In Focus: Peacekeeper and the Protestors

Jan. 1, 1983
Washington, D.C., Dec. 3 On November 22, President Reagan informed Congress of his decision to deploy 100 missiles—now known as the “Peacekeeper”—in a Closely Spaced Basing mode at Francis E. Warren AFB near Cheyenne, Wyo. Pointing out that previous Administrations—and his own—had studied a variety of basing modes, he explained that the “concept of deceptive basing, as employed in previous planning, was a fundamentally sound one for assuring the stability of land-based ICBMs in times of crisis.”

This approach, however, was marred by growing costs—in the range of $40 to $50 billion, compared with $26.4 billion for Closely Spaced Basing—and by the fact that “the cost to our Western citizens in terms of water, land, social disruption, and environmental damage seemed unreasonable.”

He explained that “in reexamining how to base the missiles, we concluded that by pulling the launch sites much closer together and making them a great deal harder, we could make significant savings.”

The Administration’s plan, he said, is to “emplace 100 of these missiles (vs. the 200 in some of the earlier plans) in launch canisters that can be moved, if necessary, between closely spaced superhard silos. We plan to build only 100 such silos, but we will design the system so that we can add more silos later, again within the confines of a small land area, if the Soviets will not agree to strategic arms reductions, or if they persist in the development and production of more powerful and deadly weapons. We would prefer that the Soviets dismantle SS-18s, rather than we build more holes. But we can accommodate either and maintain stability.”

Two factors primarily drive the MX requirement. The Soviets can destroy the US ICBM force, as configured at present, in a single attack, using less than one-fourth of their present ICBM force. Conversely, the US cannot “effectively threaten Soviet ICBMs even with a preemptive strike.”

MX, according to Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, solves both problems. MX can survive a first strike by the Soviets and leave the US with the “retaliatory capability to inflict on them such damage that they would not make that first strike.” That is the essence of deterrence.” Further, because MX’s accuracy is twice that of Minuteman III, it provides credible counterforce capabilities against superhard Soviet military targets and will restore an important element of deterrence that is presently lacking.

The President’s decision in favor of Closely Spaced Basing—the basing mode recommended to him by the Air Force—was preceded, this writer learned, by an intensive review of several other options. These included the so-called “common missile,” meaning use of an essentially similar design by the Navy for its D-5 SLBM application and by the Air Force for the ICBM mission; abandonment of the strategic triad in favor of a dyad by phasing out land-based ICBMs; and commitment to CSB that from the outset would have included deceptive basing and the concurrent deployment of ballistic missile defenses.

While the President opted for a deployment arrangement that initially is to be confined to Closely Spaced Basing, the eventual retrofitting of ballistic missile defense and the addition of 200 extra silos to permit deceptive basing is not ruled out. Neither is the possibility of linking CSB with deep rock basing.

The addition of ballistic missile defense is not expected to become necessary before the turn of the century and probably will involve a sophisticated exoatmospheric (above the atmosphere in space) approach, rather than the much less efficient low-altitude concept available now.

As the President told Congress, “We plan to continue research on ballistic missile defense technology—the kind of smart, highly accurate, hopefully nonnuclear weapons that utilize the microelectronic and other advanced technologies in which we excel. The objective of this program is stability for our ICBM forces in the ‘90s, a hedge against Soviet breakout of the ABM Treaty, and the technical competence to evaluate Soviet ABM developments. We currently have no plan to deploy any Ballistic Missile Defense system.”

As this column went to press, the House of Representatives voted 245-176 to deny production funding—$988 million—for the MX program in FY ’83. In subsequent action, research and development funding for the missile’s basing was “fenced,” meaning that the funding was appropriated but can not be released until April 30, 1983. The Administration reportedly plans to continue to press Congress to permit eventual go-ahead on the full MX program.

The current research and development program on ballistic missile defense is pegged at about $2.5 billion.

The MX is a four-stage ICBM that carries ten independently targetable nuclear reentry vehicles (RVs). These advanced RVs carry a warhead with a yield of 350 kilotons. MX is seventy feet long, ninety-two inches in diameter, and weighs approximately 192,000 pounds. MX has greater range and targeting flexibility than the Minuteman ICBMs. Its greater resistance to nuclear effects and its more capable guidance system provides the MX with a greatly enhanced hard-target kill capability.

The first three stages of the MX use solid propellant and provide the thrust needed to achieve intercontinental range. The fourth stage uses liquid propellants to carry out the maneuvers that properly deploy the RVs. Along with the liquid propellant, the fourth stage carries the computers and electronic equipment that guide and control the missile from the time of launch through the release of RVs. The MX guidance and control system uses an advanced inertial reference sphere (AIRS) that provides the flight computer with information on missile movement during flight.

The reentry system consists of two main subsystems—the deployment module and the shroud. The deployment module, attached to the fourth stage, carries the RVs. The titanium shroud covers the deployment module and protects the RVs during the first two stages of flight.

Over the life of the program, some 240 missiles are to be acquired, but no more than 100 are to be deployed at a given time. The remainder are spares and test systems. The 100 active missiles will be deployed in superhard capsules at close distances (about 1,800 feet apart) that maximize the phenomenon of fratricide while still far enough apart to prevent one weapon from destroying two capsules. The major features of the CSB concept are the superhardened capsule, close spacing, and array shape. The array itself is a linear configuration, fourteen miles long and one mile wide and oriented from north to south. The superhard capsules contain the MX missiles in their canister/launcher. Hardness levels will be in the 5,000 psi (pounds per square inch of overpressure) range against ground burst and as high as 130,000 psi against enemy warheads detonated in the air above. The geotechnical conditions at the Wyoming site were deemed extremely conducive for achieving high hardness levels, mainly because of the special qualities of the sandy soil that dissipate ground shock.

As a result, a nuclear warhead must come at least twice as close to an MX capsule in order to destroy it than is the case with a Minuteman III silo. Even if an MX silo tilts as much as fifteen degrees, it is still possible to launch the missile.

The system’s two underground launch control facilities will be hardened to the same degree as the capsules and linked to the missiles by a network of fiber optics and HF (high frequency) communications, both of which are relatively resistant to the effects of EMP (electromagnetic pulse). For normal day-to-day operations the Launch Control Center provides command and control of the missiles. During and after an attack, survivable command and control would be provided by a small fleet of Airborne Launch Control Center (ALCC) aircraft and satellite relays.

As the Defense Intelligence Agency’s special MX panel stated, “In the foreseeable future, we don’t believe the Soviets can achieve in an operationally reliable form the precision time-on-target control required to avoid fratricide at the yields necessary for high-confidence kill of MX superhard silos. …”

The Escalating Nuclear Issue

The National Conference of Catholic Bishops—through its ad hoc Committee on War and Peace—recently issued a second draft of a Pastoral Letter in support of a “nuclear freeze” that unleashed a tidal wave of controversy. The pivotal contention of the proposed Pastoral Letter is that “not only should development and deployment of new weapons cease, the number of existing weapons must be reduced in a manner that reduces the danger of war.” The notion that the US do so unilaterally and immediately caused the Administration to strongly criticize the Bishops’ draft letter.

The White House’s National Security Advisor, Judge William P. Clark, responding to the letter on behalf of President Reagan and other members of the Administration directly concerned with the issue, expressed regret about the Bishops’ continuing “misreadings of American policies, and [that they] essentially ignore the far-reaching American proposals that are currently being negotiated with the Soviet Union on achieving steep reductions in nuclear arsenals, on reducing conventional forces, and, through a variety of verification and confidence-building measures, on further reducing the risks of war. Thus, while the Committee’s draft calls for alternative approaches to current nuclear arsenals and strategies, it does so without presenting the citizen who is concerned with issues of peace and war with any information whatsoever about the initiatives undertaken by the United States to bring the world closer to arms reductions, peace, and reconciliation.”

National Security Advisor Clark called the Bishops’ attention to these major arms-reduction initiatives sought by the Administration:

“In the US-Soviet negotiations on strategic arms (START), which began on June 30, 1982, we are proposing to begin with a one-third reduction in the number of warheads on the land- and sea-based ballistic missiles and a reduction in the most destabilizing systems of all, the land-based ballistic missiles, to about one-half of the current US levels. In a second phase, we propose to reduce the destructive potential of the remaining missiles to equal levels, lower than we now have, and we could include other strategic systems as well.

“In the US-Soviet negotiations on intermediate-range nuclear forces (INF), which began on November 30, 1981, we have proposed to begin with the total elimination of the forces considered the most destabilizing and threatening by both sides, the land-based missile systems. We and our NATO allies have offered to cancel plans for the deployment of US Pershing and ground-launched cruise missiles in exchange for the corresponding destruction of Soviet SS-20, SS-4, and SS-5 missiles. Other elements of the balance could be limited subsequently.

“In the multilateral negotiations on mutual and balanced force reductions (MBFR), the US and its NATO allies are proposing to the Warsaw Pact nations major initial reductions in military personnel to common ceilings and a wide range of new verification measures.

“In the areas of limiting nuclear testing and chemical and biological weapons, the US is actively participating in discussions in the Committee on Disarmament in Geneva to develop the verification and compliance procedures that would make such limitations truly effective. We are, of course, particularly distressed by the extensive and inhuman use by the Soviet Union and its allies of toxins and chemicals against the defenseless populations of Afghanistan, Laos, and Cambodia.”

In response to the Bishops’ opposition to elements of current US deterrence policy which overall they rated as “at most … marginally justifiable,” Judge Clark offered this succinct explanation: “To deter effectively, we must make it clear to the Soviet leadership that we have the capability and will, to respond to aggression in such a manner as to deny that leadership its political and military objectives and impose on it costs which outweigh any potential gains. This requires that we have the capability to hold at risk that which the Soviet leadership itself values most highly—military and political control, military forces, both nuclear and conventional, and that critical industrial capability which sustains war. For moral, political, and military reasons, it is not our policy to target Soviet civilian populations as such. Indeed, one of the factors that has contributed to the evolution of US strategic policy is the belief that targeting cities and populations was not a just or effective way to prevent war. An understanding of this point appears to be seriously missing from the draft letter.”

To turn away from this course that has kept the peace for more than three decades of the nuclear age, the White House National Security Advisor warned the Catholic Bishops, “would increase the risks of war and endanger the cause of freedom throughout the world.”

In a related speech, devoted to public misinformation about US nuclear capabilities, Judge Clark posed the rhetorical question of whether the US today possesses more or less explosive power, or megatonnage, than it did twenty years ago. He suggested that most Americans would “respond that we have more. The truth is that today’s level is less than half that which existed during the Kennedy Administration. Similarly, if I were to ask whether we have more—or fewer—warheads than we had ten years ago, I am sure that most would respond that we must have more. The truth, however, is that in the course of the past decade, we have reduced the number in our arsenal by about a third.”

Washington Observations

ê Gen. John W. Vessey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told this writer that the present members of the JCS recognize there is no such thing as a “uniservice” war. Rather, future wars involving US forces will be fought by the Commanders in Chief of the unified commands that comprise members from all the services. “We as the [Joint} Chiefs,” he said, “have to find the weak points in the seams [of these commands]—if there are any—and touch those up.” The JCS treat as a “joint matter” such issues as mobility, intelligence, and command and control, he explained.

The Joint Chiefs are paying increasing attention to the CINCs as the “people who are going to fight our wars.” They, therefore, decided that the “first thing we need to do is to understand thoroughly what [the CINCs] plan to do with today’s forces. The CINCs themselves have come [to the Pentagon] to explain to the Chiefs their concepts … for their more serious war plans so that we as a body will then be able … to see what it is they got to carry out the jobs we have given them and what needs to be done in the way of force building and in the way of adjusting the orders we have given them for the war plans. If we told them to do things that can’t be done, we need to understand this [in order to] make the necessary adjustments. This we did. We all agree that this was one of the most useful exercises the Chiefs ever engaged in.”

As a result, General Vessey said, there will be closer coordination on “cross-service issues.” The CINCs “will play a greater role, and this is already under way. The Secretary of Defense already has instituted [changes that give] the CINCs a larger voice,” he explained. Turning to efforts to revamp the JCS structure, he said pending proposals by him and the Chiefs to the Secretary of Defense will weigh possible changes in terms of five criteria:

“Would the change help us to go to war better? Does it give the National Command Authorities better military advice in a more timely fashion? Does it reinforce the role of the people who have to fight the war, the CINCs? Does it help the President and the Secretary of Defense with their toughest peacetime job, that is, how to build a defense budget? And does it maintain civilian control over the US military?”

Asked if the US could win a war with the Soviets at this time, General Vessey said, “I don’t think we should march out and get into one because we have great confidence that we could win. But we are also confident that we would do very well. I don’t say that we would win. … Also, what is a measure of winning?”

He stressed that “we have no plans to go into such a war. That is not our strategy we don’t want war with the Soviet Union, nuclear war, conventional war, or any war in between. We simply want forces strong enough to make it clear to the Soviets that should they attack us, the penalty would be too great.”

In assessing the seeming rapprochement between the USSR and China, General Vessey did not expect the two Communist states to become “great friends.” Any reduction of tension between the two countries would strengthen the prospects for peace. On the other hand, “if the PRC and the Soviet Union became allies against the West, that would be significant, but I don’t see that.”

ê Germany’s new Defense Minister, Manfred Woerner, predicted in a recent Washington press conference that the Soviet Union would not engage in any consequential discussions on theater nuclear forces arms accords until after his country’s national election on March 6, 1983. He termed the German vote decisive in terms of whether or not NATO would commit itself to such weapons. The government of Chancellor Helmut Kohl, which has to stand for elections in March, he said, is “clearly an alliance-oriented government. This government has no tendency whatsoever toward neutralism. … The only chance to safeguard our interests is in a close alliance with the United States.”

The new German Defense Minister took issue with the concept of field fortifications along the NATO/Warsaw Pact borders proposed by some US strategists. This, he said, “makes no military sense. If we have limited forces and the other side has two to three times the number of forces, fixed deployment makes no sense. We outflanked the Maginot Line in World War II and the Russians could do the same thing.” He added, however, that the German armed forces have emplaced explosives in all bridges in the forward areas to slow down invading Pact forces.

The new German government, he suggested, is unenthusiastic about providing Patriot air defenses for US installations, but discussions on the subject are going on: “I am not excluding this possibility, but it would be difficult.”

ê The Soviet Union, late in October attempted to launch what appears to be the first mobile, MX-like design of the so-called “Fifth Generation ICBMs,” a new family of highly advanced ballistic missiles that has been known to be under development. The test failed when one of the missile’s stages, thought to be the first stage, exploded. The Soviet Union, in line with the current policy of cooperative measures, informed the US of the launch.

ê The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), in conjunction with Air Force Systems Command, is working on a third-generation cruise missile with intercontinental range.

ê Among USAF’s long-term technology programs are a jamming mini-drone with a loiter capability of about five hours, which is designed to paralyze an adversary’s command control and communications; a “Transatmospheric Vehicle” with horizontal takeoff and landing capability to perform fast-response low-orbit space missions; and HAVE WEDGE, a dual-mode munition capable of alternating electro-optical and RF guidance.