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Computer Scientist Looks At ICBM Security

samzenpus posted more than 4 years ago | from the two-man-job dept.

The Military 124

An anonymous reader writes "Computer security guru Matt Blaze takes a tour of a decommissioned ICBM complex in Arizona. Cool photos, insightful perspective on two man control, perimeter security, human factors and why we didn't blow ourselves up. From the article: 'The most prominent security mechanism at the Titan site, aside from the multiple layers of thick blast-proof entry doors and the fact that the entire complex is buried underground, was procedural: almost all activities required two person control. Everywhere outside of the kitchen, sleeping quarters and toilet were "no lone zones" where a second person had to be present at all times, even for on-duty members of the launch crews.'"

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124 comments

First Launch! (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30472306)

It may take two people to launch an ICBM, but it only takes one troll to launch a first post!

And the Futuristic Safety Mechanism Is ... (3, Insightful)

eldavojohn (898314) | more than 4 years ago | (#30472354)

... the buddy system!

I joke but human redundancy is probably your best bet and pretty reassuring considering I've seen Dr. Strangelove twenty times or so. Also I enjoyed this picture [flickr.com]. Is it a good idea to store the keys right above the safe to the Emergency War Orders? No matter, if you know the combination to the lock and have a twenty pound sledge, those hastily welded rings holding on the safety padlocks will take a few seconds to remove.

Re:And the Futuristic Safety Mechanism Is ... (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 4 years ago | (#30472390)

The text commentary on the picture you link indicates that the safe is (probably) only intended to resist opening for a certain amount of time (like any safe really). Presumably, the people who approved it were aware that it had certain limitations.

Re:And the Futuristic Safety Mechanism Is ... (1)

TapeCutter (624760) | more than 4 years ago | (#30472410)

Yes the buddy system is hardly confined to missile silos. I was a day labourer and factory worker in Oz during the 70's & 80's, standard industrial saftey rules say that no worker is to be alone where machinery or confined spaces are involved.

Re:And the Futuristic Safety Mechanism Is ... (5, Funny)

tophermeyer (1573841) | more than 4 years ago | (#30472598)

Yes the buddy system is hardly confined to missile silos. I was a day labourer and factory worker in Oz during the 70's & 80's, standard industrial saftey rules say that no worker is to be alone where machinery or confined spaces are involved.

I had no idea that the Lollipop Guild had such rigorous safety guidelines.

Re:And the Futuristic Safety Mechanism Is ... (1)

hey! (33014) | more than 4 years ago | (#30474306)

He was a flying monkey, you insensitive clod!

Re:And the Futuristic Safety Mechanism Is ... (1)

Bender0x7D1 (536254) | more than 4 years ago | (#30475896)

Well, you saw what happened to the Wicked Witch of the East. She was working alone.

Re:And the Futuristic Safety Mechanism Is ... (1)

Blakey Rat (99501) | more than 4 years ago | (#30476666)

It's a pain in the ass, you can't even plug a lamp into an outlet without filling out a form and having a Lollipop Guild member come in to do it for you. And it takes them like 4 hours to show up. I'd recommend holding your conferences in Narnia, which is non-Union.

Re:And the Futuristic Safety Mechanism Is ... (4, Informative)

Ephemeriis (315124) | more than 4 years ago | (#30472436)

... the buddy system!

I joke but human redundancy is probably your best bet and pretty reassuring considering I've seen Dr. Strangelove twenty times or so. Also I enjoyed this picture [flickr.com]. Is it a good idea to store the keys right above the safe to the Emergency War Orders? No matter, if you know the combination to the lock and have a twenty pound sledge, those hastily welded rings holding on the safety padlocks will take a few seconds to remove.

Did you read the text accompanying that picture?

Those keys would not have been on top of the cabinet there - that's a display for the tourists.

Each launch officer had a key to one padlock, meaning that two launch officers were necessary to open that cabinet. The point isn't to keep some random guy from walking in and launching a missile... That's what all the guards, barbed wire, blast doors, etc. are for. The point is to make sure that it takes two launch officers to launch a missile.

Not a simple two key to fire system (1)

dangle (1381879) | more than 4 years ago | (#30472734)

I'm pretty sure that it's not secret information that while turning two keys is one way to launch a missile under certain circumstances, there are other conditions that will lead to missiles being launched without keys, or launch commands being ignored despite turning two keys.

Presumably, the instructions are coded into a tape memory bank of a gigantic complex of computers.

Re:Not a simple two key to fire system (1)

Sanat (702) | more than 4 years ago | (#30475156)

You are right in a sense that if two keys were turned by the launch crew at the launch control facility (LCF)so a launch of missiles was initiated then the launch could be inhibited by other launch crews at other LCF's in the squadron. There was only a narrow window of time in which the launch could be inhibited.

I was a part of the initial "Operation Looking Glass" in which the missiles (under certain prescribed postures) could be launched from an airborne aircraft. Probably now it is the KC135 but back in the 60's it was the KC97 as I recall.

Re:And the Futuristic Safety Mechanism Is ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30472776)

Each launch officer had a key to one padlock, meaning that two launch officers were necessary to open that cabinet.

Obviously you didn't read the article. That cylinder in the middle is a combination lock. And if you think about the physics of it, removing one lock and knowing the combination will gain you entry. Who didn't read the article/understand basic hinges?

Re:And the Futuristic Safety Mechanism Is ... (4, Informative)

shilly (142940) | more than 4 years ago | (#30472894)

Erm, you didn't read the article. The article says, if you had bothered to read it:
"The "Emergency War Orders" (EWO) safe, for example, which contains the launch keys and codes, is locked not just by a single combination, but also by two padlocks, one belonging to each launch officer."

Just in case you have difficulty reading, I'll make that clear:
- 1 combination lock AND
- 2 keys locks, with each key held by a different person.

I don't know about you, but I happen to think that the people who were so terrifyingly clever as to know how to build an ICBM were also capable of building a safe that requires three locks to undo without worrying about The Hinge Problem, by using such fiendish ingenuity as, oh I don't know, using a file-container (slide-out drawer), not a hinged door. As it says in the very next paragraph of the same story you chose to take someone else to task for, because you thought they'd not read it. And guess what, if you have difficulty with words, the nice man even took some pretty pictures where you could actually see that it wasn't a hinged door.

Numpty.

Re:And the Futuristic Safety Mechanism Is ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30473184)

Doesn't the hinge problem disappear if your lock extends in both directions instead of just one?

Re:And the Futuristic Safety Mechanism Is ... (2, Insightful)

YrWrstNtmr (564987) | more than 4 years ago | (#30472438)

Given enough time and physical access, anything is breakable. But the security guard who let you in might have an issue with your sledge hammer.

Re:And the Futuristic Safety Mechanism Is ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30472452)

Given enough time and physical access, anything is breakable. But the security guard who let you in might have an issue with your sledge hammer.

Nah, he let me right through when I told him I was here to test the nose cones of some of the older missiles.

Re:And the Futuristic Safety Mechanism Is ... (2, Informative)

SBrach (1073190) | more than 4 years ago | (#30473732)

I have toured this site and it is very impressive. As far as getting in, they have a phone at the entrance to the silo that you use to contact an officer inside the silo and code in. Once he opens the first blast door you enter a corridor that is basically an airlock. The 1st blast door closes behind you and you have so many seconds to get to the second blast door phone and code in. If you don't make it or fail to code in correctly there were several truck loads troops on their way from nearby Davis-Monthan AFB.

Re:And the Futuristic Safety Mechanism Is ... (1)

alen (225700) | more than 4 years ago | (#30472458)

i bet they had weapons and live ammo with them so if you tried to break into the safe by yourself your buddy might have to shoot you. or beat you with something else from behind while you are concentrating on breaking into the safe

Re:And the Futuristic Safety Mechanism Is ... (1)

Ihlosi (895663) | more than 4 years ago | (#30472500)

i bet they had weapons and live ammo with them so if you tried to break into the safe by yourself your buddy might have to shoot you.

But that would make him a loner in one of those no-lone-zones?

Re:And the Futuristic Safety Mechanism Is ... (1)

alen (225700) | more than 4 years ago | (#30472510)

i imagine that the procedure is to notify your Missile Wing HQ if you kill your "buddy" for trying to launch a nuclear missile without permission

Re:And the Futuristic Safety Mechanism Is ... (4, Funny)

MrNaz (730548) | more than 4 years ago | (#30473042)

Damn bureaucrats. They want a form filled out for *everything*.

Re:And the Futuristic Safety Mechanism Is ... (1)

jcwayne (995747) | more than 4 years ago | (#30473986)

Please complete form DDR-52.37/5 "Report of Summary Execution Due to Attempted Premature Ignition". You'll find them in the next drawer down.

Re:And the Futuristic Safety Mechanism Is ... (4, Funny)

rhsanborn (773855) | more than 4 years ago | (#30474024)

No, that is strictly prohibited. You must first contact requisitions and request a form H02B, which you must then fill out and submit to indicate your intent to kill your assigned "buddy". You must submit this form to the secretary in charge of discharges and formal executions who will submit it to the CO in charge of resource allocation who must authorize the destruction of military property. If approved, you will be sent form D43C-A to give to the secretary of resource allocation who will submit it to the same CO in charge of resource allocation who will need to approve the assignment of a new "buddy". If approved, your original H02B will be signed and returned to you within 10-15 business days, upon which you need to submit form T98-A which will designate the method you will use to kill your "buddy" and the subsequent steps to handle the cleanup and disposal of the buddy. If any additional resources are needed, please see the previous steps on submitting a form to resource allocation. You will also need to submit a form R7-BDA which gives you authorization for your method of disposal, and form FGH-9B to signify that disposal has been completed.

Re:And the Futuristic Safety Mechanism Is ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30475230)

You really reminded me of a Voyager novel ... something about encountering a planet that had successfully conquered time travel and where the population are spread through time (in exactly 500,000 year intervals during 'safe', 'does-not-affect-history' periods) and alternate realities. In the novel, that planet was said to be encased in extreme amounts of paperwork for every action carried out by law enforcement.

Ah, nevermind. I must be old.

Re:And the Futuristic Safety Mechanism Is ... (1)

MiniMike (234881) | more than 4 years ago | (#30474018)

But that would make him a loner in one of those no-lone-zones?

The SOP was for him to then shoot himself.

Re:And the Futuristic Safety Mechanism Is ... (1)

Gravitron 5000 (1621683) | more than 4 years ago | (#30472522)

If he killed you he would be countermanding the no lone policy. Your buddy would risk being shot by the next pair of people to show up.

Re:And the Futuristic Safety Mechanism Is ... (1)

Shakrai (717556) | more than 4 years ago | (#30472530)

,quote>i bet they had weapons and live ammo with them so if you tried to break into the safe by yourself your buddy might have to shoot you

I don't know if they had small arms with them in the silo but I would imagine they did. If so then it's not a real stretch to imagine that a launch officer who went off his rocker would have to contend with lead. Preemptively killing his partner wouldn't help him either. Gaining access to the keys doesn't permit you to launch the missile(s). All of the controls are far enough apart to make it physically impossible for a single person to operate them

A somewhat different situation but remember the movie Crimson Tide? A buddy of mine in the service said if something like that happened in the real world the captain would have just shot the XO for insubordination and carried out his orders without him.

Re:And the Futuristic Safety Mechanism Is ... (1)

alen (225700) | more than 4 years ago | (#30472578)

i think the movie was a bit different than the book and more dramatic

i never manned a missile silo, but the night duty i did in the army we always had to log the most routine things and someone from the higher HQ would stop by a few times a night to make sure everything was OK. I bet in a missile silo they had to communicate with the HQ on a schedule as well and lack of communication would set off someone having to drive there and check things out

Re:And the Futuristic Safety Mechanism Is ... (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 4 years ago | (#30472554)

Thinking about it, the padlocks aren't for keeping the safe closed, they are for making it obvious that a single person tried to open it.

Re:And the Futuristic Safety Mechanism Is ... (1)

JWSmythe (446288) | more than 4 years ago | (#30472640)

    They wouldn't stop anyone who was determined to get in, BUT they would slow them down. The general idea was that in the event that one person went a bit mad, they couldn't launch by themselves. There's always someone handy to stop you. I think the more important part of the buddy system was that you always had someone to talk to. Down in a hole all alone, you're more likely to lose it.

      Then again, I used to spend hours on end in datacenters by myself. No windows, no idea of how the outside world looked, and very frequently no cell phone service. (not blocked, but not good because of all the metal and electronic noise or location of the facility). It gets lonely, and if the only thing I had to do was wait for a phone call that said "nuke someone", I probably would have lost it. I talked to my servers, and they (in their own way) talked to me. :)

Re:And the Futuristic Safety Mechanism Is ... (1)

ArsenneLupin (766289) | more than 4 years ago | (#30473362)

Then again, I used to spend hours on end in datacenters by myself. No windows,

Lucky you! Must other datacenter dwellers must confront Bill's abomination daily...

Re:And the Futuristic Safety Mechanism Is ... (1)

JWSmythe (446288) | more than 4 years ago | (#30473768)

    Hehe. Not quite what I meant, but still true. Unless you count X on my laptop. :)

Re:And the Futuristic Safety Mechanism Is ... (1)

berwiki (989827) | more than 4 years ago | (#30472796)

the safe wasnt designed to be impenetrable, but "rated to resist forced entry for five minutes." (per the flickr description).

I guess the army determined that after 5 minutes of hacking away with your sledge, someone would come to see what the fuss was about.

Re:And the Futuristic Safety Mechanism Is ... (1)

PPH (736903) | more than 4 years ago | (#30476514)

I guess the army determined that after 5 minutes of hacking away with your sledge, someone would come to see what the fuss was about.

But the only 'someone' around is your partner, who's neck you have just broken. You now have 24 hours (maybe) and the free run of the place. There are inevitably check in procedures and possibly some surveillance equipment so that a rogue crewman could be detected sooner. But how long would it take for the inevitable security team to get through the blast doors and neutralize you?

Re:And the Futuristic Safety Mechanism Is ... (1)

0123456 (636235) | more than 4 years ago | (#30473944)

Aren't these the people who, according to a previous Slashdot story, set the launch codes to all zeros just in case they lost the keys?

Re:And the Futuristic Safety Mechanism Is ... (1)

idontgno (624372) | more than 4 years ago | (#30474542)

No, they set the launch code to "1,2,3,4,5". Just like my luggage.

Re:And the Futuristic Safety Mechanism Is ... (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30476268)

I was trained while in the US Navy to protect nuclear weapons. We had two-person control. We were also armed with Colt .45s. 1 each. Two guards stood watch at 1 entrance. If there was another entrance, two more guards were posted. Anyone entering had to have two-person control, be on the access list, have a valid reason for being in the area to perform work signed off by the Weapons Officer, XO and CO (if not even a few more persons).

Anyone believed to be causing harm to the weapons or interfering with the guards to prevent them from doing their duties was to be shot. Dead. The guards had that authority.

It was a responsibility we all took very seriously. If maintenance had to be performed on a weapon or equipment protecting the weapon all persons signing off were usually present to oversee the maintenance that was taking place. And, two more armed guards were used to be present in the area where maintenance was performed. They also knew how to perform the maintenance themselves so no funny stuff could be performed.

Something tells me that those keys were kept in a safe place and only above that cabinet for display. If someone brought a 20 lb sledge near one of my weapons, my other guard and myself would have drawn weapons and *aimed* at that person. If they refused to put down the sledge and made motions to the effect that they intend to harm the weapon or equipment protecting the weapons I would have shot them dead. I would not have lost any sleep over the matter.

All that being said, two-person control is a major pain in the ass and it is designed to be. It ensures, as much as feasibly possible, that the people involved treat the weapons, equipment and personnel protecting the weapons with the highest regard because failure to protect the weapons constitutes an immediate and grave danger to the United States and its people.

Re:And the Futuristic Safety Mechanism Is ... (1)

Blakey Rat (99501) | more than 4 years ago | (#30476538)

I joke but human redundancy is probably your best bet and pretty reassuring considering I've seen Dr. Strangelove twenty times or so.

On the 19th viewing of Dr. Strangelove, human redundancy isn't your best bet. Apparently? (I don't see how the beginning of the sentence relates to the end of it.)

Water (5, Funny)

NoYob (1630681) | more than 4 years ago | (#30472366)

. Jets at the bottom of the silo spray water at the exhaust flames during a launch to create steam, which dampens the massive sound and vibration created by the engines, preventing damage to the missile surface as it leaves the silo

So, all we'd have to do is turn off the valve from the pond that says "DON'T TURN OFF!" and the missile will ruin itself on launch.

Da?

Good Read. (1)

Servaas (1050156) | more than 4 years ago | (#30472442)

The thing that speaks to me while reading stories like this is how far we have actually managed to get, in a relatively short period of time. At one point both were stockpiling nuke upon nuke and then it all went away to what it is today.

Re:Good Read. (5, Insightful)

Shakrai (717556) | more than 4 years ago | (#30472570)

At one point both were stockpiling nuke upon nuke and then it all went away to what it is today.

For better or worse they've kept the peace. We haven't had to contend with anything larger than a brush fire war since WW2. WW2 claimed 60,000,000+ lives. WW1 took another 37,000,000. Nuclear weapons are the primary reason that there hasn't been a WW3.

That's one of the reasons why I think those that talk of a future without nuclear weapons must have slept through history class. Get rid of nuclear weapons (not that you really could but for the sake of the argument...) and it's only a matter of time before mankind fights another industrialized global conflict. It's only a matter of time before an arms race breaks out that would make the Cold War look like a peace conference by comparison.

Re:Good Read. (1)

timeOday (582209) | more than 4 years ago | (#30472666)

I agree, but on the other hand the next world war won't be 37M dead or even 60M, it will be billions. Nuclear war raises the stakes. It decreases the frequency of all-out conflict, but is it enough to offset the added cost of that conflict? It's an un-answered question; the fact that we've managed not to annihilate ourselves for a whole 60 years now isn't saying that much.

If you have never watched The Fog of War [imdb.com] (Robert McNamara), you must. One of the things I learned was that the Cuban Missile Crisis was very nearly The End. It truly could have come out either way. So in a sense, the "expected value" of casualties due to the Cold War is about 40% of however many would have died. You can say it makes no sense to talk about probabilities in retrospect, but does winning Russian Roulette justify playing it in the first place?

Of course, none of this really matters unless somebody finds a way to "un-invent" nukes, which isn't happening anytime soon.

Re:Good Read. (4, Informative)

Shakrai (717556) | more than 4 years ago | (#30472810)

Even if the Cuban Missile Crisis had gone hot it wouldn't have been the "end" of the human race nor even the United States. At that point in time the Soviet Union only had a handful of nuclear weapons that could reach the United States. That was one of the reasons they sought to station missiles in Cuban -- to even out the odds. We had hundreds of warheads that could reach the Soviet Union. They had a few dozen that could reach the United States. They could hurt us really badly -- but we could utterly obliterate them.

There's a good alternate history scenario that I once upon a time that posits a Soviet first strike on Washington that takes out Kennedy, Johnson and most of the civilian leadership. In so doing the Soviet Union seals it's own doom -- Kennedy might have ordered a measured strike in response but without him around the military implements the SIOP [wikipedia.org] and proceeds to completely destroy the Soviet Union.

Khrushchev knew about this disadvantage and it no doubt played a part in his decision to back down. The fact that we offered him a behind the scenes deal to dismantle our similar missile installation in Turkey also helped.

Anyway, who knows what the next war will look like, if there even is one. It's entirely possible that we could fight another major war without anybody using them. I don't regard it as likely but there is a precedent for it. Most of the major combatants in WW2 had poison gas programs but none of them dared to use them against each other. The only time gas was used was against countries (China) that lacked the means to retaliate. Right up until the bitter end neither the Germans nor Japanese decided to use their chemical weapons.

Re:Good Read. (1)

smallfries (601545) | more than 4 years ago | (#30473216)

[citation needed]

Just about everywhere. The Soviets had plenty of ICBMs by the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis. The advantage of stationing missiles in Cuba was the reduction in flight-time and the corrosponding reduction in reaction-time that would prove an advantage in a first-strike.

Re:Good Read. (4, Informative)

Shakrai (717556) | more than 4 years ago | (#30473488)

No, actually they didn't [encyclopedia.com]:

Khrushchev, the Soviet leader, read U.S. weakness in the Bay of Pigs fiasco, and blustered publicly that he might retaliate by driving the U.S. out of West Berlin. U.S. President John Kennedy, in return, openly boasted that the U.S. possessed many more (and more accurate and deliverable) nuclear missiles and warheads than the U.S.S.R., and would consider striking first with them if it ever found itself at a military disadvantage. Kennedy's claim was true; in 1962, the U.S.S.R. had at most 20 or 30—perhaps as few as four — functional, deployed intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs); the U.S. had several hundred. Nevertheless, Kennedy had claimed, during his presidential campaign, that the incumbent Eisenhower's administration had allowed the Soviets to get ahead of the U.S. in missiles, causing a "missile gap." A missile gap did exist, as Kennedy knew, but in reverse; it had always been the U.S. that was far ahead of the U.S.S.R. in such weapons. Once in office, Kennedy dropped the old story about the "missile gap" and brandished the United States's nuclear superiority openly against Khrushchev.

Re:Good Read. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30474262)

Those numbers make it pretty clear who started the arms race and who the aggressor was during the Cold War.

Re:Good Read. (4, Informative)

Shakrai (717556) | more than 4 years ago | (#30474644)

Only if you look at them in a vacuum. When you consider the size of the Red Army and Soviet violations of their wartime agreements with the Western Allies the picture becomes more balanced. The Soviet Union had more men under arms than all of the Western Allies combined. Until relatively late in the Cold War it was believed that any Soviet attack on Western Europe would quickly overwhelm Allied defenses and the only two options available would be surrender or the nuclear option.

The disparity in conventional forces was the key factor in many decisions made by the Allies. It was the main reason they allowed the West Germans to rearm -- they needed German manpower to help offset the Soviet advantage. It was the main reason the Western Allies poured so many resources into advanced weapons systems and technology. It was the main reason that the Western Allies invested in nuclear weapons the way they did.

Ever heard of Operation Unthinkable [neu.edu]? It was a British General Staff study made at Churchill's detailing the odds facing the Western Allies in a war against the Soviet Union and the ability to conduct an offensive against them. It shows the odds facing the Allies quite clearly. Consider that context along with the Soviet actions in Eastern Europe and it becomes much easier to understand the choices made by the Western Allies after WW2.

Re:Good Read. (1)

smallfries (601545) | more than 4 years ago | (#30475518)

Much rarer [citation provided].

I stand corrected. Thanks for the link, there is a wealth of interesting material out there on the "missile gap" in the early 60s that I had not come across.

Re:Good Read. (4, Informative)

LWATCDR (28044) | more than 4 years ago | (#30474750)

No they didn't The ones that they had where not very practical.
That is one reason why the Eisenhower pushed so hard to not go nuts building ICBMs because we had more than we needed.
The SS-6 Which had just gone on alert in 1959 took two days to get ready to launch and was easy to notice. The USSR had four on alert in 1962. http://www.globalsecurity.org/wmd/world/russia/r-7.htm [globalsecurity.org]
It's replacement the SS-8 didn't enter service until 1965. http://www.globalsecurity.org/wmd/world/russia/r-9.htm [globalsecurity.org]
The only bomber that could really reach the US was the Bear but they where few and the US Air Defenses where actually pretty good at that time. The M-4 could only reach the US on a one way trip and the USSR didn't make many of them. They did use them a lot for propaganda.
The Bager was a good bomber but the USSR lacked forward bases for them so they where only really a threat to Europe, Japan, and US naval forces.
So the USSR really had only 4 ICBMs that might hit the US and those took a very long time to launch. They did have around 100 Bears and maybe 20 Bisons that could have reached the US but how many would have gotten through the almost completely intact US Air Defensives is up for debate.
At the time of Cuban Missile Crisis the US several delevery systems that could threaten the USSR.
The B-52 fleet was still a real threat.
The B-47 fleet while winding down where still active and could hit the USSR from their forward bases.
The B-58 was active and could hit the USSR as well.
The Atlas was in service.
32 Atlas Ds
32 Atlas Es
80 Atlas Fs http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SM-65_Atlas#Service_history [wikipedia.org]
There was around 60 Titan Is in service, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HGM-25A_Titan_I [wikipedia.org]
The US has a massive advantage in Bombers and ICBMs at that time.
In the area of SLBM the US had just about as big of an advantage
And the Polaris was in service and the US had 9 SSBNs in service http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Washington_class_submarine [wikipedia.org] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethan_Allen_class_submarine [wikipedia.org]
The USSR had 21 Golf class SSBs and 8 Hotel SSBNs So the USSR had a 3 to 1 advantage in the number of boats but that doesn't really tell the whole story.
The USSR's SLBM was the R-13 which had a range of less the 400 miles. Not only that but the Subs had to surface to launch and it took up 10 minutes to launch. The math gets worse for the USSR because each sub only carried 3 R-13s. So the USSR could only threaten coastal areas of the US and had to surface within 300 miles of the coast of the US to launch. The Hotel class was very loud and had very low performance and reliability issues. The Golf was not nuclear so it had to snorkel often. The US ASW forces at the time where the best in the world and I doubt that they would averaged even once shot each.
The US force was composed of all nuclear boats. They had much higher performance than the Hotel class. When you look at the missile things really start to shift for in the direction of the US. The US boats carried 16 Polaris missiles. The A-1 had a range of over 1000 miles and could be launched while the sub stayed submerged. So while they USSR had three times the number of boats the US boats carried five times as many missiles and they had three times the range. There are reports that they warheads on the Polaris may not have not been reliable but thank goodness we will never found out.
The simple fact is that the US had a huge advantage and the USSR was really trying to bluff their way into Cuba so they could have a real threat to the US.
And this is leaving uncounted the other strike options the US had.
The tactical aircraft in Germany, Japan, and Korea.
The 60 Thor IRBMs in England.
The 30 Jupiter IRBMs in Italy.
The 15 Jupiter IRBMs in Turkey.
The Regulus cruise missile submarines.
And the US carrier forces that could conduct nuclear strikes.
The USSR could have eliminated a good number of those forces with a first strike but some I am sure would have survived to hit back as well.

Re:Good Read. (1)

Wyatt Earp (1029) | more than 4 years ago | (#30475162)

Billions? Naw, if I remember correctly the US estimates were 120-150 million dead here and 110-130 million dead in the USSR.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_warfare#Potential_consequences_of_a_regional_nuclear_war [wikipedia.org]

"A study presented at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union in December 2006 asserted that even a small-scale, regional nuclear war could produce as many direct fatalities as all of World War I and disrupt the global climate for a decade or more. In a regional nuclear conflict scenario in which two opposing nations in the subtropics each used 50 Hiroshima-sized nuclear weapons (ca. 15 kiloton each) on major populated centers, the researchers estimated fatalities from 2.6 million to 16.7 million per country."

If there was an all out global nuclear war, coastal US, Rust Belt US, population centers of Europe would be gone. Middle Eastern capital cities, eastern China and South Asian capitals and population centers would be gone. So maybe a 700-850 million dead from the exchange, maybe another 500-1,000 dead over a year. But global nuclear wars won't happen, the US/Russia/France/UK/China don't have the deployed warheads anymore to do that.

Figure slightly higher ratios for western Europe, eastern China due to population density.

http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=940&page=207 [nap.edu]
http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=940&page=219 [nap.edu]

Remember that a good chunk of warheads are aimed at the other side's missiles, airfields and C3 complexes, for Russian/PRC missiles coming our way, that means a good percentage of warheads are going for the Dakotas, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado and boomer ports like Seattle/Everett, Jacksonville/Kings Bay.

Takes 2-3 Russian warheads to account for a silo like the Minuteman III silos in North Dakota and Montana, so for the 450 missiles out there, 900-1250 Russian warheads are coming, thats a nice chunk of what they have to throw.

The Chinese and DPRK don't have enough warheads to destroy the US/Russian first and second strike capability, so in an exchange with them, they'd be aiming at cities in the US/Russia while the US/Russia would be looking to first strike missiles and C3 nodes.

Re:Good Read. (2, Informative)

alen (225700) | more than 4 years ago | (#30474156)

to be fair WW1 and WW2 were just another in the long line of European wars going back to the founding of the Holy Roman Empire when the French conquered most of Germany. short time later a bunch of French conquered England and then went to war with the rest of France for the next few hundred years.

the French, Germans and English have been fighting each other on a regular schedule for hundreds of years. after the Spanish drove out the Moors the Spanish added themselves to the regular conflicts. When the Russians became a unified nation they added themselves as well and the sides changed every so often as former allies went to war and then became allies again. for a while the English and the French were bitter enemies for hundreds of years until the mid 1800's when the allied themselves against Prussia and the new nation of Germany

i've read that if you extrapolate the casualties of the 30 Years War to modern population numbers than it was a lot more destructive than WW2.

with the EU and other global organizations we seem to have broken the cycle for now

Re:Good Read. (1)

Wyatt Earp (1029) | more than 4 years ago | (#30475992)

Except for WWII wasn't just a European war. In Asia and the Pacific there was a world war going on at the same time that had nothing to do with European politics. WW II was a global war pitting imperial powers against imperial powers, socialists against communists, imperialists against socialists and industrial powers against industrial powers.

Re:Good Read. (2, Insightful)

hey! (33014) | more than 4 years ago | (#30474562)

For better or worse they've kept the peace.

So far.

When making projections for the success of this strategy it's important to remember how successful it *has* to be. On the issue of *using* nuclear weapons as opposed to be *having the ability to threaten* with them, it has to be 100% effective for a very, very long time before we can take the inevitable first failure and say, "well, on balance it was worth it."

We're making gross simplifications when we say that nuclear weapons helped us "keep the peace". It's too much to reduce the last sixty years of history to The Bomb. It was a huge part of that history, but not the only thing going on. That's the advantage of having *lived* that history as opposed to having *read* about it. What you get in history class is a neat, boiled down summation of a very messy and complicated process.

There were other things going on that probably were prerequisites to the general success of Mutually Assured Destruction as a peace keeping strategy. We can't be entirely sure which ones were critical; or if it weren't some kind of critical aggregation of circumstances.

What I worry about his the human ability to adapt to any situation. The prospect of nuclear holocaust was novel. Now it's not any longer. I'm not sure all the players who are pursuing The Bomb are all that horrified by the prospect of using it. Regional players may count on knocking out their rivals before they can become unassailable -- that's what drove the big arms race between the US and the USSR, but sooner or later somebody will get the upper hand against their bitter enemy.

And once the human race survives it's first war in which most of the damage was done by nuclear weapons (unlike WW2 in which The Bomb was an exclamation point at the end), it'll be much more ready to accept another one.

Re:Good Read. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30476600)

You play too much Call of Duty!

This is a well-written, thoughtful article (3, Insightful)

mantis2009 (1557343) | more than 4 years ago | (#30472444)

An article this excellent is rare enough that it deserves special recognition. Thanks to the author for taking this trip to the middle of nowhere, and relating the experience so lucidly, that I feel almost like I was there myself.

Re:This is a well-written, thoughtful article (2, Interesting)

Cragen (697038) | more than 4 years ago | (#30472606)

Having been stationed on a USAF missle base (mumble) years ago, and having toured such a missle site, I remember it being just as weird to me that these guys in the missle crews had to spend days or weeks in the middle of nowhere at these missle sites. There was a central place for a few crews to eat and sleep between shifts. I always wondered what it would have felt like to be sitting there eating and realize all the missiles were lifting into space. Thankfully that never happened.

Soviet Union (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30472540)

"fueled and ready to be launched toward the Soviet Union on a few minutes notice."

So what if the Limeys decided to get some revenge for 1776? Or those goddam sneaky cheese-eating rat-bastard French?

Re:Soviet Union (1)

NoYob (1630681) | more than 4 years ago | (#30472600)

"fueled and ready to be launched toward the Soviet Union on a few minutes notice."

So what if the Limeys decided to get some revenge for 1776? Or those goddam sneaky cheese-eating rat-bastard French?

Considering our current economic state and budget train wreck, I think the English are thinking "Bloody hell! We sure dodged that one!"

Anyway, why would anyone want to attacks us? We're on a road to self destruction - we're doing it to ourselves.

Re:Soviet Union (2, Interesting)

benjamindees (441808) | more than 4 years ago | (#30473084)

Extremely aggressive people are ironically suicidal most of the time. Personally, I think you would have to be to sign up for most military services. I would say that it's not that most of them have any particular grievance or target or political view, but that they have a need to lash out at something, even themselves.

A competent defense will take this into account. It's the philosophy behind Judo, for instance. Take your attacker's weaknesses into account. The fragility of his determination to do himself good rather than merely to do someone harm, and the mistakes this creates, is definitely a weakness.

The USSR's failure in Afghanistan is a textbook example. As is Hitler's opening the Eastern front and marching into the Russian winter. But it's deeper than just a strategic blunder. Consider the Stockholm syndrome, current suicides in the US armed forces, hell even Vietnam. Many aggressors will completely give up and psychologically join the other side at the slightest sign of resistance. In fact I imagine it's a useful evolutionary trait to run towards the victor in any conflict. But aggressors also often don't think through the consequences of their actions until it's too late, at which point cognitive dissonance sets in and they become regretful and despondent. It's easy to see how this individual trait can express itself at a national level, especially in a democracy. A nation can march itself right off a cliff in order to spite an enemy, almost as easily as an individual.

Obama Bi den -- coincidence or not, this example is just too eerie to ignore.

Personally, I'm not sure I agree that cold war spending risked the US in a significant way. We did a passable job of making defense investments as dual-use as possible. As wasteful as much of it was, America still has significant resources. I am however concerned about the social and legal changes that such a massive collective effort brought about in American society.

Re:Soviet Union (1)

iluvcapra (782887) | more than 4 years ago | (#30475142)

A nation can march itself right off a cliff in order to spite an enemy, almost as easily as an individual. Obama Bi den -- coincidence or not, this example is just too eerie to ignore. ... I am however concerned about the social and legal changes that such a massive collective effort brought about in American society.

You sound like Noam Chomsky in 2003, mutatis mutandis -- and he was probably just as "correct". This claptrap about the great nation falling on her sword at the height of her power is a lazy rhetorical fallacy of an opposition, an attempt on their part (regardless of their party) to wash their hands of their nation's "sins" and to assert their moral superiority.

That's really all you're saying: the outcome of our free and fair elections are not a symbol of our strength as a nation, but of our people's decadence and our imperial decline. I disagree with the way our country is going, but instead of taking responsibility for the actions my country takes one way or the other, my nation's mistakes are symptomatic of an INCONTROVERTABLE HISTORICAL PROCESS that harkens our nation's end. So all I really have to do is stockpile canned goods and bullets.

It's like your're taking Marx's Theory of Historical Dialectic and using it in service of Ron Paul.

Not classified, not secret, don't worry (2, Informative)

FranTaylor (164577) | more than 4 years ago | (#30472628)

My cousin was one of those guys with the keys and a gun and a buddy for many years. He's retired now and shares the stories at family reunions. He was a colonel so I'm sure he knows exactly what he can and cannot talk about. What's even better are his stories about winter life in rural North Dakota.

This stuff has been out in the open for years.

Re:Not classified, not secret, don't worry (2, Interesting)

ArsenneLupin (766289) | more than 4 years ago | (#30473720)

He was a colonel so I'm sure he knows exactly what he can and cannot talk about.

My ex-brother-in-law was the guy who sunk the Rainbow warrior (he who actually fixed the limpet-mine to the boat). Didn't stop him from boasting about it to his family as soon as he was back from the mission. At that point in time it wasn't even yet publicly known that it was a French secret op, so I'm pretty much sure that he wasn't supposed to talk about it. Yes, "secret" agents are only human too, and might be more loose-lipped than they should...

Re:Not classified, not secret, don't worry (1)

FranTaylor (164577) | more than 4 years ago | (#30474332)

You don't know my cousin. He was the prototype when they invented the word "conservative". He also left out a lot of details.

And from above . . . (3, Interesting)

PolarIced (119874) | more than 4 years ago | (#30472684)

Great article. As someone who grew up in Cheyenne, WY near F.E. Warren AFB (an AFB without planes or a landing strip - you can guess the mission) the details of these monsters have always fascinated me. I'd hear stories from my friends whose dads worked either as the missile capsule crews themselves or were maintenance personnel.

If Slashdot readers are flying in and out of Denver International Airport (or any area around CO, NE, WY) you can look out the window and see the launch facilities from the air. Amid the farm lands and country roads, you can look down and see an outcrop of buildings and maybe a quonset hut or two, and then a separate concrete reinforced pad maybe a hundred yards away; the whole area carefully fenced. You can tell they don't quite fit in with everything else. The number of them is startling. Yeah, in fact a little scary. But the author is correct when he states that in the (then) USSR they had the exact same thing pointing at us. Gives me the willies still.

Re:And from above . . . (1)

WinterSolstice (223271) | more than 4 years ago | (#30473434)

You say it past tense... the fact remains, all sides are *still* prepared for all out war.

The difference now is that countries like North Korea and Iran think they'll somehow survive it. The long detente between the massive powers resulted in a long term truce and the wars were fought in little puppet skirmishes.

Now we face a world where there are a LOT of people capable of setting off a massive war, and there is no single large target. Just tons of scattered small targets.

These silos are dark because that was the 'old' way - the new way is faster, more efficient, and far more dangerous.

Re:And from above . . . (1)

umghhh (965931) | more than 4 years ago | (#30475154)

MAD function only if both sides are assured of mutual destruction and there are no maniacs involved. The first part funtions also because the world in which we all live - earth would become very unattractive if US/USSR all out war took place. However if a maniac in small country A drops its bomb on small country B and annihilates it in a process the remaining forces of country B can then annihilate country A. The boss of country A lives in a nice place somewhere else. In this scenario - personal ambition of a maniac may cause use of nuclear weapons even if cost of it would be high. OTOH they can hope that they succeed i.e. country B will not answer. What if Iran attacks US with one bomb - US is not completely destroyed - do you think US forces will use nuclear weapons against Iran then? This is unknown - so they may assume that corrupt west is just all soft belly and do whatever they want as the possession of nuclear heads gives them advantage they did not have. On top of it all - maniacs can have skewed goals and hierarchy of values which allow them to accept nuclear disaster anyway. I'd say bomb them now before is too late.

Re:And from above . . . (1)

WinterSolstice (223271) | more than 4 years ago | (#30476052)

While I don't agree with the 'bomb them before it's too late' theory, we agree about MAD.

That was the old way. The new way is limited high-speed tactical retaliation using standard munitions. Considering the threat posed to a small player (like NK) by even a single Carrier Group showing up in the Sea of Japan, I consider the new method to be very different than the old.

The threat of mass nuclear proliferation ('Global Thermo-Nuclear War' How about a nice game of Chess?) is less likely. The threat of nuclear war is probably far more likely, though... just because as you (and some random AC) pointed out, there are so many more people running around with nukes. World destroying? Probably not. Insanely dangerous? Yes.

Re:And from above . . . (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30475616)

Now we face a world where there are a LOT of people capable of setting off a massive war, and there is no single large target. Just tons of scattered small targets.

The long detente between the massive powers means that if Iran smuggles one out to pop off at us, we'll call Putin, and he'll give us the green light to flatten the place, as long as he gets a cut of the resources when they stops glowing. Ditto for North Korea; we get rid of a thorn in China's side, and either China leaves Taiwan be, or China wipes out North Korea on our behalf in exchange for Taiwan.

It'll suck for anyone in the city that got nuked, but the guys who started it won't survive, and civilization (for lack of a better word, "the massive powers") will. The tsunami of a few years back did several nukes' worth of property damage to the Asian coastline, and Katrina's damage was comparable to a series of nuclear strikes along the Gulf coast. Superpower economies have the ability to bounce back from limited strikes. Tinpot bit-player economies don't.

(Asymmetrical warfare works for the bad guys if, and only if, they can get us to spend more beating them than it's worth. We (and the Russians before us) lost in Afghanistan, and we lost in Iraq, because we tried to occupy the place, not merely obliterate it. Occupations take years; obliterations - even with conventional weapons - take months. In the case of a hypothetical NK or Iranian strike, the goal wouldn't be occupation/pacification of a remaining population, because there wouldn't be any population left to pacify.)

Re:And from above . . . (2, Informative)

smellsofbikes (890263) | more than 4 years ago | (#30475592)

Great article. As someone who grew up in Cheyenne, WY near F.E. Warren AFB (an AFB without planes or a landing strip - you can guess the mission) the details of these monsters have always fascinated me. I'd hear stories from my friends whose dads worked either as the missile capsule crews themselves or were maintenance personnel.

If Slashdot readers are flying in and out of Denver International Airport (or any area around CO, NE, WY) you can look out the window and see the launch facilities from the air. Amid the farm lands and country roads, you can look down and see an outcrop of buildings and maybe a quonset hut or two, and then a separate concrete reinforced pad maybe a hundred yards away; the whole area carefully fenced. You can tell they don't quite fit in with everything else. The number of them is startling. Yeah, in fact a little scary. But the author is correct when he states that in the (then) USSR they had the exact same thing pointing at us. Gives me the willies still.

As someone who grew up in part in northern Colorado, and ran across several missile silos while out on horseback or mountain biking, I'd like to point out that Warren AFB has helicopters, lots and lots of helicopters, and I've been told they show up in a hurry if you spend too much time poking about a missile silo because of the rash of anti-missile protests in the '80's. Warren *does* have a landing strip, actually: the WWI flying ace Eddie Rickenbacher wrecked a plane there once in the 1920's. But AFAIK it hasn't been used in 40 years.

If anyone is bored, here's a list of coordinates for known ICBM sites [siloworld.com] in the US. Here's satellite photography of a silo I found while out riding horses [google.com]. It's empty. There was a silo you could tour at Greeley's Missile Silo Park [poudretrail.org] but from what I've heard, the tornado two years ago ripped up all the above-ground stuff, including the museum, so it might not be all that interesting now.

A Nuclear Family Vacation (4, Interesting)

necro81 (917438) | more than 4 years ago | (#30472728)

Those who are interested to read more about the global nuclear complex are encouraged to read a recent book A Nuclear Family Vacation [nuclearvacation.com]. It is written by a husband-wife duo, both of which are professional writers/journalists, both with a professional focus in defense. They spent a number of family vacations visiting landmarks of nuclear significance: the Trinity Test Site, Nevada Test Site, Oak Ridge, Kwajalein atoll, Cheney's "undisclosed location" bunker, Cheyenne Mountain, a Soviet test site in Kazakhstan, a Soviet secret city (like Los Alamos), and even eventually visited Iran's enrichment facility near Isfahan. Along the way, aside from the basic travelogue reporting of what's there, they reflect a bit on the enormity of the whole system, how it worked, and the miracle that we're still alive. They also discuss the current state and future of the US nuclear arsenal, the reliable replacement warhead program, and point out that there are still plenty of nukes out there, and Armageddon is still only about 30 minutes away.

Re:A Nuclear Family Vacation (2, Funny)

sheehaje (240093) | more than 4 years ago | (#30474710)

As a positive of visiting all these sites to write their book, they also now glow in the dark and can heat their food without a microwave.

co-ed (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30472802)

What is missing from the story is when they went coed and the subsequent shenanigans that resulted. It was more luck and fear than the 2-man rule that saved us from nuclear annihilation. Also, the security really wasn't that great. They were in the middle of NO-WHERE, on the corner of desert and empty. Even so, people sent to "exercise" the protection mechanisms got pretty far.

Did anyone actually ever test the "one man inside goes bad" scenario? I expect not, or if so, they buried the results, because the probable outcome to that would have scared too many people. I.e. he shoots his buddy, opens the doors, and lets in his accomplice(s).

Re:co-ed (1)

couchslug (175151) | more than 4 years ago | (#30473072)

"I expect not, or if so, they buried the results, because the probable outcome to that would have scared too many people. I.e. he shoots his buddy, opens the doors, and lets in his accomplice(s)."

Still no launch, and the loss of a missile or few was an acceptable risk.

When one is prepared to sustain millions of dead in a nuclear exchange, so what if a missile burns in a silo without launching or detonating?

Re:co-ed (1)

WinterSolstice (223271) | more than 4 years ago | (#30473514)

I would expect that they tested it quite often. That's one of the biggest fears of the military mindset - what if one person blinks?

Just as a guess - they were probably far more worried that one man *wouldn't* launch when told to, rather than would try to launch solo. I think they usually included a massive fudge factor in their missile launch simulations, assuming that x percent of missiles wouldn't launch for whatever reason.

If the one man goes bad and tries to launch scenario had been even a remote issue, don't you think the KGB would have tried? They probably tried to get in those quite a few times (and I'm sure we tried to do the same). I doubt it was as simple as all that - for one thing, I suspect nobody truly knew which codes controlled the launch and which were bogus/invalid. That order probably had to come from remote.

Re:co-ed (4, Informative)

Sanat (702) | more than 4 years ago | (#30474680)

Spent 8 years in SAC at ICBM sites on a Combat Targeting Team... we optically aimed the missiles using a theodolite and programmed in the targets and the methods of arriving at the target, as well as the war plans.

If a launch control facility (LCF) did go rogue for some purpose then another LCF would simply "Inhibit" the launch thus preventing it from actually launching. Another safe guard.

Also all members were under the AF 35-7 which was the manual pertaining to human reliability. As an example our team (three man team) had to work together and know each other and if anything seemed to become out of kilter then it was reported for upper staff to review... as an example, one of the guys on my team's wife started talking about leaving him and so he was put on duty in the office until he was evaluated as being "OK".

This was to prevent the stress of a personal relationship of any kind from affecting the work being performed. How often do we hear about someone filing for divorce and the other spouse goes postal... it prevented that kind of thing when dealing from issues of money, family issues, alcohol issues and etc. There was no limit as to what could appear to impact a person and we took it seriously.

Also we each were armed with a side gun to prevent someone from violating the two-man concept spoken about in the article and on some other posts here.

I personally assist in the posturing of missiles at Malmstom, Minot, Whiteman and Grand Forks AFB then was transfered to Vandenburg to assist in launches there.

Each SAC base had a team of experts who evaluated each task that was performed to see that it was completed according to the appropriate technical manual. Also Vandenberg had a special group (3905) that not only evaluated the experts but also the regular staff at all levels again to ensure proficiency and standardization across the various bases.

It was hard work but it was fun too. Sort of like the work we do today.

Re:co-ed (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30474992)

PRP was an annoyance, but it was/is necessary to make sure that everyone involved with the nukes, from the maintainers, to the missileers, to the security police had at the very minimum a high level of situational sanity. I miss the excitement of the job sometimes, but I don't miss having to report taking an aspirin to the higher ups. Modded the thread, hence the AC.

Re:co-ed (1)

SBrach (1073190) | more than 4 years ago | (#30474916)

It's not like they had a wood door with a deadbolt. They were locked in an underground bunker with 8ft thick concrete walls and multiple 3ft thick steel blast doors. They were not going to let their "friends" inside.

More on Titan I (3, Interesting)

flattop100 (624647) | more than 4 years ago | (#30473154)

I'd like to point you all to the Titan I Epitaph website: http://www.chromehooves.net/Titan_Epitaph_main.htm [chromehooves.net] . It's 2 parts urban exploring, 2 parts history, and a surprising amount of original technical documentation (including a "guidebook for the planning, construction, phasing, systems integration, installation and checkout, turnover and activation of the operational Titan I complexes and their support facilities"). If you've got an afternoon to waste, you won't be disappointed.

Good thing... (1)

Vexler (127353) | more than 4 years ago | (#30473650)

I am so glad to hear that the toilet is *OUTSIDE* the "no lone zone".

"Is the Colonel's underwear a matter of national security?" - Lt. Kaffee, "A Few Good Men"

I am a Nuke Officer right now (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30473960)

All the policies that SAC (Strategic Air Command) enacted are still present in every day life of a Missileer (Those of us who still man underground silos). Mainly concepts like TPC (Two person concept) along with TPC (Two person control). Both of these allow us to operate in a very safe environment. The best time the public hears about nukes is when they don't hear about them.

Re:I am a Nuke Officer right now (1)

Sanat (702) | more than 4 years ago | (#30474930)

Thanks for the update... we called it two-man concept back in the 60's but now I see it is now a two-person concept.

If I may ask are women now doing the maintenance and the launch procedures also? At the time I was in it was only for males... no idea why that was so... maybe a hold over from WWII as there were many individuals there who flew B-29's and B-17's over targets during the war.

Lots of nice personal stories came out of those conversations when traveling two hours to a LF or LCF located a few miles from the Canadian border.

Also lots of medals on their blue blouses and one knew it was no picnic during the war and just because they were older and slower than us younger guys... we still had great respect for they were also wiser from the experiences of combat.

There was no security (1, Interesting)

bdsesq (515351) | more than 4 years ago | (#30474394)

We have all seen a movie where they take out a card with multiple lines of 20 digit numbers and two people have to read theirs before a strike is authorized.

Turns out they were so paranoid that ALL the launch number were zeros. Everyone in power was so afraid of not being able to launch that they decided to short circuit the security. This came out a few years after the US and Russia stood down their nukes.

Re:There was no security (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30475858)

You're confusing launch codes with PAL (Permissive Action Link) codes. PAL codes would have been used when the warhead was stacked onto the missile in the silo, not at launch time. PALs were meant to protect stored warheads, not live ones in the silos (it was thought to be easier for a stored warhead to go missing than one already attached to missile). But yeah, apparently a lot of the PAL codes were set to stupid values (all zeros was common). I've never heard a claim that launch codes were similarly mishandled.

More links, with photos. (3, Informative)

MtlDty (711230) | more than 4 years ago | (#30474418)

I love reading things like this, but the article desperately needed more photos in my opinion. This [phildorsett.com] is a nice page regarding the older Atlas launch silos, which are now decommissioned and (in this case) have private owners. This page [captainswoop.com] is a nice view of a Minuteman III launch facility, which are expected to be in operation until 2025.

You can tour a Minuteman missle complex... (2, Interesting)

pongo000 (97357) | more than 4 years ago | (#30474860)

...in South Dakota [nps.gov]. The cool thing is that the tours are small (6-8 people), and are led by folks who were actually in the bunkers when they were active. Fascinating stuff...like how the escape hatch actually led to a spot under the parking lot asphalt.

No one has ever actually been put to the test... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30475034)

I find it sort of hard to believe that no drills were ever conducted. The launch facilities are closed environments; the military could tell the workers there anything, and could lead them to believe that they needed to launch. This could be done with either the missile deactivated, or as part of a planned missile test with a dummy warhead.

What Security? Where is (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30475678)

President-VICE Richard B. Cheney?

Yours In Ashgabat,
Kilgore Trout

Clearing up some details. (2, Informative)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 4 years ago | (#30475734)

The authors discusses PALs and wonders about their absence. ICBM warheads were (and are) not equipped with PALs, because they are only required on weapons that may be exposed to capture or loss.
 
The authors mentions the security seems to "have a hard shell and a soft interior". That's because he discusses the veru visible security measures (meant to protect against external threats) but only briefly discusses the surety procedures (meant to protect against internal threats and unauthorized launches) and doesn't realize the full import of the latter. (The full details of the surety procedures are classified and are much more extensive than detailed in the article or in any public source.) I don't think he even realizes there is a difference between the two. I suspect, like the computer geeks I've seen here on Slashdot, that he's a little fuzzy on the difference between electronic (computer and network) security and security in the physical world.
 
Disclaimer: Yes, I am a former ICBM crewman - though I wore Navy blue rather than chair force blue.

I've been inside one of the abandoned sites! (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30475824)

I live within 4 miles of one of the Titan II sites in SE Arizona. They are up and down the1-10 and 1-19 freeway from Tucson. When they were decommissioned, the silos were filled with debris and cement and permanently disabled, the control rooms and Blast rooms were not. Many of the sites were sold to people who later covered them up. Some didn't do such a good job and I was able to find one that afforded access, although you had to shimmy down a small shaft about 30 feet to get to the Control center and the crew quarters. I wasn't the first to do this and there were some pics on flicker that were taken by other "explorers".

One of the things that struck me was the extreme solitude you got inside one of these. All of the instrumentation and most of the furnishings have long ago been stripped out. There were lots of electronic cabinets and a few desirable computer racks (including a nice DEC PDP rack I could have used for my PDP-11)

The Titan II ICBM's were large a liquid fueled and were extremely dangerous. The Titan II was used to launch the Gemini capsules in the 60's. There was a greater danger due to a hydrazine explosion (like the one one in Arkansas) than by a nuclear explosion. Still, I shudder to thing of a 9 megaton nuclear warhead parked 4 miles from my house...for 20 years!! The Titan II ICBM had the distinction of carrying the largest nuclear warhead by a missile...ever! Later the one big warhead were replaced by several smaller mirv warheads.

I remember after crawling through the access shaft and walking through the terrible dark control center and then using a ladder to get to the crew quarters, I could have imagined what it was to be working in one of these. Someone else had that feeling also and inscribed by one of the places where the bunks may have been, I saw this graffiti written on the cement wall of the bunker:

"You've just launched a motherfukin nuclear missile and started World War III and doomed mankind...It's Miller Time!"

You Fail IT.. (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30476556)

[idge.ne7]

No lone zones are not new (1)

plopez (54068) | more than 4 years ago | (#30476586)

Banks frequently have at least two people present when counting cash. For obvious reasons.

In a number of places where I have worked we usually had two people present when moving databases or critical software to production. It didn't matter i the person watching was a junior member of the team or not. Their role was to double check things, e.g. make sure current backups are available, the person doing the rollout was pointed at the correct server, the correct release version was being used.They could call out "stop" at any time if something didn't look OK.

I highly recommend it. It also doubles as a training session for the junior team members.

Often times your best tools are common sense and decent procedures.

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