Category Archives: National Security

Declassified Military Satellite Imagery has Applications in a Wide Variety of Civilian Geospatial Studies

1. Overview of US military optical reconnaissance satellite programs

The National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) is responsible for developing and operating space reconnaissance systems and conducting intelligence-related activities for US national security.  NRO developed several generations of classified Keyhole (KH) military optical reconnaissance satellites that have been the primary sources of Earth imagery for the US Department of Defense (DoD) and intelligence agencies.  NRO’s website is here:

https://www.nro.gov

NRO’s early generations of Keyhole satellites were placed in low Earth orbits, acquired the desired photographic images on film during relatively short-duration missions, and then returned the film to Earth in small reentry capsules for airborne recovery. After recovery, the film was processed and analyzed.  The first US military optical reconnaissance satellite program, code named CORONA, pioneered the development and refinement of the technologies, equipment and systems needed to deploy an operational orbital optical reconnaissance capability. The first successful CORONA film recovery occurred on 19 August 1960.

Specially modified US Air Force C-119J aircraft recovers a
CORONA film canister in flight.  Source: US Air Force
First reconnaissance picture taken in orbit and successfully recovered on Earth;  taken on 18 August 1960 by a CORONA KH-1 satellite dubbed Discoverer 14.  Image shows the Mys Shmidta airfield in the Chukotka region of the Russian Arctic, with a resolution of about 40 feet (12.2 meters).  Source: Wikipedia

Keyhole satellites are identified by a code word and a “KH” designator, as summarized in the following table.

In 1976, NRO deployed its first electronic imaging optical reconnaissance satellite known as KENNEN KH-11 (renamed CRYSTAL in 1982), which eventually replaced the KH-9, and brought an end to reconnaissance satellite missions requiring film return.  The KH-11 flies long-duration missions and returns its digital images in near real time to ground stations for processing and analysis.  The KH-11, or an advanced version sometimes referred to as the KH-12, is operational today.

US film-return reconnaissance satellites from KH-1 to KH-9 shown to scale
with the KH-11 electronic imaging reconaissance satellite.  
Credit: Giuseppe De Chiara and The Space Review.

Geospatial intelligence, or GEOINT, is the exploitation and analysis of imagery and geospatial information to describe, assess and visually depict physical features and geographically referenced activities on the Earth. GEOINT consists of imagery, imagery intelligence and geospatial information.  Satellite imagery from Keyhole reconnaissance satellites is an important information source for national security-related GEOINT activities.

The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), which was formed in 2003, has the primary mission of collecting, analyzing, and distributing GEOINT in support of national security.  NGA’s predecessor agencies, with comparable missions, were:

  • National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA), 1996 – 2003
  • National Photographic Interpretation Center (NPIC), a joint project of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and DoD, 1961 – 1996

The NGA’s web homepage, at the following link: https://www.nga.mil/Pages/Default.aspx

The NGA’s webpage for declassified satellite imagery is here: https://www.nga.mil/ProductsServices/Pages/Imagery.aspx

2. The advent of the US civilian Earth observation programs

Collecting Earth imagery from orbit became an operational US military capability more than a decade before the start of the joint National Aeronautics & Space Administration (NASA) / US Geological Survey (USGS) civilian Landsat Earth observation program.  The first Landsat satellite was launched on 23 July 1972 with two electronic observing systems, both of which had a spatial resolution of about 80 meters (262 feet). 

Since 1972, Landsat satellites have continuously acquired low-to-moderate resolution digital images of the Earth’s land surface, providing long-term data about the status of natural resources and the environment. Resolution of the current generation multi-spectral scanner on Landsat 9 is 30 meters (98 feet) in visible light bands. 

You’ll find more information on the Landsat program on the USGS website here: https://www.usgs.gov/land-resources/nli/landsat

3. Declassification of certain military reconnaissance satellite imagery

All military reconnaissance satellite imagery was highly classified until 1995, when some imagery from early defense reconnaissance satellite programs was declassified.  The USGS explains:

“The images were originally used for reconnaissance and to produce maps for U.S. intelligence agencies. In 1992, an Environmental Task Force evaluated the application of early satellite data for environmental studies. Since the CORONA, ARGON, and LANYARD data were no longer critical to national security and could be of historical value for global change research, the images were declassified by Executive Order 12951 in 1995”

You can read Executive Order 12951 here: https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/WCPD-1995-02-27/pdf/WCPD-1995-02-27-Pg304.pdf

Additional sets of military reconnaissance satellite imagery were declassified in 2002 and 2011 based on extensions of Executive Order 12951.

The declassified imagery is held by the following two organizations:

  • The original film is held by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).
  • Duplicate film held in the USGS Earth Resources Observation and Science (EROS) Center archive is used to produce digital copies of the imagery for distribution to users.

The declassified military satellite imagery available in the EROS archive is summarized below:

USGS EROS Archive – Declassified Satellite Imagery – 1 (1960 to 1972)

  • This set of photos, declassified in 1995, consists of more than 860,000 images of the Earth’s surface from the CORONA, ARGON, and LANYARD satellite systems.
  • CORONA image resolution improved from 40 feet (12.2 meters) for the KH-1 to about 6 feet (1.8 meters) for the KH-4B.
  • KH-5 ARGON image resolution was about 460 feet (140 meters).
  • KH-6 LANYARD  image resolution was about 6 feet (1.8 meters).

USGS EROS Archive – Declassified Satellite Imagery – 2 (1963 to 1980)

  • This set of photos, declassified in 2002, consists of photographs from the KH-7 GAMBIT surveillance system and KH-9 HEXAGON mapping program.
  • KH-7 image resolution is 2 to 4 feet (0.6 to 1.2 meters).  About 18,000 black-and-white images and 230 color images are available.
  • The KH-9 mapping camera was designed to support mapping requirements and exact positioning of geographical points. Not all KH-9 satellite missions included a mapping camera.  Image resolution is 20 to 30 feet (6 to 9 meters); significantly better than the 98 feet (30 meter) resolution of LANDSAT imagery.  About 29,000 mapping images are available.

USGS EROS Archive – Declassified Satellite Imagery – 3 (1971 to 1984)

  • This set of photos, declassified in 2011, consists of more photographs from the KH-9 HEXAGON mapping program.  Image resolution is 20 to 30 feet (6 to 9 meters).

More information on the declassified imagery resources is available from the USGS EROS Archive – Products Overview webpage at the following link (see heading “Declassified Data”): https://www.usgs.gov/centers/eros/science/usgs-eros-archive-products-overview?qt-science_center_objects=0#qt-science_center_objects

4.  Example applications of declassified military reconnaissance satellite imagery

The declassified military reconnaissance satellite imagery provides views of the Earth starting in the early 1960s, more than a decade before civilian Earth observation satellites became operational.  The military reconnaissance satellite imagery, except from ARGON KH-5, is higher resolution than is available today from Landsat civilian earth observation satellites. The declassified imagery is an important supplement to other Earth imagery sources.  Several examples applications of the declassified imagery are described below.

Assessing Aral Sea depletion:

USGS reports: “The Aral Sea once covered about 68,000 square kilometers, a little bigger than the U.S. state of West Virginia. It was the 4th largest lake in the world. It is now only about 10% of the size it was in 1960…..In the 1990s, a dam was built to prevent North Aral water from flowing into the South Aral. It was rebuilt in 2005 and named the Kok-Aral Dam…..The North Aral has stabilized but the South Aral has continued to shrink and become saltier. Up until the 1960s, Aral Sea salinity was around 10 grams per liter, less than one-third the salinity of the ocean. The salinity level now exceeds 100 grams per liter in the South Aral, which is about three times saltier than the ocean.”

On the USGS website, the “Earthshots: Satellite Images of Environmental Change” webpages show the visible changes at many locations on Earth over a 50+ year time period.  The table of contents to the Earthshots webpages is shown below and is at the following link: http:// https://earthshots.usgs.gov/earthshots/

USGS Earthshots Table of Contents

For the Aral Sea region, the Earthshots photo sequences start with ARGON KH-5 photos taken in 1964.  Below are three screenshots  of the USGS Earthshots pages showing the KH-5 images for the whole the Aral Sea, the North Aral Sea region and the South Aral Sea region. You can explore the Aral Sea Earthshots photo sequences at the following link: https://earthshots.usgs.gov/earthshots/node/91#ad-image-0-0

Assessing Antarctic ice shelf condition:

In a 7 June 2016 article entitled, ”Spy satellites reveal early start to Antarctic ice shelf collapse,” Thomas Sumner reported:

“Analyzing declassified images from spy satellites, researchers discovered that the downhill flow of ice on Antarctica’s Larsen B ice shelf was already accelerating as early as the 1960s and ’70s. By the late 1980s, the average ice velocity at the front of the shelf was around 20 percent faster than in the preceding decades,….”

You can read the complete article on the ScienceNews website here: https://www.sciencenews.org/article/spy-satellites-reveal-early-start-antarctic-ice-shelf-collapse

Satellite images taken by the ARGON KH-5 satellite have revealed how the accelerated movement that triggered the collapse of the Larsen B ice shelf on the east side of the Antarctic Peninsula began in the 1960s. The declassified images taken by the satellite on 29 August 1963 and 1 September 1963 are pictured right.  
Source: Daily Mail, 10 June 2016

Assessing Himalayan glacier condition:  

In a 19 June 2019 paper “Acceleration of ice loss across the Himalayas over the past 40 years,” the authors, reported on the use of HEXAGON KH-9 mapping camera imagery to improve their understanding of trends affecting the Himalayan glaciers from 1975 to 2016:

“Himalayan glaciers supply meltwater to densely populated catchments in South Asia, and regional observations of glacier change over multiple decades are needed to understand climate drivers and assess resulting impacts on glacier-fed rivers. Here, we quantify changes in ice thickness during the intervals 1975–2000 and 2000–2016 across the Himalayas, using a set of digital elevation models derived from cold war–era spy satellite film and modern stereo satellite imagery.”

“The majority of the KH-9 images here were acquired within a 3-year interval (1973–1976), and we processed a total of 42 images to provide sufficient spatial coverage.”

“We observe consistent ice loss along the entire 2000-km transect for both intervals and find a doubling of the average loss rate during 2000–2016.”

“Our compilation includes glaciers comprising approximately 34% of the total glacierized area in the region, which represents roughly 55% of the total ice volume based on recent ice thickness estimates.”

You can read the complete paper by J. M. Maurer, et al., on the Science Advances website here: https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/5/6/eaav7266

3-D image of the Himalayas derived from HEXAGON KH-9 satellite mapping photographs taken on December 20, 1975. Source:  J. M. Maurer/LDEO

Discovering archaeological sites:

The Center for Advanced Spatial Technologies, a University of Arkansas / U.S. Geological Survey collaboration, has undertaken the CORONA Atlas Project using military reconnaissance satellite imagery to create the “CORONA Atlas & Referencing System”. The current Atlas focuses on the Middle East and a small area of Peru, and is derived from 1,024 CORONA images taken on 50 missions. The Atlas contains 833 archaeological sites.

“In regions like the Middle East, CORONA imagery is particularly important for archaeology because urban development, agricultural intensification, and reservoir construction over the past several decades have obscured or destroyed countless archaeological sites and other ancient features such as roads and canals. These sites are often clearly visible on CORONA imagery, enabling researchers to map sites that have been lost and to discover many that have never before been documented. However, the unique imaging geometry of the CORONA satellite cameras, which produced long, narrow film strips, makes correcting spatial distortions in the images very challenging and has therefore limited their use by researchers.”

Screenshot of the CORONA Atlas showing regions in the Middle East
with data available.

CAST reports that they have “developed methods for efficient 

orthorectification of CORONA imagery and now provides free public access to our imagery database for non-commercial use. Images can be viewed online and full resolution images can be downloaded in NITF format.”  

The can explore the CORONA Atlas & Referencing System here: https://corona.cast.uark.edu

Conducting commercial geospatial analytics over a broader period of time:

The firm Orbital Insight, founded in 2013, is an example of commercial firms that are mining geospatial data and developing valuable information products for a wide range of customers. Orbital Insight reports:

“Orbital Insight turns millions of images into a big-picture understanding of Earth. Not only does this create unprecedented transparency, but it also empowers business and policy decision makers with new insights and unbiased knowledge of socio-economic trends. As the number of Earth-observing devices grows and their data output expands, Orbital Insight’s geospatial analytics platform finds observational truth in an interconnected world. We map out and quantify the world’s complexities so that organizations can make more informed decisions.”

“By applying artificial intelligence to satellite, UAV, and other geospatial data sources, we seek to discover and quantify societal and economic trends on Earth that are indistinguishable to the human eye. Combining this information with terrestrial data, such as mobile and location-based data, unlocks new sources of intelligence.”

The Orbital Insight website is here: https://orbitalinsight.com/company/

5. Additional reading related to US optical reconnaissance satellites

You’ll find more information on the NRO’s film-return, optical reconnaissance satellites (KH-1 to KH-9) at the following links:

  • Robert Perry, “A History of Satellite Reconnaissance,” Volumes I to V, National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), various dates 1973 – 1974; released under FOIA and available for download on the NASA Spaceflight.com website, here: https://forum.nasaspaceflight.com/index.php?topic=20232.0

You’ll find details on NRO’s electronic optical reconnaissance satellites (KH-11, KH-12) at the following links:

6. Additional reading related to civilian use of declassified spy satellite imagery

General:

Assessing Aral Sea depletion:

Assessing Antarctic ice sheet condition:

Assessing Himalayan glacier condition:

Discovering archaeological sites:

Exascale Computing is at the Doorstep

The best current supercomputers are “petascale” machines.  This term refers to supercomputers capable of performing at least 1.0 petaflops [PFLOPS; 1015  floating-point operations per second (FLOPS)], and also refers to data storage systems capable of storing at least 1.0 petabyte (PB; 1015  bytes) of data.

In my 13 November 2018 post, I reported the latest TOP500 ranking of the world’s fastest supercomputers.  The new leaders were two US supercomputers: Summit and Sierra.

  • Summit:  The #1 ranked IBM Summit is installed at the Department of Energy (DOE) Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) in Tennessee.  It has a LINPACK Benchmark Rmax (maximal achieved performance) rating of 143.5 PFLOPS and an Rpeak (theoretical peak performance) rating of 200.8 PFLOPS.
  • Sierra:The #2 ranked IBM Sierra is installed at the DOE Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) in California. It has an Rmax rating of 94.64 PFLOPS and an Rpeak rating of 125.7 PFLOPS.

The next update of the TOP500 ranking will be in June 2019. Check out their website here: 

http:// https://www.top500.org

New exascale machines are only a year or two away

The next big step up in supercomputing power will be the arrival of “exascale” machines, which refers to supercomputers capable of performing at least 1.0 exaflops (EFLOPS; 1018  FLOPS), and also refers to data storage systems capable of storing at least 1.0 exabyte (EB, 1018  bytes) of data.  As you might suspect, there is intense international completion to be the first nation to operate an exascale supercomputer.  The main players are the US, China and Japan.

In the US, DOE awarded contracts to build two new exascale supercomputers: Aurora (announced in March 2019) and Frontier (announced in May 2019).

Aurora supercomputer concept drawing.
Source: DOE / Argonne National Laboratory

The Aurora supercomputer is being built at Argonne National Laboratory by the team of Intel (prime contractor) and Cray (subcontractor), under a contract valued at more than $500 million. 

The computer architecture is based on the Cray “Shasta” system and Intel’s Xeon Scalable processor, Xe compute architecture, Optane Datacenter Persistent Memory, and One API software. Those Cray and Intel technologies will be integrated into more than 200 Shasta cabinets, all connected by Cray’s Slingshot interconnect and associated software stack. 

Aurora is expected to come online by the end of 2021 and likely will be the first exascale supercomputer in the US.  It is being designed for sustained performance of one exaflops.  An Argonne spokesman stated, “This platform is designed to tackle the largest AI (artificial intelligence) training and inference problems that we know about.”

Frontier supercomputer concept drawing.
Source:  DOE / Oak Ridge National Laboratory

The Frontier supercomputer is being built by at ORNL by the team of Cray (prime contractor) and Advanced Micro Devices, Inc. (AMD, subcontractor), under a contract valued at about $600 million. 

The computer architecture is based on the Cray “Shasta” system and will consist of more than 100 Cray Shasta cabinets with high density “compute blades” that support a 4:1 GPU to CPU ratio using AMD EPYC processors (CPUs) and Radeon Instinct GPU accelerators purpose-built for the needs of exascale computing. Cray and AMD are co-designing and developing enhanced GPU programming tools.  

Frontier is expected to come online in 2022 after Aurora, but is expected to be more powerful, with a rating of 1.5 exaflops. Frontier will find applications in deep learning, machine learning and data analytics for applications ranging from manufacturing to human health.

Hewlett Packard Enterprise acquires Cray in May 2019

On 17 May 2019, Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) announced that it has acquired Cray, Inc. for about $1.3 billion.  The following charts from the November 2018 TOP500 report gives some interesting insight into HPE’s rationale for acquiring Cray.  In the Vendor’s System Share chart, both HPE and Cray have a 9 – 9.6% share of the market based on the number of installed TOP500 systems.  In the Vendor’s Performance Share chart, the aggregate installed performance of Cray systems far exceeds the aggregate performance of a similar number of lower-end HPE systems (25.5% vs. 7.3%).  The Cray product line fits above the existing HPE product line, and the acquisition of Cray should enable HPE to compete directly with IBM in the supercomputer market.  HPE reported that it sees a growing market for exascale computing. The primary US customers are government laboratories.

TOP500 ranking of supercomputer vendors, Nov 2018
Source:  https://www.top500.org
 

Meanwhile in China:

On 19 May 2019, the South China Morning Post reported that China is making a multi-billion dollar investment to re-take the lead in supercomputer power.  In the near-term (possibly in 2019), the newest Shuguang supercomputers are expected to operate about 50% faster than the US Summit supercomputer. This should put the new Chinese super computers in the Rmax = 210 – 250 PFLOPS range. 

In addition, China is expected to have its own exascale supercomputer operating in 2020, a year ahead of the first US exascale machine, with most, if not all, of the hardware and software being developed in China.  This computer will be installed at the Center of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) in Beijing.

You’ll find a description of China’s three exascale prototypes installed in 2018 and a synopsis of what is known about the first exascale machine on the TOP500 website at the following link:

https://www.top500.org/news/china-spills-details-on-exascale-prototypes/

Where to next?

Why, zettascale, of course.  These will be supercomputers performing at least 1.0 zettaflops (ZFLOPS; 1021  FLOPS), while consuming about 100 megawatts (MW) of electrical power.

Check out the December 2018 article by Tiffany Trader, “Zettascale by 2035? China thinks so,” at the following link:

https://www.hpcwire.com/2018/12/06/zettascale-by-2035/

JASON and NRAC Contracts Cancelled by the Pentagon

JASON is an independent advisory panel of elite scientists that was created in 1960 to address a wide range of scientific and technical issues, primarily for the U.S. military. Originally, the JASON panel had about 20 members, known informally as Jasons, increasing to about 40 members by the 1970s.  JASON maintains its independence by requiring that new members be selected by its existing members rather than by external sponsors.  

JASON is a very controversial organization with a very low public profile.  For a good introduction to JASON, I recommend Ann Finkbeiner’s 2006 book, “The Jasons: The Secret History of Science’s Postwar Elite,”  which is available from Amazon and other booksellers. You can watch an hour-long video created by Microsoft Research with Ann Finkbeiner providing an excellent narrative overview (no Powerpoint slides) on JASON here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FV1TBiwdZeg

Ann Finkbeiner notes: “Working in secrecy to solve highly classified problems for the Department of Defense, CIA, and NSA is an elite group of scientific advisors who provide the government with analyses on defense and arms control and they call themselves JASON.  Named for the hero in Jason and the Argonauts, the group grew out of the Manhattan Project and counts as its members scientists such as Freeman Dyson and Murray Gell-Mann.  Of the roughly one hundred Jasons over time, 43 have been elected to the National Academy of Sciences, eight have won MacArthur awards, one a Field’s Medal, and 11 have won Nobel Prizes.  Its members have gathered every summer since 1960, working in absolute secrecy and with unparalleled freedom.  The Jasons’ work poses vital questions: what role should the government play in scientific research? At what point is the inventor accountable for the hazards of the invention?”

You’ll find a list of JASON research topics compiled on Wikipedia here:

https://ipfs.io/ipfs/QmXoypizjW3WknFiJnKLwHCnL72vedxjQkDDP1mXWo6uco/wiki/JASON_(advisory_group).html

Most of the resulting JASON reports are classified.  You’ll find a list of unclassified JASON reports (and links) on the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) website at the following link:

https://fas.org/irp/agency/dod/jason/

Since the late 1970s, the JASONs have been assigned tasks and been funded via Indefinite Delivery / Indefinite Quantity (IDIQ) contracts managed by MITRE Corporation.  The Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) issued MITRE’s most recent five-year IDIQ contract for managing JASON tasking and funding.   Task Orders are issued under the main IDIQ contract and the actual work is performed according to the individual task orders. The IDIQ contract structure broadly allows government agencies to commission a JASON study and fund it via a new task order.  MITRE’s IDIQ contract expired on 31 March 2019.  A follow-on IDIQ contract was in the works, but OSD cancelled that solicitation on short notice on 28 March 2019. 

On 10 April 2019, the article, “Pentagon Cancels Contract for JASON Advisory Panel,” written by Steven Aftergood, was posted on the FAS website at the following link:

https://fas.org/blogs/secrecy/2019/04/pentagon-jason/?utm_source=FAS+General&utm_campaign=495e653a5b-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2017_02_21_COPY_01&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_56a7496199-495e653a5b-222204421

FAS speculated that, “The Pentagon move to cancel the JASON contract appears to be part of a larger trend by federal agencies to limit independent scientific and technical advice.”  This trend appears to include the Naval Research Advisory Committee (NRAC), which is the Navy counterpart to the Army Science Board and the Air Force Scientific Advisory Board. 

On 5 April 2019, Steve Aftergood reported that, “This week the U.S. Navy abruptly terminated its own scientific advisory group, depriving the service of a source of internal critique and evaluation. The Naval Research Advisory Committee (NRAC) was established by legislation in 1946 and provided science and technology advice to the Navy for the past 73 years. Now it’s gone.  The decision to disestablish the Committee was announced in a March 29 Federal Register notice.”  You can read this report on the FAS website here:

https://fas.org/blogs/secrecy/2019/04/nrac-terminated/?utm_source=FAS+General&utm_campaign=495e653a5b-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2017_02_21_COPY_01&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_56a7496199-495e653a5b-222204421

You can get an understanding of NRAC’s advisory role by visiting their website, which is still online at the following link:

https://www.nrac.navy.mil

NRAC published reports from 1988 are available online here:

https://www.nrac.navy.mil/reports.asp

Efforts are underway on several fronts to attempt to restore funding for JASON and NRAC.  Hopefully funding can be restored and these independent advisory groups can continue providing important scientific and technical advice to the U.S. government.

Additional resources related to JASON:

  • Joel Shurkin, “True Genius: The Life and Work of Richard Garwin, the Most Influential Scientist You’ve Never Heard of,” Prometheus Books, 21 February 2017      

Lyncean link

At meeting #65 of the Lyncean Group in August 2011, the subject of our presentation was “Experience with the JASONs.”  See more at the following link: https://lynceans.org/talk-65-82411/

Update 28 June 2019:

In April 2019, the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) agreed to issue a contract to provide funding for JASON through at least January 2020. An early report of this new NNSA sponsorship was in the article, “After Pentagon Ends Contract, Top-Secret Scientists Group Vows To Carry On,” on the NPR website at the following link:

https://www.npr.org/2019/04/25/717225118/after-pentagon-ends-contract-top-secret-scientists-group-vows-to-carry-on

On 28 June 2019, Ann Finkbeiner posted an article entitled, “Jason—a secretive group of Cold War science advisers—is fighting to survive in the 21st century,” on the Science website at the following link:

https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2019/06/jason-secretive-group-cold-war-science-advisers-fighting-survive-21st-century

“What happens when Jason’s contract with NNSA expires in 2020 is unclear. One possibility is yet another home within DOD: This month, the U.S. House of Representatives added a line to DOD’s preliminary budget directing the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment to pick up Jason’s contract.”

75th Anniversary of the US Nuclear Weapons Complex

1.  Background

On 19 January 1942, US President Franklin D. Roosevelt approved the production of an atomic bomb.  At that time, most of the technology for producing an atomic bomb still needed to be developed and the US had very little infrastructure in place to support that work.

The Manhattan Engineer District (MED, aka the “Manhattan Project”) was responsible for the research, design, construction and operation of the early US nuclear weapons complex and for delivering atomic bombs to the US Army during World War II (WW II) and in the immediate post-war period.  The Manhattan Project existed for just five years. In 1943, 75 years ago, the Manhattan Project transitioned from planning to construction and initial operation of the first US nuclear weapons complex facilities.   Here’s a very brief timeline for the Manhattan Project.

  • 13 August 1942: The Manhattan Engineer District was formally created under the leadership of U.S. Army Colonel Leslie R. Groves.
  • 2 December 1942: A team led by Enrico Fermi achieved the world’s first self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction in a graphite-moderated, natural uranium fueled reactor known simply as Chicago Pile-1 (CP-1).
  • 1943 – 1946: The Manhattan Project managed the construction and operation of the entire US nuclear weapons complex.
  • 16 July 1945: The first nuclear device was successfully tested at the Trinity site near Alamogordo, NM, less than three years after the Manhattan Project was created.
  • 6 & 9 August 1945:  Atomic bombs were employed by the US against Japan, contributing to ending World War II.
  • 1 January 1947:  The newly formed, civilian-led Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) took over management and operation of all research and production facilities from the Manhattan Engineer District.
  • 25 August 1947: The Manhattan Engineer District was abolished.

The WW II nuclear weapons complex was the foundation for the early US post-war nuclear weapons infrastructure that evolved significantly over time to support the US mutually-assured destruction strategy during the Cold War with the Soviet Union.  Today, the US nuclear weapons complex continues to evolve as needed to perform its critical role in maintaining the US nuclear deterrent capability.

2.  A Closer Look at the Manhattan Project Timeline

You’ll find a comprehensive, interactive timeline of the Manhattan Project on the Department of Energy’s (DOE) OSTI website at the following link:

https://www.osti.gov/opennet/manhattan-project-history/Events/events.htm

The Atomic Heritage Foundation is dedicated to “supporting the Manhattan Project National Historical Park and capturing the memories of the people who harnessed the energy of the atom.”  Their homepage is here:

https://www.atomicheritage.org

A similar atomic timeline created by the Atomic Heritage Foundation is available for your browsing pleasure here:

https://www.atomicheritage.org/history/timeline

3.  The Manhattan Project National Historical Park

The Manhattan Project National Historical Park was authorized by Congress in December 2014 and subsequently was approved by the President to commemorate the Manhattan Project. The Manhattan Project National Historical Park is an extended “park” that currently is comprised of three distinct DOE sites that each had different missions during WW II: 

  • Los Alamos, New Mexico: Nuclear device design, test and production
  • Oak Ridge, Tennessee: Enriched uranium production
  • Hanford, Washington: Plutonium production

On 10 November 2015, a memorandum of agreement between DOE and the National Park Service (NPS) established the park and the respective roles of DOE and NPS in managing the park and protecting and presenting certain historic structures to the public.

You’ll find the Manhattan Project National Historical Park website here: 

https://manhattanprojectnationalpark.com

Following is a brief overview of the three sites that currently comprise the Manhattan Project National Historical Park.

3.1. Los Alamos, New Mexico

Los Alamos Laboratory was established 75 years ago, in early 1943, as MED Site Y, under the direction of J. Robert Oppenheimer. This was the Manhattan Project’s nuclear weapons laboratory, which was created to consolidate in one secure, remote location most of the research, design, development and production work associated producing usable nuclear weapons to the US Army during WW II. 

Los Alamos Laboratory main gate circa 1944. Source: Los Alamos National Laboratory

The first wave of scientists began arriving at Los Alamos Laboratory in April 1943.  Just 27 months later, on 16 July 1945, the world’s first nuclear device was detonated 200 miles south of Los Alamos at the Trinity Site near Alamogordo, NM.  This was the plutonium-fueled, implosion-type device code named “Gadget.”  

During WW II, the Los Alamos Laboratory produced three atomic bombs:

  • One uranium-fueled, gun-type atomic bomb code named “Little Boy” was produced. This was the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan on 6 August 1945, making it the first nuclear weapon used in warfare.  This atomic bomb design was not tested before it was used operationally.
  • Two plutonium-fueled, implosion-type atomic bombs code named “Fat Man” were produced.  These bombs were very similar to Gadget.  One of the Fat Man bombs was dropped on Nagasaki, Japan on 9 August 1945.  The second Fat Man bomb could have been used during WW II, but it was not needed after Japan announced its surrender on 15 August 1945.

The highly-enriched uranium for the Little Boy bomb was produced by the enrichment plants at Oak Ridge.  The plutonium for Gadget and the two Fat Man bombs was produced by the production reactors at Hanford.

Three historic sites are on Los Alamos National Laboratory property and currently are not open to the public:

  • Gun Site Facilities: three bunkered buildings (TA-8-1, TA-8-2, and TA-8-3), and a portable guard shack (TA-8-172).
  • V-Site Facilities: TA-16-516 and TA-16-517 V-Site Assembly Building
  • Pajarito Site: TA-18-1 Slotin Building, TA-8-2 Battleship Control Building, and the TA-18-29 Pond Cabin.

You’ll find information on the Manhattan Project National Historical Park sites at Los Alamos here:

https://manhattanprojectnationalpark.com/los-alamos-site

Also visit the Atomic Heritage Foundation’s webpage on Los Alamos here:

https://www.atomicheritage.org/location/los-alamos-nm

3.2. Oak Ridge, Tennessee

Land acquisition was approved in 1942 for planned uranium “atomic production plants” in the Tennessee Valley.  The selected site officially became the Clinton Engineer Works (CEW) in January 1943 and was given the MED code name Site X.  This is where MED and its contractors managed the deployment during WW II of the following three different uranium enrichment technologies in three separate, large-scale industrial process facilities:  

  • Liquid thermal diffusion process, based on work by Philip Abelson at Naval Research Laboratory and the Philadelphia Naval Yard.  This process was implemented at S-50, which produced uranium enriched to < 2 at. % U-235.
  • Gaseous diffusion process, based on work by Harold Urey at Columbia University.  This process was implemented at K-25, which produced uranium enriched to about 23 at. % U-235 during WW II. 
  • Electromagnetic separation process, based on Ernest Lawrence’s invention of the cyclotron at the University of California Berkeley in the early 1930s.  This process was implemented at Y-12 where the final output was weapons-grade uranium.  

The Little Boy atomic bomb used 92.6 pounds (42 kg) of highly enriched uranium produced at Oak Ridge with contributions from all three of these processes.

The nearby township was named Oak Ridge in 1943, but the nuclear site itself was not officially renamed Oak Ridge until 1947.

The three Manhattan Project National Historical Park sites at Oak Ridge are:

  • X-10 Graphite Reactor National Historic Landmark
  • K-25 complex
  • Y-12 complex: Buildings 9731 and 9204-3 

The S-50 Thermal Diffusion Plant was dismantled in the late 1940s. This site is not part of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park.

Following is a brief overview of X-10, K-25 and Y-12 historical sites. There’s much more information on the Manhattan Project National Historical Park sites at Oak Ridge here:

https://www.nps.gov/mapr/oakridge.htm

Also visit the Atomic Heritage Foundation’s webpage on Oak Ridge here:

https://www.atomicheritage.org/location/oak-ridge-tn

X-10 Graphite Reactor

X-10 was the world’s second nuclear reactor (after the Chicago Pile, CP-1) and the first reactor designed and built for continuous operation. It was intended to produce the first significant quantities of plutonium, which were used by scientists at Los Alamos to characterize plutonium and develop the design of a plutonium-fueled atomic bomb.  

X-10 was a large graphite-moderated, natural uranium fueled reactor that originally had an continuous design power rating of 1.0 MWt, which later was raised to 3.5 MWt. Originally, it was intended to be a prototype for the much larger plutonium production reactors being planned for Hanford.  The selection of air cooling for X-10 enabled this reactor to be deployed more rapidly, but limited its value as a prototype for the future water-cooled plutonium production reactors.

The X-10 reactor core was comprised of graphite blocks arranged into a cube measuring 24 feet (7.3 meters) on each side.  The core was surrounded by several feet of high-density concrete and other material to provide radiation shielding.  The core and shielding were penetrated by 1,248 horizontal channels arranged in 36 rows. Each channel served to position up to 54 fuel slugs in the core and provide passages for forced air cooling of the core. Each fuel slug was an aluminum clad, metallic natural uranium cylinder measuring 4 inches (10.16 cm) long x 1.1 inches (2.79 cm) in diameter.  New fuel slugs were added manually at the front face (the loading face) of the reactor and irradiated slugs were pushed out through the back face of the reactor, dropping into a cooling water pool.  The reactor was controlled by a set of vertical control rods.

The basic geometry of the X-10 reactor is shown below.

X-10 Graphite Reactor general arrangement.  Source: Department of Energy / Oak Ridge via https://en.wikipedia.org/
Workers load fuel slugs into the X-10 Graphite Reactor circa 1952.  Source: US Army / Manhattan Engineer District – Ed Westcott / American Museum of Science and Energy / https://en.wikipedia.org/

Site construction work started 75 years ago, on 27 April 1943. Initial criticality occurred less than seven months later, on 4 November 1943.  

Plutonium was recovered from irradiated fuel slugs in a pilot-scale chemical separation line at Oak Ridge using the bismuth phosphate process.  In April 1944, the first sample (grams) of reactor-bred plutonium from X-10 was delivered to Los Alamos.  Analysis of this sample led Los Alamos scientists to eliminate one candidate plutonium bomb design (the “Thin Man” gun-type device) and focus their attention on the Fat Man implosion-type device. X-10 operated as a plutonium production reactor until January 1945, when it was turned over to research activities.  X-10 was permanently shutdown on 4 November 1963, and was designated a National Historic Landmark on 15 October 1966.

K-25 Gaseous Diffusion Plant

Preliminary site work for the K-25 gaseous diffusion plant began 75 years ago, in May 1943, with work on the main building starting in October 1943. The six-stage pilot plant was ready for operation on 17 April 1944.  

K-25 site circa 1944.  Source: http://k-25virtualmuseum.org/timeline/index.html

The K-25 gaseous diffusion plant feed material was uranium hexafluoride gas (UF6) from natural uranium and slightly enriched uranium from both the S-50 liquid thermal diffusion plant and the first (Alpha) stage of the Y-12 electromagnetic separation plant.  During WW II, the K-25 plant was capable of producing uranium enriched up to about 23 at. % U-235.  This product became feed material for the second (Beta) stage of the Y-12 electromagnetic separation process, which continued the enrichment process and produced weapons-grade U-235.

As experience with the gaseous diffusion process improved and additional cascades were added, K-25 became capable of delivering highly-enriched uranium after WW II.

You can take a virtual tour of K-25, including its decommissioning and cleanup, here:

http://www.k-25virtualmuseum.org

Construction on the second Oak Ridge gaseous diffusion plant, K-27, began on 3 April 1945.  This plant became operational after WW II.  By 1955, the K-25 complex had grown to include gaseous diffusion buildings K-25, K-27, K-29, K-31 and K-33 that comprised a multi-building, enriched uranium production chain collectively known as the Oak Ridge Gaseous Diffusion Plant (ORGDP). Operation of the ORGDP continued until 1985.

Additional post-war gaseous diffusion plants based on the technology developed at Oak Ridge were built and operated in Paducah, KY (1952 – 2013) and Portsmouth, OH (1954 – 2001).

Y-12 Electromagnetic Separation Plant

In 1941, Earnest Lawrence modified the 37-inch (94 cm) cyclotron in his laboratory at the University of California Berkeley to demonstrate the feasibility of electromagnetic separation of uranium isotopes using the same principle as a mass spectrograph.

The initial industrial-scale design agreed in 1942 was called an Alpha (α) calutron, which was designed to enrich natural uranium (@ 0.711 at.% U-235) to >10 at.% U-235.  The later Beta (β) calutron was designed to further enrich the output of the Alpha calutrons, as well as the outputs from the K-25 and S-50 processes, and produce weapons-grade uranium at >88 at.% U-235.

The calutrons required large magnet coils to establish the strong electromagnetic field needed to separate the uranium isotopes U-235 and U-238. The shape of the magnet coils for both the Alfa and Beta calutrons resembled a racetrack, with many individual calutron modules (aka “tanks”) arranged side-by-side around the racetrack.  At Y-12, there were nine Alpha calutron “tracks” (5 x Alpha-1 and 4 x Alpha-2 tracks), each with 96 calutron modules (tanks), for a total of 864 Alpha calutrons.  In addition, there were eight Beta calutron tracks, each with 36 calutron modules, for a total of 288 beta calutrons, only 216 of which ever operated.

Due to wartime shortages of copper, the Manhattan Project arranged a loan from the Treasury Department of about 300 million Troy ounces (10,286 US tons) of silver for use in manufacturing the calutron magnet coils. A general arrangement of a Beta calutron module (tank) is shown in the following diagram, which also shows the isotope flight paths from the uranium tetrachloride  (UCl4) ion source to the ion receivers.  Separated uranium was recovered by burning the graphite ion receivers and extracting the metallic uranium from the ash.

General arrangement of a Beta calutron module (tank).  Source:  Oak Ridge drawing 42951, via Yergey & Yergey, 1997
An Alpha calutron “racetrack” comprised of 96 individual calutron modules (tanks).  Source: Department of Energy, Oak Ridge via https://commons.wikimedia.org/

Construction of Buildings 9731 and 9204-3 at the Y-12 complex began 75 years ago, in February 1943.  By February 1944, initial operation of the Alpha calutrons had produced only 0.44 pounds (0.2 kg) of U-235 @ 12 at.%. By August 1945, the Y-12 Beta calutrons had produced the 92.6 pounds (42 kg) of weapons-grade uranium needed for the Little Boy atomic bomb.

After WW II, the silver was recovered from the calutron magnet coils and returned to the Treasury Department.

3.3. Hanford, Washington

On January 16, 1943, General Leslie Groves officially endorsed Hanford as the proposed plutonium production site, which was given the MED code name Site W. The plan was to construct three large graphite-moderated, water-cooled plutonium production reactors, designated B, D, and F, in along the Columbia River.  The Hanford site also would include a facility for manufacturing the new uranium fuel slugs for the reactors as well as chemical separation plants and associated facilities to recover and process plutonium from the irradiated uranium slugs.

After WW II, six more plutonium production reactors were built at Hanford along with additional plutonium and nuclear waste processing and storage facilities.

The Manhattan Project National Historical Park sites at Hanford are:

  • B Reactor, which has been a National Historic Landmark since 19 August 2008
  • The previous Hanford High School in the former Town of Hanford and Hanford Construction Camp Historic District
  • Bruggemann’s Agricultural Warehouse Complex
  • White Bluffs Bank and Hanford Irrigation District Pump House

A brief overview of the B Reactor and the other Hanford production reactors is provided below.  There’s more information on the Manhattan Project National Historical Park sites at Hanford here:

https://www.nps.gov/mapr/hanford.htm

Also visit the Atomic Heritage Foundation’s webpage on Hanford here:

https://www.atomicheritage.org/tour-site/life-hanford

The Manhattan Project National Historical Park does not include the Hanford chemical separation plants and associated plutonium facilities in the 200 Area, the uranium fuel production plant in the 300 Area, or the other eight plutonium production reactors that were built in the 100 Area. Information on all Hanford facilities, including their current cleanup status, is available on the Hanford website here:

https://www.hanford.gov/page.cfm/ProjectsFacilities

B Reactor

The B Reactor at the Hanford Site was the world’s first full-scale reactor and the first of three plutonium production reactor of the same design that became operational at Hanford during WW II.  B Reactor and the similar D and F Reactors were significantly larger graphite-moderated reactor than the X-10 Graphite Reactor at Oak Ridge.  The rectangular reactor core measured 36 feet (11 m) wide x 36 feet (11 m) tall x 28 feet (8.53 m) deep, surrounded by radiation shielding. These reactors were fueled by aluminum clad, metallic natural fuel slugs measuring 8 inches (20.3 cm) long x 1.5 inches (3.8 cm) in diameter.  As with the X-10 Graphite Reactor, new fuel slugs were inserted into process tubes (fuel channels) at the front face of the reactor. The irradiated fuel slugs were pushed out of the fuel channels at the back face of the reactor, falling into a water pool to allow the slugs to cool before further processing for plutonium recovery.

Reactor cooling was provided by the once-through flow of filtered and processed fresh water drawn from the Columbia River.  The heated water was discharged from the reactor into large retention basins that allowed some cooling time before the water was returned to the Columbia River.

Hanford production reactor general arrangement (Typical of B, D & F Reactor).  Source:  DOE/RL-97-1047, Department of Energy (DOE)
Hanford production reactor core general arrangement (Typical of B, D, F, H, DR and C).  Source: DOE
The front face (loading face) of B Reactor.  Source: DOE

Construction of B Reactor began 75 years ago, in October 1943, and fuel loading started 11 months later, on September 13, 1944.  Initial criticality occurred on 26 September 1944, followed shortly by operation at the initial design power of 250 MWt.

B Reactor was the first reactor to experience the effects of xenon poisoning due to the accumulation of Xenon (Xe-135) in the uranium fuel. Xe-135 is a decay product of the relatively short-lived (6.7 hour half-life) fission product iodine I-135.  With its very high neutron cross-section, Xe-135 absorbed sufficient neutrons to significantly, and unexpectedly, reduce B Reactor power. Fortunately, DuPont had added more process tubes (a total of 2004) than called for in the original design of B Reactor. After the xenon poisoning problem was understood, additional fuel was loaded, providing the core with enough excess reactivity to override the neutron poisoning effects of Xe-135.

On 3 February 1945, the first batch of B Reactor plutonium was delivered to Los Alamos, just 10 months after the first small plutonium sample from the X-10 Graphite Reactor had been delivered.

B Reactor plutonium production complex at Hanford, in its heyday.  Source: DOE
B Reactor at Hanford today.  Source: DOE

Regular plutonium deliveries from the Hanford production reactors provided the plutonium needed for the first ever nuclear device (the Gadget) tested at the Trinity site near Alamogordo, NM on 16 July 1945, as well as for the Fat Man atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan on 9 August 1945 and an unused second Fat Man atomic bomb. These three devices each contained about 13.7 pounds (6.2 kilograms) of weapons-grade plutonium produced in the Hanford production reactors.

From March 1946 to June 1948, B Reactor was shut down for maintenance and modifications.  In March 1949, B Reactor began the first tritium production campaign, irradiating targets containing lithium and producing tritium for hydrogen bombs.  

By 1963, B Reactor was permitted to operate at a maximum power level of 2,090 MWt.  B Reactor continued operation until 29 January 1968, when it was ordered shut down by the Atomic Energy Commission.  Because of its historical significance, B Reactor was given special status that allows it to be open for public tours as part of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park.

The Other WW II Production Reactors at the Hanford Site:  D & F

During WW II, three plutonium reactors of the same design were operational at Hanford: B, D and F.  All had an initial design power rating of 250 MWt and by 1963 all were permitted to operate at a maximum power level of 2,090 MWt.

  • D Reactor:  This was the world’s second full-scale nuclear reactor.  It became operational in December 1944, but experienced operational problems early in life due to growth and distortion of its graphite core.  After developing a process for controlling graphite distortion, D Reactor operated successfully through June 1967.
  • F Reactor:  This was the third of the original three production reactors at Hanford.  It became operational in February 1945 and ran for more than twenty years until it was shut down in June1965.

D and F Reactors currently are in “interim safe storage,” which commonly is referred to as “cocooned.”  These reactor sites are not part of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park.

Post-war Production Reactors at Hanford: H, DR, C, K-West, K-East & N

After WW II, six additional plutonium production reactors were built and operated at Hanford. The first three, named H, DR and C, were very similar in design to the B, D and F Reactors.  The next two, K-West and K-East, were of similar design, but significantly larger than their predecessors.  The last reactor, named N, was a one-of-a kind design.

  • H Reactor:  This was the first plutonium production reactor built at Hanford after WW II. It became operational in October 1949 with a design power rating of 400 MWt and by 1963 was permitted to operate at a maximum power level of 2,090 MWt. It operated for 15 years before being permanently shut down in April 1965.
  • DR Reactor:  This reactor originally was planned as a replacement for the D Reactor and was built adjacent to the D Reactor site. DR became operational in October 1950 with an initial design power rating of 250 MWt. It operated in parallel with D Reactor for 14 years, and by 1963 was permitted to operate at the same maximum power level of 2,090 MWt.  DR was permanently shut down in December 1964.
  • C Reactor:  Reactor construction started June 1951 and it was completed in November 1952, operating initially at a design power of 650 MWt. By 1963, C Reactor was permitted to operate at a maximum power level of 2,310 MWt.  It operated for sixteen years before being shut down in April 1969.  C Reactor was the first reactor at Hanford to be placed in interim safe storage, in 1998.
  • K-West & K-East Reactors:  These larger reactors differed from their predecessors mainly in the size of the moderator stack, the number, size and type of process tubes (3,220 process tubes), the type of shielding and other materials employed, and the addition of a process heat recovery system to heat the facilities.  These reactors were built side-by-side and became operational within four months of each other in 1955: K-West in January and K-East in April.  These reactors initially had a design power of 1,800 MWt and by 1963 were permitted to operate at a maximum power level of 4,400 MWt before an administrative limit of 4,000 MWt was imposed by the Atomic Energy Commission. The two reactors ran for more than 15 years.  K-West was permanently shut down in February 1970 followed by K-East in January 1971.
  • N Reactor:  This was last of Hanford’s nine plutonium production reactors and the only one designed as a dual-purpose reactor capable of serving as a production reactor while also generating electric power for distribution to the external power grid.  The N Reactor had a reactor design power rating of 4,000 MWt and was capable of generating 800 MWe. The N Reactor also was the only Hanford production reactor with a closed-loop primary cooling system.  Plutonium production began in 1964, two years before the power generating part of the plant was completed in 1966.  N Reactor operated for 24 years until 1987, when it was shutdown for routine maintenance.  However, it never restarted, instead being placed in standby status by DOE and then later retired.

Four of these reactors (H, DR, C and N) are in interim safe storage while the other two (K-West and K-East) are being prepared for interim safe storage.  None of these reactor sites are part of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park.

The Federation of American Scientists (FAS) reported that the nine Hanford production reactors produced 67.4 metric tons of plutonium, including 54.5 metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium, through 1987 when the last Hanford production reactor (N Reactor) was shutdown.

4. Other Manhattan Project Sites

There are many MED sites that are not yet part of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park.  You’ll find details on all of the MED sites on the American Heritage Foundation website, which you can browse at the following link:

https://www.atomicheritage.org/history/project-sites

Another site worth browsing is the interactive world map created by the ALSOS Digital Library for Nuclear Issues on Google Maps to show the locations and provide information on offices, mines, mills, plants, laboratories, and test sites of the US nuclear weapons complex from World War II to 2016. The map includes over 300 sites, including the Manhattan Project sites.  I think you’ll enjoy exploring this interactive map. 

https://www.google.com/maps/d/viewer?mid=16D-GF2of9UXppSRknAN_ApFpHBg&ll=-3.81666561775622e-14%2C-101.79375970000001&z=2

Source: Google maps / ALSOS Digital Library for Nuclear Issues

5. Additional reading:

Following is a list of other online resources where you can find additional information related to this post.

Los Alamos:

Oak Ridge site and uranium enrichment processes:

  • Greene, Sherrell R., “A diamond in Dogpatch:  The 75th anniversary of the Graphite Reactor – Part 2: The Postwar Years,” American Nuclear Society, December 2018  www.ans.org/pubs/magazines/download/a_1139
  • “Uranium Enrichment Processes Directed Self-Study Course, Module 5.0: Electromagnetic Separation (Calutron) and Thermal Diffusion,” US Nuclear Regulatory Commission Technical Training Center, 9/08 (Rev 3)  https://www.nrc.gov/docs/ML1204/ML12045A056.pdf

Hanford site, plutonium production reactors and processing facilities:

  • “Hanford Site Historical District: History of the Plutonium Production Facilities 1943-1990,” DOE/RL-97-1047, Department of Energy, Hanford Cultural and Historical Resources Program, June 2002  https://www.osti.gov/servlets/purl/807939

Two US Supercomputers are Ranked Fastest in the World

In previous posts on 24 May 2015 and 28 June 2016, I reported on the TOP500 rankings of the world’s supercomputers.

In June 2013, China’s Tianhe-2 supercomputer at the National Supercomputer Center in Guangzho topped this this worldwide ranking with an Rmax Linpack score of 33 petaflops (1 petaflops = 1015  floating-point operations per second) and retained the first place position for two years. In June 2016, the new leader was another Chinese supercomputer, the Sunway TaihuLight at the National Supercomputer Center in Wuxi. TaihuLight delivered an Rmax Linpack score of 93 petaflops and remained at the top of the worldwide ranking for two years, until it was eclipsed in June 2018 by the US Summit supercomputer, then with an Rmax rating of 122.3 petaflops.

In the latest TOP500 ranking, the new leaders are two US supercomputers:  Summit (#1) and Sierra (#2).

Summit supercomputer.  Source: NVIDIA

The IBM Summit improved its past Linpack score to achieve an Rmax of 143.5 petaflops in the current ranking.  Summit is located at the Department of Energy (DOE) Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) in Tennessee.

  • 2,397,824 cores
  • 873 megawatts peak power

Sierra supercomputer. Source:  Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory / Randy Wong

The IBM Sierra also improved its past Linpack score to achieve an Rmax of 94.64 petaflops / second and move into second place, marginally ahead of China’s TaihuLight.  Sierra is located at the DOE Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) in California.

  • 1,572,480 cores
  • 438 megawatts peak power

The Summit and Sierra supercomputer cores are IBM POWER9 central processing units (CPUs) and NVIDIA V100 graphic processing units (GPUs).   NVIDIA claims that its GPUs are delivering 95% of Summit’s performance. Both supercomputers use a Linux operating system.

China’s Sunway TaihuLight was ranked 3rd, and Tianhe-2A was ranked 4th.  A total of five DOE supercomputers were in the top 10 positions.

You’ll find the complete 52ndedition (November 2018) TOP500 ranking here:

https://www.top500.org/lists/2018/11/

20 February 2019 Update:  Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) plans new supercomputer

The TOP500 ranking places LANL’s Trinity supercomputer (a Cray XC40) as the #6 fastest supercomputer in the world, but its performance (Rmax of 20.16 petaflops) is far below that of the #1 Summit supercomputer at Oak Ridge national Laboratory and the #2 Sierra supercomputer at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

Source:  LANL

Not to be outdone, LANL issued a request for proposal (RFP) in February 2019 for a new supercomputer, to be named Crossroads, to support the lab’s missions for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA).  A LANL spokesperson reported that, “High performance computing across the NNSA complex is used to assure the safety, security and effectiveness of the U.S. nuclear deterrent; to analyze and predict the performance, safety, and reliability of nuclear weapons and certify their functionality.”  Responses to the RFP are due by 18 March 2019.  Crossroads is expected to go online in 2021.

Marine Nuclear Power: 1939 – 2018

In 2015, I compiled the first edition of a resource document to support a presentation I made in August 2015 to The Lyncean Group of San Diego (www.lynceans.org) commemorating the 60thanniversary of the world’s first “underway on nuclear power” by USS Nautilus on 17 January 1955.  That presentation to the Lyncean Group, “60 years of Marine Nuclear Power: 1955 –2015,” was my attempt to tell a complex story, starting from the early origins of the US Navy’s interest in marine nuclear propulsion in 1939, resetting the clock on 17 January 1955 with USS Nautilus’ historic first voyage, and then tracing the development and exploitation of marine nuclear power over the next 60 years in a remarkable variety of military and civilian vessels created by eight nations.

Here’s a quick overview at worldwide marine nuclear in 2018.

Source: two charts by author

In July 2018, I finished a complete update of the resource document and changed the title to, “Marine Nuclear Power: 1939 –2018.”  Due to its present size (over 2,100 pages), the resource document now consists of the following parts, all formatted as slide presentations:

  • Part 1: Introduction
  • Part 2A: United States – Submarines
  • Part 2B: United States – Surface Ships
  • Part 3A: Russia – Submarines
  • Part 3B: Russia – Surface Ships & Non-propulsion Marine Nuclear Applications
  • Part 4: Europe & Canada
  • Part 5: China, India, Japan and Other Nations
  • Part 6: Arctic Operations

The original 2015 resource document and this updated set of documents were compiled from unclassified, open sources in the public domain.

I acknowledge the great amount of work done by others who have published material in print or posted information on the internet pertaining to international marine nuclear propulsion programs, naval and civilian nuclear powered vessels, naval weapons systems, and other marine nuclear applications.  My resource document contains a great deal of graphics from many sources.  Throughout the document, I have identified the sources for these graphics.

You can access all parts of Marine Nuclear Power: 1939 – 2018 here:

Marine Nuclear Power 1939 – 2018_Part 1_Introduction

Marine Nuclear Power 1939 – 2018_Part 2A_USA_submarines

Marine Nuclear Power 1939 – 2018_Part 2B_USA_surface ships

Marine Nuclear Power 1939 – 2018_Part 3A_R1_Russia_submarines

Marine Nuclear Power 1939 – 2018_Part 3B_R1_Russia_surface ships & non-propulsion apps

Marine Nuclear Power 1939 – 2018_Part 4_Europe & Canada

Marine Nuclear Power 1939 – 2018_Part 5_China-India-Japan & Others

Marine Nuclear Power 1939 – 2018_Part 6 R1_Arctic marine nuclear

I hope you find this resource document informative, useful, and different from any other single document on this subject.  Below is an outline to help you navigate through the document.

Outline of Marine Nuclear Power:  1939 – 2018.

Part 1: Introduction

  • Quick look:  Then and now
  • State-of-the-art in 1955
  • Marine nuclear propulsion system basics
  • Timeline
    • Timeline highlights
    • Decade-by-decade
  • Effects of nuclear weapons and missile treaties & conventions on the composition and armament of naval fleets
  • Prospects for 2018 – 2030

Part 2A: United States – Submarines

  • Timeline for development of marine nuclear power in the US
  • US current nuclear vessel fleet
  • US naval nuclear infrastructure
  • Use of highly-enriched uranium (HEU) in US naval reactors
  • US submarine reactors and prototype facilities
  • US Navy nuclear-powered submarines
    • Nuclear-powered fast attack submarines (SSN)
      • Submarine-launched torpedoes, anti-submarine missiles & mines
      • Systems to augment submarine operational capabilities
    • Nuclear-powered strategic ballistic missile submarines (SSBN)
      • Submarine-launched strategic ballistic missiles (SLBMs)
    • Nuclear-powered guided missile submarines (SSGN)
      • Cruise missiles and other tactical guided missiles
    • Nuclear-powered special operations submarines

Part 2B: United States – Surface Ships

  • US naval surface ship reactors & prototype facilities
  • US Navy nuclear-powered surface ships
    • Evolution of the US nuclear-powered surface fleet
    • Nuclear-powered guided missile cruisers (CGN)
      • CGN tactical weapons
    • Nuclear-powered aircraft carriers (CVN)
      • Carrier strike group (CSG) & carrier air wing composition
  • Naval nuclear vessel decommissioning and nuclear waste management
  • US civilian marine nuclear vessels and reactors
    • Operational & planned civilian marine vessels and their reactors
    • Other US civilian marine reactor designs
  • Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator (RTG) marine applications
  • US marine nuclear power current trends

Part 3A: Russia – Submarines

  • The beginning of the Soviet / Russian marine nuclear power program
  • Russian current nuclear vessel fleet.
  • Russian marine nuclear reactor & fuel-cycle infrastructure
  • Russian nuclear vessel design, construction & life-cycle infrastructure
  • Russian naval nuclear infrastructure
  • Russian nuclear-powered submarines
    • Submarine reactors
    • Nuclear-powered fast attack submarines (SSN)
      • Submarine-launched torpedoes & anti-submarine missiles
    • Strategic ballistic missile submarines (SSB & SSBN)
      • Submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM)
    • Cruise missile submarines (SSG & SSGN).
      • Cruise missiles
    • Nuclear-powered special operations subs & strategic torpedoes
    • Other special-purpose nuclear-powered subs
    • Examples of un-built nuclear submarine projects

Part 3B: Russia – Surface Ships & Non-propulsion Marine Nuclear Applications

  • Russian nuclear-powered surface ships
    • Surface ship reactors
    • Nuclear-powered icebreakers
    • Nuclear-powered naval surface ships
      • Nuclear-powered guided missile cruisers
      • Nuclear-powered command ship
      • Nuclear-powered aircraft carrier
      • Nuclear-powered multi-purpose destroyer
  • Russian non-propulsion marine nuclear applications
    • Small reactors for non-propulsion marine nuclear applications
    • Floating nuclear power plants (FNPP)
    • Transportable reactor units (TRU)
    • Arctic seabed applications for marine nuclear power
    • Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generators (RTG)
  • Marine nuclear decommissioning and environmental cleanup
  • Russian marine nuclear power current trends

Part 4: Europe & Canada

  • Nations that operate or have operated nuclear vessels
    • United Kingdom
      • The beginning of the UK marine nuclear power program
      • UK current nuclear vessel fleet
      • UK naval nuclear infrastructure
      • UK naval nuclear reactors
      • UK Royal Navy nuclear-powered submarines
        • Nuclear-powered fast attack submarines (SSN)
          • Submarine-launched tactical weapons
        • Nuclear-powered strategic ballistic missile submarines (SSBN)
          • Submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM)
      • UK disposition of decommissioned nuclear submarines
      • UK nuclear surface ship and marine reactor concepts
      • UK marine nuclear power current trends
    • France
      • The beginning of the French marine nuclear power program
      • French current nuclear vessel fleet
      • French naval nuclear infrastructure
      • French naval nuclear reactors
      • French naval nuclear vessels
        • Nuclear-powered strategic ballistic missile submarines (SNLE)
          • Submarine-launched ballistic missiles (MSBS)
        • Nuclear-powered fast attack submarines (SNA)
          • Submarine-launched tactical weapons
        • Nuclear-powered aircraft carrier
      • French disposition of decommissioned nuclear submarines
      • French non-propulsion marine reactor applications
      • French marine nuclear power current trends
    • Germany
  • Other nations with an interest in marine nuclear power technology
    • Italy
    • Sweden
    • Netherlands
    • Canada

Part 5: China, India, Japan and Other Nations

  • Nations that have operated nuclear vessels
    • China
      • The beginning of China’s marine nuclear power program
      • China’s current nuclear vessel fleet
      • China’s naval nuclear infrastructure
      • China’s nuclear vessels
        • Nuclear-powered fast attack submarines (SSNs)
          • Submarine-launched tactical weapons
        • Nuclear-powered strategic ballistic missile subs (SSBNs)
          • Submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs)
        • Floating nuclear power stations
        • Nuclear-powered surface ships
      • China’s decommissioned nuclear submarine status
      • China’s marine nuclear power current trends
    • India
      • The beginning of India’s marine nuclear power program
      • India’s current nuclear vessel fleet
      • India’s naval nuclear infrastructure
      • India’s nuclear-powered submarines
        • Nuclear-powered fast attack submarines (SSNs)
          • Submarine-launched tactical weapons
        • Nuclear-powered strategic ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs)
          • Submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM).
      • India’s marine nuclear power current trends
    • Japan
  • Other nations with an interest in marine nuclear power technology
    • Brazil
    • North Korea
    • Pakistan
    • Iran
    • Israel
    • Australia

Part 6: Arctic Operations

  • Rationale for marine nuclear power in the Arctic
  • Orientation to the Arctic region
  • US Arctic policy
  • Dream of the Arctic submarine
  • US marine nuclear Arctic operations
  • UK marine nuclear Arctic operations
  • Canada marine nuclear ambitions
  • Russian marine nuclear Arctic operations
    • Russian non-propulsion marine nuclear Arctic applications
  • China’s marine nuclear ambitions
  • Current trends in marine nuclear Arctic operations

Periodic updates:

  • Parts 3A and 3B, Revision 1, was posted in October 2018
  • Part 6, Revision 1, was posted in February 2019

You Need to Know About Russia’s Main Directorate of Deep-Sea Research (GUGI)

The Main Directorate of Deep-Sea Research, also known as GUGI and Military Unit 40056, is an organizational structure within the Russian Ministry  of Defense that is separate from the Russian Navy.  The Head of GUGI is Vice-Admiral Aleksei Burilichev, Hero of Russia.

Source. Adapted from Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation, http://eng.mil.ru/en/index.htm

Vice-Admiral Aleksei Burilichev at the commissioning of GUGI oceanographic research vessel Yantar. Source: http://eng.mil.ru/

GUGI is responsible for fielding specialized submarines, oceanographic research ships, undersea drones and autonomous vehicles, sensor systems, and other undersea systems.   Today, GUGI operates the world’s largest fleet of covert manned deep-sea vessels. In mid-2018, that fleet consisted of eight very specialized nuclear-powered submarines.

There are six nuclear-powered, deep-diving, small submarines (“nuclear deep-sea stations”), each of which is capable of working at great depth (thousands of meters) for long periods of time.  These subs are believed to have diver lockout facilities to deploy divers at shallower depths.

  • One Project 1851 / 18510 Nelma (aka X-Ray) sub delivered in 1986; Length: 44 m (144.4 ft.); displacement about 529 tons submerged. This is the first and smallest of the Russian special operations nuclear-powered submarines.
  • Two Project 18511 Halibut (aka Paltus) subs delivered between 1994 – 95; Length: 55 m (180.4 ft.); displacement about 730 tons submerged.
  • Three Project 1910 Kashalot (aka Uniform) subs delivered between 1986 – 1991, but only two are operational in 2018; Length: 69 m (226.4 ft.); displacement about 1,580 tons submerged.
  • One Project 09851 Losharik (aka NORSUB-5) sub delivered in about 2003; Length: 74 m (242.8 ft.); displacement about 2,100 tons submerged.

The trend clearly is toward larger, and certainly more capable deep diving special operations submarines.  The larger subs have a crew complement of 25 – 35.

Kashalot notional cross-section diagram. Source: adapted from militaryrussia.ru

Kashalot notional diagram showing deployed positioning thrusters, landing legs and tools for working on the bottom. Source: http://nvs.rpf.ru/nvs/forum

The Russian small special operations subs may have been created in response to the U.S. Navy’s NR-1 small, deep-diving nuclear-powered submarine, which entered service in 1969.  NR-1 had a length of 45 meters (147.7 ft.) and a displacement of about 400 tons submerged, making it roughly comparable to the Project 1851 / 18510 Nelma . NR-1 was retired in 2008, leaving the U.S. with no counterpart to the Russian fleet of small, nuclear-powered special operations subs.

GUGI operates two nuclear-powered “motherships” (PLA carriers) that can transport one of the smaller nuclear deep-sea stations to a distant site and provide support throughout the mission. The current two motherships started life as Delta III and Delta IV strategic ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs).  The original SSBN missile tubes were removed and the hulls were lengthened to create large midship special mission compartments with a docking facility on the bottom of the hull for one of the small, deep-diving submarines.  These motherships probably have a test depth of about 250 to 300 meters (820 to 984 feet).  They are believed to have diver lockout facilities for deploying divers.

General arrangement of a Russian mothership carrying a small special operations submarine.  Source:  http://gentleseas.blogspot.com/2015/08/russias-own-jimmy-carter-special-ops.html

Delta-IV mothership carrying Losharik.  Source: GlobalSecurity.org

The motherships also are believed capable of deploying and retrieving a variety of  autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs), including the relatively large Harpsichord: Length: 6.5 m (21.3 ft.); Diameter 1 m (3.2 ft.); Weight: 3,700 kg (8,157 pounds).

Harpsichord-2R-PM. Source: http://vpk-news.ru/articles/30962

The following graphic shows a mothership carrying a small special operations sub  while operating with a Harpsichord AUV.

                       Source: https://russianmilitaryanalysis.wordpress.com/tag/9m730/

These nuclear submarines are operated by the 29th Special Submarine Squadron, which is based along with other GUGI vessels at Olenya Bay, in the Kola Peninsula on the coast of the Barents Sea.

Olenya Bay is near Murmansk.  Source: Google Maps

Russian naval facilities near Murmansk.  Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org

Mothership BS-136 Orenburg at Oleyna Bay.  Source: Source: http://www.air-defense.net/

The GUGI fleet provides deep ocean and Arctic operating capabilities that greatly exceed those of any other nation.  Potential missions include:

  • Conducting subsea surveys, mapping and sampling (i.e., to help validate Russia’s extended continental shelf claims in the Arctic; to map potential future targets such as seafloor cables)
  • Placing and/or retrieving items on the sea floor (i.e., retrieving military hardware, placing subsea power sources, power distribution systems and sonar arrays)
  • Maintaining military subsea equipment and systems
  • Conducting covert surveillance
  • Developing an operational capability to deploy the Poseidon strategic nuclear torpedo.
  • In time of war, attacking the subsea infrastructure of other nations in the open ocean or in the Arctic (i.e., cutting subsea internet cables, power cables or oil / gas pipelines)

Analysts at the firm Policy Exchange reported that the world’s undersea cable network comprises about 213 independent cable systems and 545,018 miles (877,121 km) of fiber-optic cable.  These undersea cable networks carry an estimated 97% of global communications and $10 trillion in daily financial transactions are transmitted by cables under the ocean.

Since about 2015, NATO has observed Russian vessels stepping up activities around undersea data cables in the North Atlantic. None are known to have been tapped or cut.  Selective attacks on this cable infrastructure could electronically isolate and severely damage the economy of individual countries or regions.  You’ll find a more detailed assessment on this matter in the 15 December 2017 BBC article, “Russia a ‘risk’ to undersea cables, Defence chief warns.”

http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-42362500

GUGI also is responsible for the development of the Poseidon (formerly known as Status-6 / Kanyon) strategic nuclear torpedo and the associated “carrier” submarines.

Poseidon, which was first revealed on Russian TV in November 2015,  is a large, nuclear-powered, autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) that functionally is a giant, long-range torpedo.

 The Russian TV “reveal” of the Oceanic Multipurpose System Status-6 November 2015. Source: https://russianmilitaryanalysis.wordpress.com/tag/9m730/

It is capable of delivering a very large nuclear warhead (perhaps up to 100 MT) underwater to the immediate proximity of an enemy’s key economic and military facilities in coastal areas.  It is a weapon of unprecedented destructive power and it is not subject to any existing nuclear arms limitation treaties. However, its development would give Russia leverage in future nuclear arms limitation talks.

The immense physical size of the Poseidon strategic nuclear torpedo is evident in the size comparison chart below.

Source: http://www.hisutton.com/

The Bulava is the Russian submarine launched ballistic missile (SLBM) carried on Russia’s modern Borei-class SSBNs.  The UGST torpedo is representative of a typical torpedo launched from a 533 mm (21 inch) torpedo tube, which is found on the majority of submarines in the world.  An experimental submarine, the B-90 Sarov, appears to be the current testbed for the Poseidon strategic torpedo.  Russia is building other special submarines to carry several Poseidon strategic torpedoes.  One is believed to be the giant, highly modified Oscar II submarine KC-139 Belogrod, which also will serve as a mothership for a small, special operations nuclear sub.  The other is the smaller Project 09851 submarine Khabarovsk, which appears to be purpose-built for carrying the Poseidon.

For more information on GUGI, Russian special operations submarines and other covert underwater projects, refer to the Covert Shores website created by naval analyst H. I. Sutton, which you’ll find at the following link:

http://www.hisutton.com/Analysis%20-%20Russian%20Status-6%20aka%20KANYON%20nuclear%20deterrence%20and%20Pr%2009851%20submarine.html

How to Build a Nuclear-Powered Aircraft Carrier

The latest U.S. nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78), is the first of a new class (the Ford-class) of carriers that is intended to replace the already-retired USS Enterprise (CVN-65) and all 10 of the Nimitz-class carriers (CVN-68 to CVN-77) as they retire after 49 years of service between 2024 to 2058. Newport News Shipbuilding (NNS), a Division of Huntington Ingalls Industries, built all U.S. nuclear-powered aircraft carriers and is the prime contractor for the Ford-class carriers.

USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) was authorized in fiscal year 2008. Actual construction took almost four years from keel laying on 13 November 2009 to launching on 11 October 2013. NNS uses a modular construction process to build major subassemblies in industrial areas adjacent to the drydock and then move each modular unit into the drydock when it is ready to be joined to the rapidly growing structure of the ship.

Overview of the NNS shipyard and CVN-78 in January 2012. Source: Newport News Shipbuilding / Chris OxleyCVN-78 under construction in the NNS drydock. Source: Newport News Shipbuilding

NNS created a short video of an animated 3-D model of CVN-78 showing the arrival and placement of major modules during the 4-year construction period. Highlights are shown in the screenshots below, and the link to the NNS animated video is here:

http://nns.huntingtoningalls.com/employees/pub/media/videos/cvn78_build.mp4

CVN-78 construction sequence highlights. Source: composite of 10 screenshots from a Newport News Shipbuilding video.

You also can watch a time-lapse video of the 4-year construction process from keel laying to christening here:

http://nns.huntingtoningalls.com/employees/pub/watch/cvn78-timelapse-4years.html

In this video, you’ll see major subassemblies, like the entire bow structure and the island superstructure moved into place with heavy-lift cranes.

CVN-78 lower bow unit being moved into place in 2012. Source: Newport News Shipbuilding / Ricky ThompsonCVN-78 “island” superstructure being moved into place. Source: Newport News Shipbuilding

After launching, another 3-1/2 years were required for outfitting and testing the ship dockside, loading the two Bechtel A1B reactors, and then conducting sea trials before the ship was accepted by the Navy and commissioned in July 2017.

CVN-78 underway. Source: U.S. Navy

Since commissioning, the Navy has been conducting extensive operational tests all ship systems. Of particular interest are new ElectroMAgnetic Launch System (EMALS) and the electro-mechanical Advanced Arresting Gear (AAG) system that replace the traditional steam catapults and hydraulic arresting gear on Nimitz-class CVNs. If all tests go well, USS Gerald R. Ford is expected to be ready for its first deployment in late 2019 or early 2020.

So, how much did it cost to deliver the USS Gerald R. Ford to the Navy? About $12.9 B in then-year (2008) dollars, according Congressional Research Service (CRS) report RS-20643, “Navy Ford (CVN-78) Class Aircraft Carrier Program: Background and Issues for Congress,” dated 9 August 2017. You can download this CRS report here:

https://fas.org/sgp/crs/weapons/RS20643.pdf

Milestones for the next two Ford-class carriers are summarized below:

  • CVN-79, USS John. F. Kennedy: Procured in FY 2013; scheduled for delivery in September 2024 at a cost of $11.4 B in then-year (2013) dollars.
  • CVN-80: USS Enterprise: To be procured in FY 2018; scheduled for delivery in September 2027 at a cost of about $13 B in then-year (2018) dollars.

To recapitalize the entire fleet of 10 Nimitz-class carriers will cost more than $130 B by the time the last Nimitz-class CVN, USS George H.W. Bush, is scheduled to retire in 2058 and be replaced by a new Ford-class CVN.

The current Congressional mandate is for an 11-ship nuclear-powered aircraft carrier fleet. On 15 December 2016, the Navy presented a new force structure assessment with a goal to increase the U.S. fleet size from the currently authorized limit of 308 vessels to 355 vessels. The Heritage Foundation’s 2017 Index of U.S. Military Strength reported that the Navy’s actual fleet size in early 2017 was 274 vessels, so the challenge of re-building to a 355 ship fleet is much bigger than it may sound, especially when you account for the many planned retirements of aging vessels in the following decades. The Navy’s Force Structure Assessment for a 355-ship fleet includes a requirement for 12 CVNs. The CRS provided their commentary on the 355-ship fleet plans in a report entitled, “Navy Force Structure and Shipbuilding Plans: Background and Issues for Congress,” dated 22 September 2017. You can download that report here:

https://fas.org/sgp/crs/weapons/RL32665.pdf

As the world’s political situation continues to change, there may be reasons to change the type of aircraft carrier that is procured by the Navy. Rand Corporation provided the most recent assessment of this issue in their 2017 report entitled, “ Future Aircraft Carrier Options.” The Assessment Division of the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations sponsored this report. You can download this report at the following link:

https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR2006.html

So, how many Ford-class aircraft carriers do you think will be built?

Protocol for Reporting UFO Sightings

The United States Air Force began investigating unidentified flying objects (UFOs) in the fall of 1947 under a program called Project Sign, which later became Project Grudge, and in January 1952 became Project Blue Book. As you might expect, the USAF developed a reporting protocol for these projects.

Starting in 1951, the succession of Air Force documents that provided UFO reporting guidance is summarized below:

Headquarters USAF Letter AFOIN-C/CC-2

This letter, entitled, “Reporting of Information on Unidentified Flying Objects,” dated 19 December 1951, may be the original guidance document for UFO reporting. So far, I have been unable to find a copy of this document. The Project Blue Book archives contain examples of UFO reports from 1952 citing AFOIN-C/CC-2.

Air Force Letter AFL 200-5

The first reporting protocol I could find was Air Force Letter AFL 200-5, “Unidentified Flying Objects Reporting,” dated 29 April 1952, which was issued on behalf of the Secretary of the USAF by Hoyt S. Vandenberg, Chief of Staff of the USAF.

  • Defines UFOs as, “any airborne object which by performance, aerodynamic characteristics, or unusual features, does not conform to any presently known aircraft or missile type.”
  • UFO reporting is treated as an Intelligence activity (denoted by the 200-series document number)
  • Provides brief guidance on report content, which was to be submitted on AF Form 112, “Air Intelligence Information Report,” and not classified higher than RESTRICTED.
  • The local Commanding Officer is responsible for forwarding FLYOBRPTS to the appropriate agencies. FLYOBRPT is an acronym for FLYing OBject RePorT.
  • Responsibility for investigating UFOs was assigned to the Air Technical Intelligence Center (ATIC) at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. ATIC was a field activity of the Directorate of Intelligence in USAF Headquarters.
  • AFL 200-5 does not indicate that it superseded any prior USAF UFO reporting guidance document, but it is likely that it replaced USAF letter AFOIN-C/CC-2, dated 19 December 1951.

Download AFL 200-5 at the following link:

http://www.cufon.org/cufon/AFL_200-5.pdf

How to Make FLYOBRPTs

In 1953, the AITC issued “How to Make FLYOBRPTs,” dated 25 July 1953, to help improve reporting required by AFL 200-5.

Figure 1 from How to Make a FLYOBRPT

Source: USAF

This guidance document provides an interesting narrative about UFOs through 1953, explains how to collect information on a UFO sighting, including interacting with the public during the investigation, and how to complete a FLYOBRPT using four detailed data collection forms.

  • Ground Observer’s Information Sheet (9 pages)
  • Electronics Data Sheet (radar) (5 pages)
  • Airborne Observer’s Data Sheet (9 pages) and,
  • Supporting Data form (8 pages)

This report showed that the USAF had a sense of humor about UFO reporting.

Figure 2 from How to Make a FLYOBRPTSource: USAF

Download “How to Make FLYOBRPTs” at the following link:

http://www.cufon.org/cufon/FLYOBRPT.pdf

Air Force Regulation AFR 200-2

In 1953, the Secretary of the Air Force, Harold E. Talbott, issued the original Air Force Regulation AFR 200-2, “Unidentified Flying Objects Reporting”, dated 26 August 1953.

  • Superseded AFL 200-5, dated 29 April 1952
  • Defines procedures for reporting UFOs and restrictions on public discussion by Air Force personnel
  • Change 200-2A was issued on 2 November 1953
  • Between 1954 and 1962, the USAF issued several subsequent versions of AFR 200-2, as listed below.

AFR 200-2, “Unidentified Flying Objects Reporting (Short Title: FLYOBRPT)”, dated 12 August 1954.

  • Superseded AFR 200-2 dated 26 August 1953 and Change 200-2A
  • Identifies the USAF interest in UFOs as follows: “Air Force interest in unidentified flying objects is twofold: First as a possible threat to the security of the United States and its forces, and secondly, to determine technical aspects involved.”
  • Defines an expected report format that is less comprehensive than the guidance in “How to Make FLYOBRPTs.”
  • Clarifies that Headquarters USAF will release summaries of evaluated data to the public. Also notes that it is permissible to respond to local inquiries when the object is positively identified as a “familiar object” (not a UFO). In other cases, the only response is that ATIC will analyze the data.
  • Download this version of AFR 200-2 at the following link:

http://www.cufon.org/cufon/afr200-2.htm

AFR 200-2, “Unidentified Flying Objects (UFO),” dated 5 February 1958

  • Supersedes the version dated 12 August 1954
  • Broadens the USAF interest in UFOs: “First as a possible threat to the security of the United States and its forces; second, to determine the technical or scientific characteristics of any such UFOs; third, to explain or identify all UFO sightings…”
  • Updates report formats and provides additional guidance on reporting
  • Download this version from the CIA website at the following link:

https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/docs/CIA-RDP81R00560R000100040072-9.pdf

AFR 200-2, “Unidentified Flying Objects (UFO),” dated 14 September 1959

  • Supersedes the version dated 5 February 1958

AFR 200-2, “Unidentified Flying Objects (UFO),” dated 20 July 1962

  • Supersedes the version dated 14 September 1959
  • Superseded by AFR 80-17

Air Force Regulation AFR 80-17

In 1966, the USAF issued AFR 80-17, “Unidentified Flying Objects (UFO),” dated 19 September 1966

  • Supersedes AFR 200-2 dated 20 July 1962.
  • Two changes were issued:
    • AFR 80-17, Change 80-17A, dated 8 November 1966
    • AFR 80-17, Change 1, dated 26 October 1968, superseded AFR 80-17A, 8 November 1966
  • No longer considers UFO reporting as an intelligence activity, as denoted by the 80-series number assigned to the AFR
  • Places UFO reporting under the Research and Development Command. This is consistent with recasting ATIC into the Foreign Technology Division (FTD) of the Air Force Systems Command at Wright-Patterson AFB.
  • Broadly redefines UFO as “any aerial phenomenon which is unknown or appears out of the ordinary to the observer.”
  • Orders all Air Force bases to provide an investigative capability
  • Change 80-17A assigned University of Colorado to conduct an independent scientific investigation of UFOs. Physicist Edward U. Condon would direct this work.

Download AFR 80-17, with change 80-17A and change 1 here:

http://www.cufon.org/cufon/afr80-17.htm

Project Blue Book’s final report

In late October 1968, the University of Colorado’s final report was completed and submitted for review by a panel of the National Academy of Sciences. The panel approved of the methodology and concurred with Edward Condon’s conclusion:

“That nothing has come from the study of UFOs in the past 21 years that has added to scientific knowledge. Careful consideration of the record as it is available to us leads us to conclude that further extensive study of UFOs probably cannot be justified in the expectation that science will be advanced thereby.”

In January 1969, a 965-page paperback version of the report was published under the title, “Scientific Study of Unidentified Flying Objects.”

On 17 December 1969, Air Force Secretary Robert C. Seamans, Jr., announced the termination of Project Blue Book.

Additional resources

You’ll find a good history by of the U.S. Air Force UFO programs written by Thomas Tulien at the following link:

http://sohp.us/history-of-the-usaf-ufo-programs/8-turning-point.php

 

 

 

Doomsday Clock Reset

This year is the 70th anniversary of the Doomsday Clock, which the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists describes as follows:

“The Doomsday Clock is a design that warns the public about how close we are to destroying our world with dangerous technologies of our own making. It is a metaphor, a reminder of the perils we must address if we are to survive on the planet.”

You’ll find an overview on the Doomsday Clock here:

http://thebulletin.org/overview

The Clock was last changed in 2015 from five to three minutes to midnight. In January 2016, the Doomsday Clock’s minute hand did not change.

On 26 January 2017, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists Science and Security Board, in consultation with its Board of Sponsors, which includes 15 Nobel Laureates, decided to reset the Doomsday Clock to 2-1/2 minutes to midnight. This is the closest it has been to midnight in 64 years, since the early days of above ground nuclear device testing.

Two and a half minutes to midnight

The Science and Security Board warned:

“In 2017, we find the danger to be even greater (than in 2015 and 2016), the need for action more urgent. It is two and a half minutes to midnight, the Clock is ticking, global danger looms. Wise public officials should act immediately, guiding humanity away from the brink. If they do not, wise citizens must step forward and lead the way.”

You can read the Science and Security Board’s complete statement at the following link:

http://thebulletin.org/sites/default/files/Final%202017%20Clock%20Statement.pdf

Their rationale for resetting the clock is not based on a single issue, but rather, the aggregate effects of the following issues, as described in their statement:

A dangerous nuclear situation on multiple fronts

  • Stockpile modernization by current nuclear powers, particularly the U.S. and Russia, has the potential to grow rather than reduce worldwide nuclear arsenals
  • Stagnation in nuclear arms control
  • Continuing tensions between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan
  • North Korea’s continuing nuclear development
  • The Iran nuclear deal has been successful in accomplishing its goals in its first year, but its future is in doubt under the new U.S. administration
  • Careless rhetoric about nuclear weapons is destabilizing; for example, the U.S. administration’s suggestion that South Korea and Japan acquire their own nuclear weapons to counter North Korea

The clear need for climate action

  • The Paris Agreement went into effect in 2016
  • Continued warming of the world was measured in 2016
  • S. administration needs to make a clear, unequivocal statement that it accepts climate change, caused by human activity, as a scientific reality

Nuclear power: An option worth careful consideration

  • Nuclear power a tempting part of the solution to the climate change problem
  • The scale of new nuclear power plant construction does not match the need for clean energy
  • In the short to medium term, governments should discourage the premature closure of existing reactors that are safe and economically viable
  • In the longer term, deploy new types of reactors that can be built quickly and are at least as safe as the commercial nuclear plants now operating
  • Deal responsibly with safety issues and with the commercial nuclear waste problem

Potential threats from emerging technologies

  • Technology continues to outpace humanity’s capacity to control it
  • Cyber attacks can undermining belief in representative government and thereby endangering humanity as a whole
  • Autonomous machine systems open up a new set of risks that require thoughtful management
  • Advances in synthetic biology, including the Crispr gene-editing tool, have great positive potential, but also can be misused to create bioweapons and other dangerous manipulations of genetic material
  • Potentially existential threats posed by a host of rapidly emerging technologies need to be monitored, and to the extent possible anticipated and managed.

Reducing risk: Expert advice

  • The Board is extremely concerned about the willingness of governments around the world— including the incoming U.S. administration—to ignore or discount sound science and considered expertise during their decision-making processes

Prior to the formal decision on the 2017 setting of the Doomsday Clock, the Bulletin took a poll to determine public sentiment on what the setting should be. Here are the results of this public pole.

Results of The Bulletin Public Poll

How would you have voted?