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Launch Command Preserved In Power Failure, But Nuclear Designs Still Risky

timothy posted more than 3 years ago | from the look-we've-increased-and-decreased-risk dept.

The Military 167

With a follow-up to Tuesday's story, Martin Hellman writes "Slashdot reported that a system failure at Warren AFB in Wyoming affected 50 ICBMs and that 'various security protocols built into the missile delivery system, like intrusion alarms and warhead separation alarms, were offline.' Assuaging fears that America's nuclear deterrent might have been compromised during this failure, the source article notes that the missiles still could be launched from airborne command centers. Other reports cite an administration official offering assurances that 'at no time did the president's ability [to launch] decrease.' Given the difficulty of debugging software and hardware that is probably not a good thing. The history of nuclear command and control systems has too many examples of risky designs that favor the ability to launch over the danger of an accidental one."

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Why have them (2, Insightful)

baresi (950718) | more than 3 years ago | (#34055912)

Exaggerated threats from relatively weak entities. Questionable need in 1950 never mind 2010.

Re:Why have them (1)

blair1q (305137) | more than 3 years ago | (#34056060)

Questionable need in 1950 never mind 2010.

Then they worked, and are continuing to work.

Re:Why have them (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34056100)

This tiger-repelling rock worked then, and it works now: look, no tigers!

Re:Why have them (5, Insightful)

hedwards (940851) | more than 3 years ago | (#34056154)

That doesn't apply here. The difference is that there's no plausible reason why a rock would repel tigers. Especially since I'm assuming you aren't in a place where tigers are likely to come.

The point of nuclear weapons is to deter conflicts on the scale of the world wars from ever happening again, and so far they've done that admirably. They were never intended for the purpose of dealing with smaller scale outbreaks of violence even ones as large as the Iraq war.

Re:Why have them (3, Insightful)

blair1q (305137) | more than 3 years ago | (#34056260)

Well, nuclear ICBMs weren't, but we certainly did have programs to develop tactical nukes and even backpack bombs. But we decided for various reasons that we shouldn't be using nukes on that scale, and should just use them for when we have no alternatives and need the massive effect for which they are the only tool, and because they are a very thorough deterrent.

Re:Why have them (3, Informative)

Peeteriz (821290) | more than 3 years ago | (#34056574)

Nukes would definitely still be used for tactical purposes in any large-scale military conflict (which hasn't happened for quite a long time). NATO vs Russia, Russia vs China, China vs USA, India vs Pakistan, China vs India - if any of these pairs got into full-scale conflict, then definitely any tight grouping of 100.000+ soldiers+armor should fear a nuclear warhead, and such groupings would be inevitable.

Re:Why have them (4, Informative)

Pharmboy (216950) | more than 3 years ago | (#34056784)

then definitely any tight grouping of 100.000+ soldiers+armor should fear a nuclear warhead, and such groupings would be inevitable.

Wrong answer. No military is going to group 100k soldiers in an area that can taken out by a single warhead, and never would have. Ever. Even in WWII we were only able to kill 100k people by striking civilians. This is the whole reason you have multiple military bases, to distribute you capabilities and make it impossible for an enemy to take out a significant portion with a single strike. With the exception of training bases, military posts generally have less than 10k people, and often less than 5k people stationed there, for this exact reason. The remainder of the work force on a base are civilians.

And you won't see tactical nuclear weapons being used in the field likely ever, as that is the invisible line in the sand that would justify the enemy using nukes, perhaps on civilian targets. And there is no justification for using them against an enemy without nuclear capability. If an enemy used tactical nukes on us, we would still use them as a strategic weapon in retaliation, against fixed targets, not mobile troops. Even though we have them, tactical nuclear weapons make no sense, as they are solely a deterrent, a strategic weapon. Perhaps this is why they were all under SAC (Strategic Air Command) and not TAC (Tactical Air Command) during the Cold War, including all ICBMs (obviously excepting navel based warheads under the Nuclear Triad philosophy: Bombers, ICBMs, Submarines)

So, such groupings are not only NOT inevitable, they are highly unlikely as there is no tactical or strategic advantage to such a grouping, and tremendous risks.

Re:Why have them (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34057146)

No military is going to group 100k soldiers in an area that can taken out by a single warhead, and never would have.

Not willingly, but massed formations can be funneled into areas where nukes can be used on them more effectively; the 1980's version of the Hot Gates. Take a close look at the topography and forested areas of West Germany during the latest part cold war.

Yes, I have seen the big board.

Re:Why have them (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34057292)

...the invisible line in the sand that would justify the enemy using nukes...

is the use of chemical weapons.

Re:Why have them (1)

burkmat (1016684) | more than 3 years ago | (#34057726)

And you won't see tactical nuclear weapons being used in the field likely ever, as that is the invisible line in the sand that would justify the enemy using nukes, perhaps on civilian targets. And there is no justification for using them against an enemy without nuclear capability.

Remind me again how WWII ended for Hiroshima and Nagasaki?

Re:Why have them (1)

Rich0 (548339) | more than 3 years ago | (#34057902)

If the US launched an all-out strategic attack on an opponent, they would also launch tactical attacks on opponent military forces. It isn't like the ships at sea would stop fighting just because there is nobody left at home to fight for...

I think that this the logic behind tactical nuclear weapons. Plus, they give an army more options, and commanders always like having options.

Re:Why have them (4, Interesting)

Pharmboy (216950) | more than 3 years ago | (#34058124)

If the US launched an all-out strategic attack on an opponent

China? Russia? What do you think the odds are that we would be doing a First Strike against any nuclear power? Correct answer: Zero, nada, zip. This means they would be used as a second strike, which is by definition, strategic positioning of weaponry, and the founding idea behind the Nuclear Triad. They wouldn't be bombing boots on the ground in China, too much chance for collateral damage, and the real goodies aren't even the soldiers (which can be handily taken care of with conventional weapons.) The real goodies are infrastructure. If the shit were literally to hit the fan and you have to second strike (as I discount ALL possibilities of a first strike by the US), you nuke dams, power plants, nuclear facilities, military installations, and maybe even factories and shipyards. Yes, soldiers would die, but the real target is infrastructure. If China landed troops on the west coast, tactical nuclear wouldn't be an option except as a hail mary. You don't piss in your own chili that way.

While the Geneva Convention is against it, the most effective way is to nuke rice patties making them unusable for years, literally starving the troops. Same reason for bombing dams, to destroy the ability to feed themselves as arable land is now flooded with radiation and washed away in the resulting flood. Then, I'm not exactly a huge fan of the idea of "rules" of war. Seems pointless since one side always ignores, and the other side always cheats when they can. If you notice, every war since all the rules have been put in place has been a long slogging battle with more death than would be possible if the rules were ignored (Korea, still ongoing, Vietnam, lost, middle east, etc.) And yes, I am aware that I am in the minority on that point, which doesn't negate the truth of the matter.

Re:Why have them (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34058098)

You are wrong. SAC never had anything but strategic nuclear weapons; airborne launched bombs and ICBMs are strategic; for targeting cities. However the US Army fielded Davy Crocketts and a variety of nuclear artillery in Germany, up to the Pershing II missle armed with the M85 thermonuclear warhead (max 80kT). These were designed to stop Soviet tanks from rolling across the German plain, as the Soviets outnumbered the entire NATO tank contingent, all European and US tanks, by a 2 to 1 margin. It was well known that if the Soviets chose to invade Europe, they would be across Europe in a few days, and to give NATO time to deploy these tactical nuclear weapons would need to be used.

Also, there was a TAC nuclear weapon; the B57 had a yield of 10kT and could be deployed by a fighter or even a Navy helicopter as a nuclear depth charge. There were also nuclear land mines too; those are also tactical.

Re:Why have them (1)

Type44Q (1233630) | more than 3 years ago | (#34058334)

...obviously excepting navel based warheads...

Didn't realize belly button lint could be that dangerous... no wonder she's flinches when at I threaten her with it!

Re:Why have them (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 3 years ago | (#34057256)

Highly unlikely. To damaging. The land would be useless, the PR would be a nightmare and damage whatever cause you have, and you risk retaliatory strike.

AS a practicaly use weapon, there is n gain. As a retaliatory deterrent, a necessity.

Re:Why have them (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34056718)

As for the article: GREAT NEWS! I feel so much better knowing that although everything else failed, including safety measures preventing accidents, those missiles could still be launched and destroy some cities. It would have been such a shame if these missiles had been paralyzed and thus prevented from causing an accident.

In other news, I'm a lot more afraid of the US government having nuclear weapons than Iran.

Re:Why have them (3, Informative)

GooberToo (74388) | more than 3 years ago | (#34056572)

They were never intended for the purpose of dealing with smaller scale outbreaks of violence even ones as large as the Iraq war.

Actually they were. [youtube.com] It was later decided that this class of weapon countered MAD politics and may actually encourage wide spread use of larger nuclear devices. In turn, these weapons provided limited tactical value, not to mention a long list of logistical and security issues. As such, such weapon programs ceased to be.

Re:Why have them (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34057070)

But think of the 'impact' of nuking part of Waziristan... or Iran. Sure, the nuclear fist is probably like killing flies with a howitzer but boy, would it get attention.

Re:Why have them (1)

dgatwood (11270) | more than 3 years ago | (#34057116)

The point of nuclear weapons is to deter conflicts on the scale of the world wars from ever happening again, and so far they've done that admirably. They were never intended for the purpose of dealing with smaller scale outbreaks of violence even ones as large as the Iraq war.

No, they really haven't done the job admirably. WWI and WWII were almost entirely European wars. It wasn't until Japan attacked the U.S. that WWII became global by an stretch. Until then, it was just a regional conflict in Europe and a second one between Japan and China. Similarly, it wasn't until Germany tried to get Mexico to attack the United States that WWI became in any meaningful sense global. At that point in each war, the U.S. came in, kicked some ass, and ended it. I know that's an oversimplification, but a remarkable number of conflicts over the nears have been stomped into the ground by U.S. military intervention or the threat thereof.

Three things have deterred conflicts on the scale of world wars from ever happening again:

  • The U.S. and its allies vastly outclass every other country's military, and have shown a willingness to use that superiority while acting as the world's police force to kick countries out of other countries when they invade. World War I and II would both have ended much sooner had it not been for policies of appeasement by the U.S. and, in the case of WWII, Britain.
  • The U.S. and its allies vastly outclass every military ruled over by a nutjob dictator or a single-power "democracy".
  • The increase in trading around the world means that no country can feasibly eliminate its trade with a significant percentage of other countries.

The only thing nuclear weapons do is pose risk to the American public. The reality of the matter is that the U.S. will never use nuclear weapons again, and everyone knows it. An empty threat cannot a deterrent make. A weapon unused is a useless weapon, as they said in the movie Spies Like Us.

Re:Why have them (1)

rickb928 (945187) | more than 3 years ago | (#34057436)

So let me get this straight, and undo the damage my teachers have done...

"It wasn't until Japan attacked the U.S. that WWII became global by an stretch."

"Similarly, it wasn't until Germany tried to get Mexico to attack the United States that WWI became in any meaningful sense global."

WWI and WWII were regional conflicts until the protaganists made them global.

That clears things up a lot.

So WWI was regional until France and England, no, wait, Germany tried to spread it to us that it became 'globalized' and we had an excuse to get involved. France being overrun and various European nations being eliminated wasn't of sufficient import to justify our involvement. Neither was Germany's intention to dominate the continent. And certainly we threatened Germany by our involvement on Britain's side, though of course we need not have concerned ourselves with the prospect of the European continent being subsumed into a German empire.

And WWI Was just a regional conflict until England, no, France, no, wait, Russia, no actually Japan attacked US territory and got us involved. All that unpleasantness of Germany bombing England was just not important enough for us to get into it. Of course, Hitler's plans for world domination didn't really threaten us, though Japan might have been concerned, which would explain their attacks on Germany. Certainly, the U.S. could have sat this one out as two different nations plotted world domination, since we weren't really at risk except for Hawaii, and that being so far away that it shouldn't have given us much of a fright.

For those of you not reading carefully, that was sarcasm.

Really. Just for context, when were you born?

Re:Why have them (1)

dgatwood (11270) | more than 3 years ago | (#34058080)

I never said that the U.S. wasn't affected. It just wasn't affected enough to drag it into a war that was mostly happening halfway around the globe.

One could reasonably argue that World War I wasn't a world war even after the U.S. became involved. Everyone involved was basically fighting on a single continent with the exception of Japanese naval involvement, as far as I'm aware. (Russia is generally considered to be a European nation.) BTW, to be pedantic, the Germans didn't technically threaten to spread the war to the U.S., but rather threatened to spread it to the U.S. IF the U.S. got involved on the side of the British, which up until that direct threat, the U.S. was not planning to do.

World War II was somewhat more global in that there were two theaters of combat instead of one. However, one could easily argue that it was really two regional wars that happened to be started by allies. Officially WWII is defined as having begun with the German invasion of Poland. However, the Japanese war with China had been ongoing for several years prior to that point, and the spread of that conflict to other neighboring regions was still a regional conflict. Up until Japan went after a non-neighboring country (the U.S.), WWII consisted of a regional conflict in Europe and a regional conflict in Asia.

So basically the only thing other than the entrance of a non-Eurasian power into the mix that made either World War I or World War II a world war was the use of naval forces to attack ships at sea. However, this was characteristic of nearly every European war for centuries. It was spread across more of the globe due to greater worldwide trade, but it was still principally a case of European powers going after European ships. Either way, nuclear weapons are not a deterrent to ships at sea, as you can't hit a moving target with an ICBM. Further, the only countries that have large enough naval forces to pull off the sorts of things Germany did with their Navy are all large enough economic powers with strong enough ties to the other countries that such a war would be infeasible in this day and age.

What, then, was so global about World War I or World War II that makes it so fundamentally different from any number of other wars since then? The fact that Germany happened to be strong enough to pull off the victory, whereas Iraq lost its war with Iran? If Iraq had been a larger power and had successfully taken over Iran before taking over Kuwait, would that have been a world war then? If Iraq had been densely populated like Europe and had seen similar death tolls due to having more people to fight, would that have made it a world war? Where do you draw the line? My point is that at least where World War I is concerned, the distinction is completely arbitrary, and seems to largely hinge upon how big the country was that did the invading. And where World War II is concerned, it was only the fact that Japan and Germany had the ability to attack countries well outside of their neighborhoods that made the war interesting, and it was not until one of them actually did so (Japan bombing Pearl Harbor) that it became a truly unique war.

Either way, the point remains that the main thing that has prevented wars on the scale of WWI and WWII is globalization of markets, not any nuclear deterrent. Going to war with any major power would mean the destruction of the economies of all the nations involved, which inherently limits conflicts to small regional conflicts among smaller nations. It has squat to do with nuclear missiles. Nuclear weapons are only an effective deterrent between two powers of approximately equal magnitude---India versus Pakistan, the U.S. versus the U.S.S.R., and so on. In this day and age, the U.S. having nuclear missiles isn't really buying the U.S. much except for expensive upkeep and a bunch of prime terrorist targets, neither of which strikes me as a real benefit....

Re:Why have them (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | more than 3 years ago | (#34057528)

You forgot Africa.

Re:Why have them (1)

dgatwood (11270) | more than 3 years ago | (#34057998)

You mean the Ottoman Empire getting involved in WWI? They're bordering the Mediterranean Sea. They might not be part of Europe (though Turkey is in the EU), but it's hardly a stretch to think of them as being part of the same basic region of the world, particularly given how narrow the Strait of Gibraltar is.

Re:Why have them (1)

timmarhy (659436) | more than 3 years ago | (#34057818)

way to fail hard. WWII had the enemy attacking all the way to Australia. definately not a regional conflict.

you seem to miss the fact the US and it' allies outclass it's enemies..... because of nukes.

Re:Why have them (1)

dgatwood (11270) | more than 3 years ago | (#34058178)

No, the U.S. and its allies outclass its enemies because of advanced fighter aircraft, cruise missiles, submarines, carriers, attack helicopters, and conventional munitions. A weapon that you're not willing to use cannot possibly be of any use. It is only the threat of using something that makes it relevant.

You're right that I had forgotten about Australia. In my defense, however, this was an attack on a country that was not fully independent from Britain at the time, and as such, it wasn't nearly as far removed from Europe as the U.S. was. Either way, the fact remains that the ground battles were predominantly European, and that was the point I was trying to make. In any significant war among powers that span the globe, there are always going to be fringe battles in places far removed from the bulk of the fighting.

Re:Why have them (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34056204)

This is not an accurate statement.
The tiger repelling rock works based on a lack of tigers. The tigers are not actually repelled by the rock.

Nuclear missiles are actually effective in deterring large coordinated attacks from countries with military might.
The cold war is proof of this, no massive attacks were launched due to the threat of nuclear missiles on each side.

It is not necessarily a _good_ solution but the effects were no illusion either.

Re:Why have them (3, Insightful)

khallow (566160) | more than 3 years ago | (#34056448)

Before nukes, you had tigers [wikipedia.org] . After nukes, a hell of a lot less tigers [wikipedia.org] . For those who aren't keen on link clicking, the first link shows a map of 18 countries annexed by the USSR prior to 1948. There's also North Korea (1945) and China (1949) though only the former had direct USSR military involvement. Since then, the USSR has only directly invaded one country, Afghanistan, that wasn't already occupied by it.

The presence of considerable nuclear weapons do a great job of explaining this sudden change in tactics by the USSR.

Re:Why have them (3, Insightful)

pnewhook (788591) | more than 3 years ago | (#34056828)

Since then, the USSR has only directly invaded one country, Afghanistan, that wasn't already occupied by it.

And how about the countries the US has invaded and the DOZENS of countries where the CIA has overthrown democratically elected leaders and put puppet governments in their place?

Re:Why have them (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 3 years ago | (#34056876)

And how about the countries the US has invaded and the DOZENS of countries where the CIA has overthrown democratically elected leaders and put puppet governments in their place?

I guess nuclear weapons don't fix every problem, do they? Still you have to wonder how many more countries the US would have invaded, if the USSR didn't have its own nukes, wouldn't you?

Re:Why have them (1)

SleazyRidr (1563649) | more than 3 years ago | (#34056910)

So our nukes worked, but theirs didn't!

Go USA!

Re:Why have them (1)

couchslug (175151) | more than 3 years ago | (#34058014)

"And how about the countries the US has invaded and the DOZENS of countries where the CIA has overthrown democratically elected leaders and put puppet governments in their place?"

Minor scuffles in the overall struggle. They evoke emotions, but looked at coldly, they were sideshows. Sometimes useful, sometimes not, but all of the war effort by both sides was of a piece.

The stakes were far too great (do not forget that the main competitors had direct experience of a world war most of them didn't spend in their mothers basement) to consider the fate of minor countries.

Re:Why have them (5, Insightful)

Pharmboy (216950) | more than 3 years ago | (#34056602)

Expect some bad mods for being right. Everyone likes to pretend that the Cold War didn't happen, and most of the people with the strongest opinions didn't live during it, have never served in the military or had relatives that did during the Cold War. Plenty of mistakes have been made along the way (Vietnam for starters), but having a strong military and nuclear deterrent since WWII wasn't one of them.

While I understand why, most people under 30 don't fully appreciate the threat of the USSR after WWII as they are fortunate enough to not have lived under it. Ironically, the reason they haven't lived under that threat is due to what some are complaining about to begin with.

Re:Why have them (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34057338)

Everyone likes to pretend that the Cold War didn't happen, and most of the people with the strongest opinions didn't live during it, have never served in the military or had relatives that did during the Cold War. ......

While I understand why, most people under 30 don't fully appreciate the threat of the USSR after WWII...

Threat or perceived threat???

Invasion by the US was the perceived threat by USSR too. Hell, US even put nuclear missiles into Turkey 300 km USSR. When USSR saw similar opportunity in Cuba, US almost started a war by blockading Cuba. After establishment of the Eastern Block and attempt of removing the West Berlin enclave through land blockade, US appears to become the aggressor in the Cold War.

  * Bay of Pigs
  * Blockade of Cuba
  * Chile
  * Panama
  * Nicaragua
  * Vietnam

just to name a few...

USSR has Hungary, Czechoslovakia. Poland was internal to prevent USSR from coming in - success. Those were viewed as "buffer zone" countries. There is a lot less direct intervention in rest of the world.

Anyway, I lived during the end of the Cold War and I have no idea what threat USSR ever was to the US. After MAD was established, the only threat was local. A local "accidental" launch would result in destruction of both sides.

Yes, ask any dog. (1)

pslam (97660) | more than 3 years ago | (#34058294)

Then they worked, and are continuing to work.

Dog barks at postman. Postman comes and goes away. Dog keeps barking at postman every day. Seems to work.

Why is 50 a problem when losing the biscuit wasn't (3, Insightful)

RichMan (8097) | more than 3 years ago | (#34055982)

So a previous president lost the biscuit for months at a time. That is the president would have been unable to authenticate to military command that he was giving a launch order. Why was that not considered a problem? When 50 missiles going into a still usable but wacky state is?

Re:Why is 50 a problem when losing the biscuit was (0)

toastar (573882) | more than 3 years ago | (#34056050)

So a previous president lost the biscuit for months at a time. That is the president would have been unable to authenticate to military command that he was giving a launch order. Why was that not considered a problem? When 50 missiles going into a still usable but wacky state is?

The president losing the launch codes is a little harder for the reds to exploit then possibly a systematic failure

Re:Why is 50 a problem when losing the biscuit was (2, Interesting)

slick7 (1703596) | more than 3 years ago | (#34057026)

The president losing the launch codes is a little harder for the reds to exploit then possibly a systematic failure

Unless it was the reds that "founf" the biscuit. They don't actually have to use it, all they have to do is put it into play. The time necessary to disregard, authenticate a new code is longer than a missle launch. Which is why the US nuclear threat is three pronged, land, sea, and air. The only missles that do not need a Permissive Action Link are sea launched, surface or sub-surface.

Re:Why is 50 a problem when losing the biscuit was (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34057326)

You don't need the code to launch the missiles. You need to codes to tell the people that launch the missiles you are who you say you are.

Re:Why is 50 a problem when losing the biscuit was (3, Insightful)

pixelpusher220 (529617) | more than 3 years ago | (#34056974)

Clinton never lost the biscuit. Did you see his waistline? ;-)

Seriously though, Clinton didn't lose anything, his aide lost the codes but not the football itself (guess I'm assuming there's more to the football than just a folder of codes). The aide then covered that fact up for months before anyone checking on him bothered to do more than take his word for it.

But Clinton was in no way involved in the loss or cover up of the situation.

Hmmm... not MS software I hope (-1, Troll)

plopez (54068) | more than 3 years ago | (#34056044)

I see MS windows popping up in more places. E.g. medical devices and I have read about it being in electrical grid control computers. I hope it isn't already in nuke launch centers.

Re:Hmmm... not MS software I hope (1)

plopez (54068) | more than 3 years ago | (#34056722)

Hmmm.... troll. Just making a comment.

Re:Hmmm... not MS software I hope (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34057050)

I'm sure the receptionist for example uses Windows on its PC. Probably used throughout the facility. Probably also use Exchange for email, because it's better than anything else if cost is not a concern. They probably also use Word and Excel.

What's your point? You can't make a single point here that won't come off as a troll. Hence the mod.

Was this not the whole point? (1)

betterunixthanunix (980855) | more than 3 years ago | (#34056064)

As I understand it, the entire point of the system of nuclear launch codes and the enormous system built around the nuclear arsenal is to ensure that accidental or unauthorized launches will not happen. Any failure mode of the system should result in an inability to launch -- how is that not obvious? Any other design seems to run counter to the purpose of the system itself.

Re:Was this not the whole point? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34056160)

Any failure mode of the system should result in an inability to launch -- how is that not obvious?

Because it's wrong. Any failure mode should result in the missiles not being launched. Well handled failure modes should result in the continued ability to direct a launch. Failsafe in this case means safe from them as much as safe from yourself.

Re:Was this not the whole point? (3, Funny)

CannonballHead (842625) | more than 3 years ago | (#34056176)

Or at least, I hope they run good protection software.

Like ... Search and Destroy. Or Avast! Nothing like pirates for protecting nuclear warheads.

[note: this was an attempt at comedy.]

Re:Was this not the whole point? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34056318)

Not really.
The point of the system is so that if events occur that damage the infrastructure the missiles can still launch.
For instance if nuclear missiles hit part of the country that we could still retaliate with ours.
This also includes breaks in the chain of command so that, if it came down to it, a couple of people in the missile bunker could launch the missile if systems failed and there was no available contact with higher command.

Cold war era thought, after all.

Re:Was this not the whole point? (1)

SpinningCone (1278698) | more than 3 years ago | (#34056330)

50's era logic. at that time it would seem unlikely for someone to want to accidentally launch them. ie hack the system to cause a fake launch.

however it would be useful to prevent launch. thus giving a first strike advantage to the russians. so the failsafe is actually M.A.D

honestly i think in the cold war context that makes sense. you build it so if something goes wrong you take everyone with you and if you know your enemy has that mentality you don't effin hack their shit.

now in a more modern context with many extremest groups and no real nuclear M.A.D pal aiming at you it makes more sense to err on the side of launch failure.

Re:Was this not the whole point? (2, Funny)

epine (68316) | more than 3 years ago | (#34056748)

Ah, the evolution of language. In 1,278,698 I.D. use of the shift key diminished, but the point made was not lost on even the lowly four and five diggers.

It's true: the M.A.D. doctrine (by which I mean M.A.D in newspeak) inverts the risk profile of the launch-fail condition. Deterrence is like that. In oldspeak, as we used to say, "when the cat's away the mice will play". No, those strange symbols are not mouse-whisker emoticons. We used to call them delimiters, back when both ends of a sentence had one, even though not of the same kind. Yeah, it was kinda weird, now that I think about it. But it grows on you after 40,000 hours of reading 600 wpm. You get used to it, ya know?

Too bad we only have negative evidence that M.A.D. actually worked in the first place.

Re:Was this not the whole point? (1)

Pharmboy (216950) | more than 3 years ago | (#34057064)

Too bad we only have negative evidence that M.A.D. actually worked in the first place.

"Positive evidence" as in real mutually assured destruction? The fact that no one used nuclear weapons in any capacity outside of testing (ie: USSR/Afghanistan, US/Vietnam, etc.) clearly shows that M.A.D. worked rather well. If only the U.S. had nuclear weapons during the middle 20th century, I'm quite sure that they would have been used in other conflicts, to "save lives". M.A.D. made it so everyone must wanted nuclear weapons, but no one could use them for fear of being erased off the planet. Sounds like it worked like a charm.

Re:Was this not the whole point? (1)

tsm_sf (545316) | more than 3 years ago | (#34057748)

Sounds like it worked like a charm.

It almost failed catastrophically at least half a dozen times. Here's [wikipedia.org] an interesting article on the guy who, although it's up for some debate, probably prevented world war three single-handedly.

The fundamental principle of MAD assumes rational and informed actors on both sides of the table. At one point we had Khrushchev sitting across from us. At one point they had Reagan.

Re:Was this not the whole point? (1)

Pharmboy (216950) | more than 3 years ago | (#34058064)

At one point we had Khrushchev sitting across from us. At one point they had Reagan.

Both of which I say were much more rational than given credit. One way to get your opponent to pay attention is if they think you are crazy enough to use the nuclear option. Even Obama has made it clear that it isn't off the table. And as for Reagan, I would gladly vote for him again. On the domestic side, he was the closest we have had to a libertarian president. Obviously his foreign policies were not libertarian.

Re:Was this not the whole point? (1)

Nethemas the Great (909900) | more than 3 years ago | (#34056938)

Better than Dead Hand [wikipedia.org] I suppose. But frankly I'd prefer 50 fewer nukes. Unless we're being purposefully kept in the dark, there aren't but one or two actors of concern that would respond to M.A.D. as a deterrent. The rest that concern us presently are stateless, and/or inclined towards self-sacrifice.

Risky!! (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34056066)

It's "Risky." You need to know it's STILL RISKY. Risk we say!

Be worried. Because their is risk. Don't think about the security those nooks have provided since WW2; there was and is absolutely no "risk" that another world wide conflagration might have or will happen without those risky missiles. But those nooks! The nooks are RiSkY you fool. RISKY. Don't worry about the risk to medical capabilities in the US as we legislate someones' idea of justice into medicine, either. No risk there at all. Running up 10% of our GDP as debt every year is also clearly risk free. So you just keep worrying about the nooks! They are Risky!

Re:Risky!! (1)

Darkness404 (1287218) | more than 3 years ago | (#34057210)

Don't think about the security those nooks have provided since WW2; there was and is absolutely no "risk" that another world wide conflagration might have or will happen without those risky missiles

Yeah "security" at what cost? The only "security" that nukes brought us was the "security" that if someone tried to completely wipe us out we could wipe them out too. That isn't security. Should it be considered security to wear a suicide vest because if someone tried to rob you, you could kill the robber?

And sure there hasn't been a world war on the scale of WWII, but for the inhabitants of countries like Vietnam and Korea where people's lives both westerners and natives alike were used as pawns in a silly game with the USSR and the US.

Nuclear weapons don't give us peace, only diplomacy can give lasting peace. If we, you know actually -talked- to nations like Iran, Cuba, North Korea, etc. rather than shut the two countries lines of communications we might actually achieve true peace.

I'm not saying that the rest of the things aren't risky but if I was wearing a suicide vest, the first thing I'd want to do is make sure it wasn't going to blow up on me and perhaps even take it off.

Does the US need a defense force, of course it does. Does the US need a few nuclear weapons? Quite possibly. Do we need enough nuclear weapons to wipe out every major city in Europe, South America, Europe, Africa and most of Asia? No. The more nuclear weapons we have the greater the risk is for the citizens are.

Re:Risky!! (1)

jpmorgan (517966) | more than 3 years ago | (#34057536)

And the only security you have that someone isn't just going to kill you for your stuff, is that they'll probably be caught and imprisoned for it.

I don't normally resort to rudeness, but you are a naive fool. Naive because I had to explain the previous point, and a fool because you are criticizing something you don't understand.

In the event of a nuclear war between Russia and America, the first target for Russian nuclear weapons would be American nuclear weapons. If you want deterrent, you have to make sure your weapons survive the first strike. THAT is why America, and Russia, built so many nuclear weapons. Redundancy.

Re:Risky!! (4, Insightful)

Darkness404 (1287218) | more than 3 years ago | (#34057616)

And what was the reason for all this? Simple ignorance. If we had actually talked with Russia which basically saved the West's asses from Hitler and included them with our projects, sharing intelligence and the like and had closer American-Russian ties perhaps we could have avoided the entire cold war. Perhaps with the opening of relations between the two countries conditions would be better for the Russians and Americans alike.

Our current diplomatic process will lead to another war like this, only the leaders of both countries might not be sane enough to avoid nuclear war next time.

Neither Russia nor the US wanted anything from the other country other than safety. If we had avoided mutual suspicion at the end of WWII and had closer ties, perhaps both nations could have prospered and accomplished much rather than simply building more bombs.

Re:Risky!! (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34058346)

You don't know much about Joesph Stalin, do you?

Re:Risky!! (4, Insightful)

Type44Q (1233630) | more than 3 years ago | (#34058358)

And what was the reason for all this? Simple ignorance. If we had actually talked with Russia which basically saved the West's asses from Hitler and included them with our projects, sharing intelligence and the like and had closer American-Russian ties perhaps we could have avoided the entire cold war. Perhaps with the opening of relations between the two countries conditions would be better for the Russians and Americans alike.

Riiiiggghht... it was all a misunderstanding; Stalin was actually a nice, reasonable guy beneath that genocidal exterior and would have been a walk in the park to reason with.

Re:Risky!! (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34058430)

Have you noticed how much more of a shithole eastern europe and russia is compared to western europe? It isn't a coincidence. The soviets pulled off stunts comparably evil to the Nazis. I am thankful the west and particularly the USA drove them into the ground.

Re:Risky!! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34058056)

Should it be considered security to wear a suicide vest because if someone tried to rob you, you could kill the robber?

Would you ever try to rob someone who was wearing a suicide vest? Would anyone?

So, why didn't it happen the way we've been told? (1)

Just_Say_Duhhh (1318603) | more than 3 years ago | (#34056084)

Once the power was cut, the missiles were supposed to interpret that as an attack, and carry out their last orders (launch toward Russia, North Korea, and David Hasselhof). So why aren't we sitting in a post-apocalyptic wasteland right now? I want an inquiry started immediately!

Re:So, why didn't it happen the way we've been tol (4, Funny)

Sponge Bath (413667) | more than 3 years ago | (#34056178)

So why aren't we sitting in a post-apocalyptic wasteland right now?

Have you been to Detroit recently?

Re:So, why didn't it happen the way we've been tol (1)

ettlz (639203) | more than 3 years ago | (#34056286)

Have you been to Detroit recently?

Does that count as post-apocalyptic?

Re:So, why didn't it happen the way we've been tol (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34056292)

So why aren't we sitting in a post-apocalyptic wasteland right now? I want an inquiry started immediately!

Who needs an inquiry? Just fire up Fallout: New Vegas :)

Re:So, why didn't it happen the way we've been tol (1)

Bobakitoo (1814374) | more than 3 years ago | (#34056296)

Maybe because there was no "last order" to launch. They are been siting idle for years, it is very likely that their last order was to wait for further order.

Re:So, why didn't it happen the way we've been tol (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34056376)

Yeah, I want my Fallout perks !

It wasn't a "power failure"... (1)

MaggieL (10193) | more than 3 years ago | (#34056096)

Obviously more fact checking is needed.

And yes, the system is designed to be able to launch even if an attack (or something else) has damaged part of the system. You know, like "the Internet interprets censorship as damage and routes around it"?

It's called "redundancy". Would you want a weapon system that is disabled by any damage that might occur? Like in a war?

Re:It wasn't a "power failure"... (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34056172)

It was the space brothers. Our galactic family is reminding us that we are all one brotherhood on planet earth and need to peacefully and lovingly help each other. Violence and nuclear weapons are not the answer to our problems. Going forward we need to think globally, not as a small tribe of individual nation states. They repeatedly down nuclear facilities in the USA, Russia, and China sending a message that we will not be allowed to nuke ourselves out of existence.

Re:It wasn't a "power failure"... (1)

polar red (215081) | more than 3 years ago | (#34056554)

peacefully and lovingly help each other.

Die you commie !

Re:It wasn't a "power failure"... (1)

rogeroger (1125533) | more than 3 years ago | (#34058038)

In case you missed it, a press conference was held on Sept 27 to focus media attention on decades of UFO interference with U.S. military nuclear weapons installations. UFO researcher Robert Hastings and former U.S. Air Force Captain Robert Salas organized the conference, which included presentations made by seven former USAF personnel. Roughly two dozen media representatives attended the press conference, which CNN streamed live. Read more: http://technorati.com/technology/article/redefining-consensus-reality-american-medias-coverage/#ixzz13hP4lX00 [technorati.com]

Telemetry program are written in... (1)

GPLDAN (732269) | more than 3 years ago | (#34056188)

Logo! (Who knew?)

to spiral :size
if :size > 30 [stop] ; an exit condition
fd :size rt 15 ; many lines of action
spiral :size *1.02 ; the tailend recursive call
end

Ability to launch (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34056210)

'at no time did the president's ability [to launch] decrease.'

That's true. The ability to launch was non-existent before, during, and after this incident.

Re:Ability to launch (1)

Darkness404 (1287218) | more than 3 years ago | (#34057264)

As it should be.

This idea that we need to launch 34423423423423 missiles as fast as possible is based on laughable ignorance.

No one person, be it the president, vice president, speaker of the house, a general, a soldier, etc. should be able to launch a nuclear weapon.

It should have to go through multiple people to determine whether or not to launch it and then let people state their reasons then finally come to an agreement.

Do we want a situation like the Cuban missile crisis again where one person had the ability to save the world or end it?

Assuaging fears (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34056368)

How about assuaging fears that an accident, misunderstanding, systems failure (early warning / launch / other), or psycho with access blows us all up for nothing.

Who could possibly think it would be better to be dead (and possibly exterminate most life on this planet) than to be a subject of yet another corrupt government-- with few exceptions, most nations are more free than the U.S. anyway.

Re:Assuaging fears (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34056996)

With few exceptions, most nations are more free than the U.S. anyway.

Free in what way? At least the US government isn't playing big brother and spying on all it's citizens (yet.) You can even own firearms and keep them at your home in the US. It seems like most European governments are afraid of their citizens so they have been slowly stripping them of their rights to privacy and self-defense for years.

Canard. (4, Informative)

blair1q (305137) | more than 3 years ago | (#34056412)

"risky designs that favor the ability to launch"

There are multiple safeguards built into the system that have to be released in order to launch even one missile. None of the safeguards are coupled, meaning that there is no cascading effect. Each one has different inputs and a different means to activate it.

One of the simplest is that it takes the near-simultaneous activation of two mechanical, key-locked switches to send the fire command to the missile, and these are separated by enough distance that one person can't do it alone. And it only gets to that point after a number of other manual steps have been taken to prep the launch.

Even the President's order is not sufficient to start everything rolling. The people in charge of monitoring the threat systems go to him to ask for authorization. He doesn't go to them - they'd never believe him if he did, since there's no way he'd know there was a threat. And they don't make their decision lightly.

At the point where it's necessary to launch a nuke, it will be blindingly clear to everyone that we should have made the process simpler, not that it is too simple.

Re:Canard. (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34056704)

At the point where it's necessary to launch a nuke,

And that time is now! We must preserve the purity and essence of our natural fluids. How can anyone not understand this?

Re:Canard. (1, Interesting)

the linux geek (799780) | more than 3 years ago | (#34057308)

That's incorrect. National Command Authority, composed of the President and the Secretary of Defense, can order a nuclear strike anywhere, at any time, for any purpose. The military "never believing him" would be blatant insubordination.

Re:Canard. (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34057502)

you speak as though you are an authority on the nuclear command and control protocols of the united states.
you haven't the faintest idea what you are talking about.
us strategic defense is possibly the most heavily engineered solution that man has ever created. the amount of man-hours that mathematicians and engineers have invested into developing the system is staggering.

just ponder the possibility that your paper-thin "knowledge" on the idiosyncracies of the most secret and complex enterprise the world's most powerful nation engages in might not function the way you think it does.

Re:Canard. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34057406)

> One of the simplest is that it takes the near-simultaneous activation of two mechanical, key-locked switches to send the fire command to the missile, and these are separated by enough distance that one person can't do it alone

No. You have been reading/believing too much propaganda. One person can do it alone. He cannot do it *with his hands and no other simple devices* alone, but he can do it alone very easily.

What you say about "never believe" is also incorrect. But I see you got modded up to '5 informative' anyway; things don't have to be correct to get that on slashdot, they just have to sound good.

Re:Canard. (1)

jpmorgan (517966) | more than 3 years ago | (#34057564)

Even the President's order is not sufficient to start everything rolling. The people in charge of monitoring the threat systems go to him to ask for authorization. He doesn't go to them - they'd never believe him if he did, since there's no way he'd know there was a threat. And they don't make their decision lightly.

The US does not have an unconditional no-first-strike policy.

Re:Canard. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34057990)

That's what we here in the US call "negotiation from a position of strength".

Re:Canard. (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34058096)

One of the simplest is that it takes the near-simultaneous activation of two mechanical, key-locked switches to send the fire command to the missile, and these are separated by enough distance that one person can't do it alone. And it only gets to that point after a number of other manual steps have been taken to prep the launch.

Not only that, with Minuteman systems a key turn by both the commander and deputy in a launch control center doesn't directly launch the 10 missiles they are in charge of; instead their key turns are registered as a launch "vote" within their squadron. The 50 missiles in the squadron do not actually receive the launch command until at least two of the five launch control centers in the squadron submit launch votes within a second or two of each other. This both prevents any of the launch control centers from individually launching their flight of missiles and allows for all enabled missiles in the squadron to be launched by just two launch control centers if the others are put out of action.

It's Obama's fault. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34056450)

he didn't play the utility bill.

nuclearrisk.org (1)

Pope Raymond Lama (57277) | more than 3 years ago | (#34056610)

I've been foloowing this blog/news site over the past months -- it exposes the danger of thenuclear arsenals in qa quite rational way - and the way to address it is just giving more exposure to these rational dangers, sot hat people demand dismantling nuclear weapons over time.

It is certainly worth a look - and an rss feed to follow! http://nuclearrisk.org/ [nuclearrisk.org]

Re:nuclearrisk.org (1)

CannonballHead (842625) | more than 3 years ago | (#34056912)

Interesting... but... also interesting: we've had several nuclear power plant problems. Have we ever had an accidental nuclear bomb explosion?

(I actually support nuclear power, by the way.)

Re:nuclearrisk.org (1)

Pope Raymond Lama (57277) | more than 3 years ago | (#34058380)

Well - taht is the base for the author site risk assesment:
While almost everyone would have an issue with living close to a nuclear ower plant, the risk of the M.A.D. policy uiis equivalent to that several times over, and no one cares.

Don't worry WOPR has it under control. (1)

CHK6 (583097) | more than 3 years ago | (#34056682)

Accidental launch? Pttth, please! As long as WOPR can play tic-tac-toe, there will be no accidental launches.

Utter tripe (1)

onyxruby (118189) | more than 3 years ago | (#34056744)

The entire point of such systems is to ensure that a launch can occur despite a given failure, but only if authorized to do so. The concept of MAD (the most succesfull peace plan in history) is entirely depenant upon the ability to launch even in the advent of other failures. This was a technical failure and the backup processes and systems all worked as designed. No missle somehow got a launch order and no missle lost the ability to launch if needed. The entire story is hyperbole fearmongering.

reassured???? (1)

bickerdyke (670000) | more than 3 years ago | (#34056870)

I am in definitly NO WAY feeling more secure knowing that ICBMs can be launched even with their safeguards down!

Re:reassured???? (1)

gnieboer (1272482) | more than 3 years ago | (#34057238)

Their safeguards were never down. -A- safeguard was down. HUGE difference.

Right in the middle of a real launch (1)

mlawrence (1094477) | more than 3 years ago | (#34056886)

The screen goes black and white letters appear: ? SYNTAX ERROR IN LINE 10240

Not favoring danger of accidental launch is bad? (1)

noidentity (188756) | more than 3 years ago | (#34056930)

The history of nuclear command and control systems has too many examples of risky designs that favor the ability to launch over the danger of an accidental one."

Isn't it a good thing that the designs don't favor the danger of an accidental launch? Or do you also donate to groups that support cancer?

I sense a disconnect (1)

Un pobre guey (593801) | more than 3 years ago | (#34056984)

'various security protocols built into the missile delivery system, like intrusion alarms and warhead separation alarms, were offline.'
'at no time did the president's ability [to launch] decrease.'

Were there any intruders? Were any warheads separated from their launch vehicles? I know, I know. I should RTFA.

Citation needed (2, Informative)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 3 years ago | (#34057014)

From the summary: The history of nuclear command and control systems has too many examples of risky designs that favor the ability to launch over the danger of an accidental one [nuclearrisk.org] .

[[Citation Needed]]

Seriously - because the claim quoted above is not supported in either of the linked articles. In fact, the citations show precisely the *opposite* - as the PALs were specifically intended to reduce the ability to launch in favor of reducing the risk of accidental launch. That they were improperly used is an operational flaw, not a design flaw. (A difference roughly as subtle as a baseball bat upside the head - and that the writers are unaware of this is a sure and certain sign they aren't qualified to write on the topic.)

The writer of the article cited above further compounds his error by using a situation from over three decades ago as 'proof' that a problem exists today - a situation which his own quote shows to no longer exist.

Re:Citation needed (3, Insightful)

winwar (114053) | more than 3 years ago | (#34058160)

"In fact, the citations show precisely the *opposite* - as the PALs were specifically intended to reduce the ability to launch in favor of reducing the risk of accidental launch. That they were improperly used is an operational flaw, not a design flaw."

If so, then the distinction between an operational flaw and a design flaw is a distinction without a difference. Or at least one without significance. If a system designed to prevent something from happening can be easily subverted when implemented as designed then it has a huge design flaw. It assumed (and required) that basic security practices would be followed (unique combinations). If this was not followed, it was worthless. This was by design.

Re:Citation needed (1)

cmowire (254489) | more than 3 years ago | (#34058284)

Yeah, I'm under-impressed with the site's rigorousness as well. Everything the author talks about is something that's been talked about endlessly in the public literature. With the claims made, I kept thinking there was at least a rumor-mongering hint about something new and different.

Launch unlikely anyway (1)

danpat (119101) | more than 3 years ago | (#34057356)

There's an interesting talk given by Richard Rhodes a couple of months ago discussing the likelihood of the use of nuclear weapons:

http://foratv.vo.llnwd.net/o33/rss/Long_Now_Podcasts/podcast-2010-09-21-rhodes.mp3 [llnwd.net]

In a nutshell, it probably doesn't matter if they were offline, they're unlikely ever going to get used.

Listen to the talk for some interesting takes on the "mutually assured destruction" situation.

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