The path not taken.
- Oct 9, 2009
- Reaction score
(Drawings and pictures at link)
(Drawings and pictures at link)
This was the background to Project ICEWORM: a strategic concern over the vulnerability of US ICBMs, a political need for the Army to acquire its own long-range missile capability, and an American misperception that the Danes could be persuaded to permit a large nuclear arsenal in Greenland.
ICEWORM began in 1960 with a study by the Planning Studies Division of the US Army Engineer Studies Center, the Army's equivalent of the Air Force's RAND Corporation think tank. The study proposed building a network of thousands of miles of tunnels under the ice, excavated as trenches and then covered over again. The tunnels would link together launch stations, each a minimum of four miles from any other and with at least three feet of ice cover, giving protection up to 30 psi overpressure. Overpressure is a measure of blast strength – 1 psi overpressure will shatter glass, 3 psi will collapse a wood frame house, and 5 psi will destroy all buildings save those made of reinforced concrete.
Six hundred ICEMAN IRBMs, enough to destroy 80% of the target list in the Soviet Union and eastern Europe, would be shuttled between launch stations through the tunnels, probably on trains. The network would be controlled by sixty launch control centers (LCCs), each with 100 psi overpressure protection. Small nuclear reactors would provide power to the LCCs and launch sites. The whole complex would cover 52,000 square miles, beginning 300 miles east of Thule.
The 30 psi protection of the launch sites would be less than the 300 psi of early Minuteman silos, but the real armor of the missiles would be their invisibility beneath the ice cap. The Russians would need an estimated 3,500 eight-megaton warheads to destroy the system after construction – or, if the distance between launch sites was increased to 9.8 miles, 550 100-megaton warheads. Not only that, but new excavation could be kept constantly ongoing, expanding to 2,100 launch points five years after deployment. The Soviets would never be able to build missiles faster than we could excavate new launch sites.
The ICEMAN missiles would be modified Minuteman ICBMs, shortened to two stages. They would have a 3,300 nm range, a CEP of 0.8 nm, and a 2.4 megaton warhead, potentially upgradeable to 4 megatons. The system would have a 20 minute response time after receiving orders to launch, or 40 to 60 minutes if under attack.
11,000 men would be required to operate, supply, and protect the system, including 400 Arctic Rangers and 200 Nike-Hercules SAM operators. The remote LCCs would be resupplied from Thule via ski-equipped aircraft.
This was a truly monumental engineering project, Ozymandian in scope. ICEWORM would have covered an area the size of Alabama - there are countries smaller than ICEWORM would have been. ICEWORM used sheer size to try to cope with the scale of the war it was intended to fight. It wouldn't have been a structure or base or even a city, it wasn't architecture; ICEWORM was geology, it was terrain. It was reengineering the entire landscape for human purposes.
Despite this, the Army estimated that construction would take only three years and a mere $2.37 billion ($17.25 billion today), with operating costs of $409 million per year ($2.98 billion). The primary technical difficulties were thought to lie in the difficulty of adapting both men and missiles to the extreme cold, but these seemed surmountable.
The Air Force and Navy, needless to say, decried the proposal as redundant with the Air Force's Minuteman ICBMs and the Navy's Polaris SLBMs, and vulnerable to attack by airborne forces. The Army's counterargument was that, compared to the Minutemen, the system was isolated from populated areas, reducing civilian casualties in the event of a Russian strike, and offered better protection than the Air Force's missile silos. Unlike the submarines, ICEWORM would be “on-station” at all times, more accurate since it launched from a fixed location, and, since it could use buried landlines rather than radios, would have more secure communications. Finally, the ICEMAN missiles would have greater yield and better accuracy than either of the main competitors. While difficulties were foreseen with the Danes, it was generally felt that they could be brought around.