though then again...

I should also note that the Titan missile silo design actually incorporated quite of work done on the Blue Streak silo. Which embarrassed the British government when that fact came out, since a major plank of the official excuse for the Blue Streak's cancellation had been that the silo design was supposedly obsolete.
 
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CNH

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These might help a bit:


Interestingly, the Atlas missile silo video makes mention of a 30 megaton warhead option, though this may been a simple error. Though then again...

I should also note that the Titan missile silo design actually incorporated quite of work done on the Blue Streak silo. Which embarrassed the British government when that fact came out, since a major plank of the official excuse for the Blue Streak's cancellation had been that the silo design was supposedly obsolete.
The man responsible for most of the work carried out on the model silo at Westcott was Barry Ricketson. He went over to the US at the start of 1960 to talk about what had been done.

It's often said that the Americans stole our best ideas. That's completely wrong.

We exchanged information and ideas with the Americans, and we usually got the better part of the bargain.

America would never take the information for granted, but would replicate the results, which they did with a one sixth model silo, which became the basis for the Titan II silo.

The other factor which was a source of annoyance to British scientists was that the UK would regard all such work as secret, and kept it secret. However, when the information became general knowledge, the Americans would publish their work replicating the British results, and of course, these publications would become cited as the original – which they weren't.

PS ' a major plank of the official excuse for the Blue Streak's cancellation had been that the silo design was supposedly obsolete '
Not that the design was considered obsolete, but the silo concept was considered obsolete. 'Fixed sites', in official parlance.
 

Archibald

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A better bargain in the following sense: only one type instead of three, much smaller, derived from the Mirage III (scaled up, same engines) supersonic, and what's more, considered from the beginning as only an "interim system" before the missiles takeover.
Note that the Mirage IV-B (B-58-size instead of Vigilante-size) was quickly abandonned.

' the Mirage IV was a far better bargain than the V-force '

I believe the Mirage had the range to get to Moscow but not return. Is that right?
Essentially correct. 2500 km from Eastern France. Alternate penetrations through the Mediterranean allowing the tankers to get further. Alternatively, buddy-buddy refueling. And in WWIII, one way trips are much less an issue...
 
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