Category Archives: National Security

India and Pakistan’s Asymmetrical Nuclear Weapons Doctrines Raise the Risk of a Regional Nuclear War With Global Consequences

The nuclear weapons doctrines of India and Pakistan are different. This means that these two countries are not in sync on the matters of how and when they might use nuclear weapons in a regional military conflict. I’d like to think that cooler heads would prevail during a crisis and use of nuclear weapons would be averted. In light of current events, there may not be enough “cooler heads” on both sides in the region to prevail every time there is a crisis.

Case in point: In late September 2016, India announced it had carried out “surgical strikes” (inside Pakistan) on suspected militants preparing to infiltrate from the Pakistan-held part of Kashmir into the Indian-held part of that state. Responding to India’s latest strikes, Pakistan’s Defense Minister, Khawaja Muhammad Asif, has been reported widely to have made the following very provocative statement, which provides unsettling insights into Pakistan’s current nuclear weapons doctrine:

“Tactical weapons, our programs that we have developed, they have been developed for our protection. We haven’t kept the devices that we have just as showpieces. But if our safety is threatened, we will annihilate them (India).”

You can see a short Indian news video on this matter at the following link:

http://shoebat.com/2016/09/29/pakistan-defense-minister-threatens-to-wipe-out-india-with-a-nuclear-attack-stating-we-will-annihilate-india/

 1. Asymmetry in nuclear weapons doctrines

There are two recent papers that discuss in detail the nuclear weapons doctrines of India and Pakistan. Both papers address the issue of asymmetry and its operational implication. However, the papers differ a bit on the details of the nuclear weapons doctrines themselves. I’ll start by briefly summarizing these papers and using them to synthesize a short list of the key points in the respective nuclear weapons doctrines.

The first paper, entitled “India and Pakistan’s Nuclear Doctrines and Posture: A Comparative Analysis,” by Air Commodore (Retired) Khalid Iqbal, former Assistant Chief of Air Staff, Pakistan Air Force was published in Criterion Quarterly (Islamabad), Volume 11, Number 3, Jul-Sept 2016. The author’s key points are:

“Having preponderance in conventional arms, India subscribed to ‘No First Use’ concept but, soon after, started diluting it by attaching conditionalities to it; and having un-matching conventional capability, Pakistan retained the options of ‘First Use.’. Ever since 1998, doctrines of both the countries are going through the pangs of evolution. Doctrines of the two countries are mismatched. India intends to deter nuclear use by Pakistan while Pakistan’s nuclear weapons are meant to compensate for conventional arms asymmetry.”

You will read Khalid Iqbal’s complete paper at the following link:

https://www.academia.edu/28382385/India_and_Pakistans_Nuclear_Doctrines_and_Posture_A_Comparative_Analysis

The second paper, entitled “A Comparative Study of Nuclear Doctrines of India and Pakistan,” by Amir Latif appeared in the June 2014, Vol. 2, No. 1 issue of Journal of Global Peace and Conflict. The author provides the following summary (quoted from a 2005 paper by R. Hussain):

“There are three main attributes of the Pakistan’s undeclared nuclear doctrine. It has three distinct policy objectives: a) deter a first nuclear use by India; b) enable Pakistan to deter Indian conventional attack; c) allow Islamabad to “internationalize the crisis and invite outside intervention in the unfavorable circumstance.”

You can read Amir Latif’s complete paper at the following link

http://jgpcnet.com/journals/jgpc/Vol_2_No_1_June_2014/7.pdf

Synopsis of India’s nuclear weapons doctrine

India published its official nuclear doctrine on 4 January 2003. The main points related to nuclear weapons use are the following.

  1. India’s nuclear deterrent is directed toward Pakistan and China.
  2. India’s will build and maintain a credible minimum deterrent against those nations.
  3. India’s adopted a “No First Use” policy, subject to the following caveats:
    • India may use nuclear weapons in retaliation after a nuclear attack on its territory or on its military forces (wherever they may be).
    • In the event of a major biological or chemical attack, India reserves the option to use nuclear weapons.
  4. Only the civil political leadership (the Nuclear Command Authority) can authorize nuclear retaliatory attacks.
  5. Nuclear weapons will not be used against non-nuclear states (see caveat above regarding chemical or bio weapon attack).

Synopsis of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons doctrine

Pakistan does not have an officially declared nuclear doctrine. Their doctrine appears to be based on the following points:

  1. Pakistan’s nuclear deterrent is directed toward India.
  2. Pakistan will build and maintain a credible minimum deterrent.
    • The sole aim of having these weapons is to deter India from aggression that might threaten Pakistan’s territorial integrity or national independence / sovereignty.
    • Size of the deterrent force is enough inflict unacceptable damage on India with strikes on counter-value targets.
  3. Pakistan has not adopted a “No First Use” policy.
    • Nuclear weapons are essential to counter India’s conventional weapons superiority.
    • Nuclear weapons reestablish an overall Balance of Power, given the unbalanced conventional force ratios between the two sides (favoring India).
  4. National Command Authority (NCA), comprising the Employment Control Committee, Development Control Committee and Strategic Plans Division, is the center point of all decision-making on nuclear issues.
  5. Nuclear assets are considered to be safe, secure and almost free from risks of improper or accidental use.

The nuclear weapons doctrine asymmetry between India and Pakistan really boils down to this:

 India’s No First Use policy (with some caveats) vs. Pakistan’s policy of possible first use to compensate for conventional weapons asymmetry.

2. Nuclear tests and current nuclear arsenals

India

India tested its first nuclear device on 18 May 1974. Twenty-four years later, in mid-1998, tests of three devices were conducted, followed two days later by two more tests. All of these tests were low-yield, but multiple weapons configurations were tested in 1998.

India’s current nuclear arsenal is described in a paper by Hans M. Kristensen and Robert S. Norris entitled, “Indian Nuclear Forces, 2015,” which was published online on 27 November 2015 in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, Volume 71 at the following link:

http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1177/0096340215599788

In this paper, authors Kristensen and Norris make the following points regarding India’s nuclear arsenal.

  • India is estimated to have produced approximately 540 kg of weapon-grade plutonium, enough for 135 to 180 nuclear warheads, though not all of that material is being used.
  • India has produced between 110 and 120 nuclear warheads.
  • The country’s fighter-bombers are the backbone of its operational nuclear strike force.
  • India also has made considerable progress in developing land-based ballistic missile and cruise missile delivery systems.
  • India is developing a nuclear-powered missile submarine and is developing sea-based ballistic missile (and cruise missile) delivery systems.

Pakistan

Pakistan is reported to have conducted many “cold” (non-fission) tests in March 1983. Shortly after the last Indian nuclear tests, Pakistan conducted six low-yield nuclear tests in rapid succession in late May 1998.

On 1 August 2016, the Congressional Research Service published the report, “Pakistan’s Nuclear Weapons,” which provides an overview of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program. You can download this report at the following link:

https://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/nuke/RL34248.pdf

An important source for this CRS report was another paper by Hans M. Kristensen and Robert S. Norris entitled, “Pakistani Nuclear Forces, 2015,” which was published online on 27 November 2015 in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, Volume 71 at the following link:

http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1177/0096340215611090

In this paper, authors Kristensen and Norris make the following points regarding Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal.

  • Pakistan has a nuclear weapons stockpile of 110 to 130 warheads.
  • As of late 2014, the International Panel on Fissile Materials estimated that Pakistan had an inventory of approximately 3,100 kg of highly enriched uranium (HEU) and roughly 170kg of weapon-grade plutonium.
  • The weapons stockpile realistically could grow to 220 – 250 warheads by 2025.
  • Pakistan has several types of operational nuclear-capable ballistic missiles, with at least two more under development.

3. Impact on global climate and famine of a regional nuclear war between India and Pakistan

On their website, the organization NuclearDarkness presents the results of analyses that attempt to quantify the effects on global climate of a nuclear war, based largely on the quantity of smoke lofted into the atmosphere by the nuclear weapons exchange. Results are presented for three cases: 5, 50 and 150 million metric tons (5, 50 and 150 Teragrams, Tg). The lowest case, 5 million tons, represents a regional nuclear war between India and Pakistan, with both sides using low-yield nuclear weapons. A summary of the assessment is as follows:

“Following a war between India and Pakistan, in which 100 Hiroshima-size (15 kiloton) nuclear weapons are detonated in the large cities of these nations, 5 million tons of smoke is lofted high into the stratosphere and is quickly spread around the world. A smoke layer forms around both hemispheres which will remain in place for many years to block sunlight from reaching the surface of the Earth. One year after the smoke injection there would be temperature drops of several degrees C within the grain-growing interiors of Eurasia and North America. There would be a corresponding shortening of growing seasons by up to 30 days and a 10% reduction in average global precipitation.”

You will find more details, including a day-to-day animation of the global distribution of the dust cloud for a two-month period after the start of the war, at the following link:

http://www.nucleardarkness.org/warconsequences/fivemilliontonsofsmoke/

In the following screenshots from the animation at the above link, you can see how rapidly the smoke distributes worldwide in the upper atmosphere after the initial regional nuclear exchange.

Regional war cloud dispersion 1

Regional war cloud dispersion 2

Regional war cloud dispersion 3

This consequence assessment on the nucleardarkness.org website is based largely on the following two papers by Robock, A. et al., which were published in 2007:

The first paper, entitled, “Nuclear winter revisited with a modern climate model and current nuclear arsenals: Still catastrophic consequences,” was published in the Journal of Geophysical Research, Vol. 112. The authors offer the following comments on the climate model they used.

“We use a modern climate model to reexamine the climate response to a range of nuclear wars, producing 50 and 150 Tg of smoke, using moderate and large portions of the current global arsenal, and find that there would be significant climatic responses to all the scenarios. This is the first time that an atmosphere-ocean general circulation model has been used for such a simulation and the first time that 10-year simulations have been conducted.”

You can read this paper at the following link:

http://climate.envsci.rutgers.edu/pdf/RobockNW2006JD008235.pdf

The second paper, entitled, “Climatic consequences of regional nuclear conflicts”, was published in Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, 7, pp. 2003 – 2012. This paper provides the analysis for the 5 Tg case.

“We use a modern climate model and new estimates of smoke generated by fires in contemporary cities to calculate the response of the climate system to a regional nuclear war between emerging third world nuclear powers using 100 Hiroshima-size bombs.”

You can read this paper at the following link:

http://www.atmos-chem-phys.net/7/2003/2007/acp-7-2003-2007.pdf

Building on the work of Roblock, Ira Helhand authored the paper, “An Assessment of the Extent of Projected Global Famine Resulting From Limited, Regional Nuclear War.” His main points with regard to a post-war famine are:

“The recent study by Robock et al on the climatic consequences of regional nuclear war shows that even a “limited” nuclear conflict, involving as few as 100 Hiroshima-sized bombs, would have global implications with significant cooling of the earth’s surface and decreased precipitation in many parts of the world. A conflict of this magnitude could arise between emerging nuclear powers such as India and Pakistan. Past episodes of abrupt global cooling, due to volcanic activity, caused major crop failures and famine; the predicted climate effects of a regional nuclear war would be expected to cause similar shortfalls in agricultural production. In addition large quantities of food might need to be destroyed and significant areas of cropland might need to be taken out of production because of radioactive contamination. Even a modest, sudden decline in agricultural production could trigger significant increases in the prices for basic foods and hoarding on a global scale, both of which would make food inaccessible to poor people in much of the world. While it is not possible to estimate the precise extent of the global famine that would follow a regional nuclear war, it seems reasonable to postulate a total global death toll in the range of one billion from starvation alone. Famine on this scale would also lead to major epidemics of infectious diseases, and would create immense potential for war and civil conflict.”

You can download this paper at the following link:

http://www.psr.org/assets/pdfs/helfandpaper.pdf

 4. Conclusions

The nuclear weapons doctrines of India and Pakistan are not in sync on the matters of how and when they might use nuclear weapons in a regional military conflict. The highly sensitive region of Kashmir repeatedly has served as a flashpoint for conflicts between India and Pakistan and again is the site of a current conflict. If the very provocative recent statements by Pakistan’s Defense Minister, Khawaja Muhammad Asif, are to be believed, then there are credible scenarios in which Pakistan makes first use of low-yield nuclear weapons against India’s superior conventional forces.

The consequences to global climate from this regional nuclear conflict can be quite significant and lasting, with severe impacts on global food production and distribution. With a bit of imagination, I’m sure you can piece together a disturbing picture of how an India – Pakistan regional nuclear conflict can evolve into a global disaster.

Let’s hope that cooler heads in that region always prevail.

 

 

Deadline – Espionage or Innocent Coincidence?

The March 1944 issue of Astounding Science Fiction magazine contained a short story by Cleve Cartmill entitled, Deadline, that may, or may not have revealed secrets related to the Manhattan Project. This short story was edited by MIT-educated John W. Campbell Jr.

ASF_March 1944 cover                             Source: Astounding Science Fiction

Cleve Cartmill’s notoriety after the publication of Deadline is described in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (http://www.sf-encyclopedia.com/entry/cartmill_cleve):

“He is best remembered in the field for one famous (but untypical) story, “Deadline” (March 1944 Astounding),which described the atomic bomb a year before it was dropped: in this near-future fable, the evil Sixa (i.e., Axis) forces are prevented from dropping the Bomb, and the Seilla (Allies) decline to do so, justly fearing its dread potential. US Security subsequently descended on Astounding, but was persuaded (truthfully) by John W.Campbell Jr that Cartmill had used for his research only material available in public libraries. Cartmill’s prediction made sf fans enormously proud, and the story was made a prime exhibit in the arguments about prediction in sf.”

I’ve been unable to find an online source for the full-text of Deadline, but here’s a sample of the March 1944 text:

“U-235 has been separated in quantity sufficient for preliminary atomic-power research and the like. They get it out of uranium ores by new atomic isotope separation methods; they now have quantities measured in pounds….But they have not brought it together, or any major portion of it. Because they are not at all sure that, once started, it would stop before all of it had been consumed….They could end the war overnight with controlled U-235 bombs……So far, they haven’t worked out any way to control the explosion.”

The status of the Manhattan Project’s nuclear weapons infrastructure at the time that Deadline was published in March 1944 is outlined below.

  • The initial criticality at the world’s first nuclear reactor, the CP-1 pile in Chicago, occurred on 2 December 1942.
  • The initial criticality at the world’s second nuclear reactor, the X-10 Graphite Reactor in Oak Ridge (also known as the Clinton pile and the X-10-pile), and the first reactor designed for continuous operation, occurred 4 November 1943. X-10 produced its first plutonium in early 1944.
  • The initial criticality of the first large-scale production reactor, Hanford B, occurred in September 1944. This was followed by Hanford D in December 1944, and Hanford F in February 1945.
  • Initial operation of the first production-scale thermal diffusion plant (S-50 at Oak Ridge) began in January 1945, delivering 0.8 – 1.4% enriched uranium initially to the Y-12 calutrons, and later to the K-25 gaseous diffusion plant.
  • Initial operation of the first production-scale gaseous diffusion plant (K-25 at Oak Ridge) began operation in February 1945, delivering uranium enriched up to about 23% to the Y-12 calutrons
  • The Y-12 calutrons began operation in February 1945 with feed from S-50, and later from K-25. The calutrons provided uranium at the enrichment needed for the first atomic bombs.
  • The Trinity nuclear test occurred on 16 July 1945
  • The Little Boy uranium bomb was dropped on Hiroshima on 6 August 1945
  • The Fat Man plutonium bomb was dropped on Nagasaki on 9 August 1945

You can read more about of Deadline, including reaction at Los Alamos to this short story, on Wikipedia at the following link:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deadline_(science_fiction_story)

You also can download, “The Astounding Investigation: The Manhattan Project’s Confrontation With Science Fiction,” by Albert Berger at the following link:

https://www.gwern.net/docs/1984-berger.pdf

This investigation report, prepared by Astounding Science Fiction, identifies a number of sci-fi stories from 1934 to 1944 that included references to atomic weapons in their story lines, so Deadline was not the first to do so. Regarding the source of the technical information used in Deadline, the investigation report notes:

“However, when questioned as to the source of the technical material in “Deadline,” the references to U-235 separation, and to bomb and fuse design, Cartmill ‘explained that he took the major portion of it directly from letters sent to him by John Campbell…and a minor portion of it from his own general knowledge.’”

While Deadline may have angered many Manhattan Project Military Intelligence senior security officers, neither Cartmill nor Campbell were ever charged with a crime. The investigation noted that stories like Deadline could cause unwanted public speculation about actual classified projects. In addition, such stories might help people working in compartmented classified programs to get a better understanding of the broader context of their work.

I don’t think there was any espionage involved, but, for its time, Deadline provided very interesting insights into a fictional nuclear weapons project. What do you think?

Large Autonomous Vessels will Revolutionize the U.S. Navy

In this post, I will describe two large autonomous vessels that are likely to revolutionize the way the U.S. Navy operates. The first is the Sea Hunter, originally sponsored by Defense Advanced Projects Agency (DARPA), and the second is Echo Voyager developed by Boeing.

DARPA Anti-submarine warfare (ASW) Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel (ACTUV)

ACTUV conceptSource: DARPA

DARPA explains that the program is structured around three primary goals:

  • Demonstrate the performance potential of a surface platform conceived originally as an unmanned vessel.
    • This new design paradigm reduces constraints on conventional naval architecture elements such as layout, accessibility, crew support systems, and reserve buoyancy.
    • The objective is to produce a vessel design that exceeds state-of-the art manned vessel performance for the specified mission at a fraction of the vessel size and cost.
  •  Advance the technology for unmanned maritime system autonomous operation.
    • Enable independently deploying vessels to conduct missions spanning thousands of kilometers of range and months of duration under a sparse remote supervisory control model.
    • This includes autonomous compliance with maritime laws and conventions for safe navigation, autonomous system management for operational reliability, and autonomous interactions with an intelligent adversary.
  • Demonstrate the capability of an ACTUV vessel to use its unique sensor suite to achieve robust, continuous track of the quietest submarine targets over their entire operating envelope.

While DARPA states that ACTUV vessel is intended to detect and trail quiet diesel electric submarines, including air-independent submarines, that are rapidly proliferating among the world’s navies, that detect and track capability also should be effective against quiet nuclear submarines. The ACTUV vessel also will have capabilities to conduct counter-mine missions.

The ACTUV program is consistent with the Department of Defense (DoD) “Third Offset Strategy,” which is intended to maintain U.S. military technical supremacy over the next 20 years in the face of increasing challenges from Russia and China. An “offset strategy” identifies particular technical breakthroughs that can give the U.S. an edge over potential adversaries. In the “Third Offset Strategy”, the priority technologies include:

  • Robotics and autonomous systems: capable of assessing situations and making decisions on their own, without constant human monitoring
  • Miniaturization: enabled by taking the human being out of the weapons system
  • Big data: data fusion, with advanced, automated filtering / processing before human involvement is required.
  • Advanced manufacturing: including composite materials and additive manufacturing (3-D printing) to enable faster design / build processes and to reduce traditionally long supply chains.

You can read more about the “Third Offset Strategy” at the following link:

http://breakingdefense.com/2014/11/hagel-launches-offset-strategy-lists-key-technologies/

You also may wish to read my 19 March 2016 post on Arthur C. Clarke’s short story “Superiority.” You can decide for yourself if it relates to the “Third Offset Strategy.”

Leidos (formerly SAIC) is the prime contractor for the ACTUV technology demonstrator vessel, Sea Hunter. In August 2012, Leidos was awarded a contract valued at about $58 million to design, build, and operationally test the vessel.

In 2014, Leidos used a 32-foot (9.8 meter) surrogate vessel to demonstrate the prototype maritime autonomy system designed to control all maneuvering and mission functions of an ACTUV vessel. The first voyage of 35 nautical miles (65.8 km) was conducted in February 2014. A total of 42 days of at-sea demonstrations were conducted to validate the autonomy system.

Sea Hunter is an unarmed 145-ton full load displacement, diesel-powered, twin-screw, 132 foot (40 meters) long, trimaran that is designed to a wide range of sea conditions. It is designed to be operational up to Sea State 5 [moderate waves to 6.6 feet (2 meters) height, winds 17 – 21 knots] and to be survivable in Sea State 7 [rough weather with heavy waves up to 20 feet (6 meters) height]. The vessel is expected to have a range of about 3,850 miles (6,200 km) without maintenance or refueling and be able to deploy on missions lasting 60 – 90 days.

Sea Hunter side view cropSource: DARPA

Raytheon’s Modular Scalable Sonar System (MS3) was selected as the primary search and detection sonar for Sea Hunter. MS3 is a medium frequency sonar that is capable of active and passive search, torpedo detection and alert, and small object avoidance. In the case of Sea Hunter, the sonar array is mounted in a bulbous housing at the end of a fin that extends from the bottom of the hull; looking a bit like a modern, high-performance sailboat’s keel.

Sea Hunter will include sensor technologies to facilitate the correct identification of surface ships and other objects on the sea surface. See my 8 March 2015 post on the use of inverse synthetic aperture radar (ISAR) in such maritime surveillance applications.

During a mission, an ACTUV vessel will not be limited by its own sensor suit. The ACTUV vessel will be linked via satellite to the Navy’s worldwide data network, enabling it to be in constant contact with other resources (i.e., other ships, aircraft, and land bases) and to share data.

Sea Hunter was built at the Vigor Shipyard in Portland, Oregon. Construction price of the Sea Hunter is expected to be in the range from $22 to $23 million. The target price for subsequent vessels is $20 million.

You can view a DARPA time-lapse video of the construction and launch of Sea Hunter at the following link:

http://www.darpa.mil/attachments/ACTUVTimelapseandWalkthrough.mp4

Sea Hunter launch 1Source: DARPA

Sea Hunter lauunch 2Source: DARPA

In the above photo, you can see on the bottom of the composite hull, just forward of the propeller shafts, what appears to be a hatch. I’m just speculating, but this may be the location of a retractable sonar housing, which is shown in the first and second pictures, above.

You can get another perspective of the launch and the subsequent preliminary underway trials in the Puget Sound in the DARPA video at the following link:

http://www.darpa.mil/attachments/ACTUVTimelapseandWalkthrough.mp4

During the speed run, Sea Hunter reached a top speed of 27 knots. Following the preliminary trials, Sea Hunter was christened on 7 April 2016. Now the vessel starts an operational test phase to be conducted jointly by DARPA and the Office of Naval Research (ONR). This phase is expected to run through September 2018.

DARPA reported that it expects an ACTUV vessel to cost about $15,000 – $20,000 per day to operate. In contrast, a manned destroyer costs about $700,000 per day to operate.

The autonomous ship "Sea Hunter", developed by DARPA, is shown docked in Portland, Oregon before its christening ceremonySource: DARPA

You can find more information on the ACTUV program on the DARPA website at the following link:

http://www.darpa.mil/news-events/2016-04-07

If ACTUV is successful in demonstrating the expected search and track capabilities against quiet submarines, it will become the bane of submarine commanders anywhere in the world. Imagine the frustration of a submarine commander who is unable to break the trail of an ACTUV vessel during peacetime. During a period of conflict, an ACTUV vessel may quickly become a target for the submarine being trailed. The Navy’s future conduct of operations may depend on having lots of ACTUV vessels.

28 July 2016 update: Sea Hunter ACTUV performance testing

On 1 May 2016, Sea Hunter arrived by barge in San Diego and then started initial performance trial in local waters.

ACTUV in San Diego BaySource: U.S. Navy

You can see a video of Sea Hunter in San Diego Bay at the following link:

https://news.usni.org/2016/05/04/video-navys-unmanned-sea-hunter-arrives-in-san-diego

On 26 July 2016, Leidos reported that it had completed initial performance trials in San Diego and that the ship met or surpassed all performance objectives for speed, maneuverability, stability, seakeeping, acceleration, deceleration and fuel consumption. These tests were the first milestone in the two-year test schedule.

Leidos indicated that upcoming tests will exercise the ship’s sensors and autonomy suite with the goals of demonstrating maritime collision regulations compliance capability and proof-of-concept for different Navy missions.

4 October 2018 update:  DARPA ACTUV program completed.  Sea Hunter testing and development is being continued by the Office of Naval Research

In January 2018, DARPA completed the ACTUV program and the Sea Hunter was transferred to the Office of Naval Research (ONR), which is continuing to operate the technology demonstration vessel under its Medium Displacement Unmanned Surface Vehicle (MDUSV) program.  You can read more about the transition of the DARPA program to ONR here:
 
 
It appears that ONR is less interested in the original ACTUV mission and more interested in a general-purpose “autonomous truck” that can be configured for a variety of missions while using the basic autonomy suite demonstrated on Sea Hunter.  In December 2017, ONR awarded Leidos a contract to build the hull structure for a second autonomous vessel that is expected to be an evolutionary development of the original Sea Hunter design.  You can read more about this ONR contract award here:
 

 

Echo Voyager Unmanned Underwater Vehicle (UUV)

Echo Explorer - front quarter viewSource: BoeingEcho Explorer - top openSource: Boeing

Echo Voyager is the third in a family of UUVs developed by Boeing’s Phantom Works. The first two are:

  • Echo Ranger (circa 2002): 18 feet (5.5 meters) long, 5 tons displacement; maximum depth 10,000 feet; maximum mission duration about 28 hours
  • Echo Seeker (circa 2015): 32 feet (9.8 meter) long; maximum depth 20,000 feet; maximum mission duration about 3 days

Both Echo Ranger and Echo Seeker are battery powered and require a supporting surface vessel for launch and recovery at sea and for recharging the batteries. They successfully have demonstrated the ability to conduct a variety of autonomous underwater operations and to navigate safely around obstacles.

Echo Voyager, unveiled by Boeing in Huntington Beach, CA on 10 March 2016, is a much different UUV. It is designed to deploy from a pier, autonomously conduct long-duration, long-distance missions and return by itself to its departure point or some other designated destination. Development of Echo Voyager was self-funded by Boeing.

Echo Voyager is a 50-ton displacement, 51 foot (15.5 meters) long UUV that is capable of diving to a depth of 11,000 feet (3,352 meters). It has a range of about 6,500 nautical miles (12,038 km), and is expected to be capable of autonomous operations for three months or more. The vessel is designed to accommodate various “payload sections” that can extend the length of the vessel up to a maximum of 81 feet (24.7 meters).

You can view a Boeing video on the Echo Voyager at the following link:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L9vPxC-qucw

The propulsion system is a hybrid diesel-electric rechargeable system. Batteries power the main electric motor, enabling a maximum speed is about 8 knots. Electrically powered auxiliary thrusters can be used to precisely position the vessel at slow speed. When the batteries require recharging,

The propulsion system is a hybrid diesel-electric rechargeable system. Batteries power the main electric motor, enabling a maximum speed is about 8 knots. Electrically powered auxiliary thrusters can be used to precisely position the vessel at slow speed. When the batteries require recharging, Echo Voyager will rise toward the surface, extend a folding mast as shown in the following pictures, and operate the diesel engine with the mast serving as a snorkel. The mast also contains sensors and antennae for communications and satellite navigation.

Echo Explorer - mast extendingSource: screenshot from Boeing video at link aboveEcho Explorer - snorkelingSource: screenshot from Boeing video at link above

The following image, also from the Boeing video, shows deployment of a payload onto the seabed.Echo Explorer - emplacing on seabedSource: screenshot from Boeing video at link above

Initial sea trials off the California coast were conducted in mid-2016.

Boeing currently does not have a military customer for Echo Voyager, but foresees the following missions as being well-suited for this type of UUV:

  • Surface and subsurface intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR)
  • ASW search and barrier patrol
  • Submarine decoy
  • Critical infrastructure protection
  • Mine countermeasures
  • Weapons platform

Boeing also expects civilian applications for Echo Voyager in offshore oil and gas, marine engineering, hydrography and other scientific research.

4 October 2018 update:  Progress in Echo Voyager development

Echo Voyager is based at a Boeing facility in Huntington Beach, CA.  In June 2018, Boeing reported that Echo Voyager had returned to sea for a second round of testing.  You can read more on Echo Voyager current status and the Navy’s plans for future large UUVs here:

http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-boeing-echo-voyager-20180623-story.html

Echo Voyager operating near the surface with mast extended. Source.  Boeing

Is Arthur C. Clarke’s 1953 Short Story “Superiority” a Parable for Today?

Sir Arthur Charles Clarke was a British science fiction writer, science writer and futurist who became recognized worldwide for his great many short stories and novels, which have captivated readers since the early 1950s. You might know him best as the author of “Childhood’s End” and “2001: A Space Odyssey.

Sir-Arthur-C.-Clarke  Source: http://amazingstoriesmag.com

In the short story “Superiority,” which was published in his 1953 story collection, Expedition to Earth, Clarke describes a spacefaring federation of planets involved in a protracted war with a distant adversary, with both sides using comparable weaponry. The allure of advanced weaponry and “a revolution in warfare” led one side to allocate their resources away from traditional weaponry and invest instead in fewer vessels with advanced weapons systems that were sure to turn the tide of the war: the Sphere of Annihilation, the Battle Analyzer, and the Exponential Field.

As you might guess, the outcome was somewhat different, because:

  • The new systems was “almost perfected in the laboratory”
  • There were unforeseen complications and delays during development of the operational systems
  • There were unforeseen support and training requirements that compromised the operational use of the new systems and introduced new vulnerabilities
  • The new systems failed to deliver the expected “force multiplier” effect
  • There were unforeseen consequences from the operational use of some new weaponry

The adversary won the war with a numerically superior fleet using obsolete weapons based on inferior science.

Take time now to read this short story at the following link:

http://www.mayofamily.com/RLM/txt_Clarke_Superiority.html

Bill Sweetman has written an interesting commentary on Arthur C. Clarke’s “Superiority,“ in the 14 March 2016 issue of Aviation Week and Space Technology. His commentary, entitled, “Timeless Insight Into Why Military Programs Go Wrong – The history of defense program failures was foretold in 1953,” finds stunning parallels between the story line in “Superiority” and the history of many real-world defense programs from WW II to the present day. You can read Bill Sweetman’s commentary at the following link:

http://aviationweek.com/defense/opinion-timeless-insight-why-military-programs-go-wrong

Considering SAIC’s long-term, significant role in supporting many U.S. advanced war-fighting and intelligence system programs, many of us were the real-world analogs of the thousands of scientists, engineers, and managers working for Professor-General Norden, the Chief of the Research Staff, in “Superiority.” In Bill Sweetman’s commentary, he asks, “Is ‘Superiority’ a parable?” Based on your own experience at SAIC and elsewhere in the military – industrial complex, what do you think?

If you still haven’t read “Superiority,” please do it now. It’s worth your time.

New From The National Academies Press

My 14 March 2015 post provided an introduction to The National Academies Press (NAP), which is a very good source for reports and other documents on the following topics:

  • Agriculture
  • Behavioral & social sciences
  • Biographies & autobiographies
  • Biology & life sciences
  • Computers & information technology
  • Conflict & security issues
  • Earth sciences
  • Education
  • Energy & energy conservation
  • Engineering & technology
  • Environment & environmental studies
  • Food & nutrition
  • Health & medicine
  • Industry & labor
  • Mathematics, chemistry & physics
  • Policy for science & technology
  • Space & aeronautics
  • Transportation

Most of the NAP reports can be downloaded for free as pdf files if you establish a MyNAP account. If you haven’t set up such an account, you can do so at the following link:

http://www.nap.edu/content/using-mynap

With this account, you also can get e-mail notifications of new NAP reports.

For those of you who have not set up a MyNAP account, here are several new NAP reports that I found to be interesting.

Infusing Ethics into the Development of Engineers (2016)

Ethical practice in engineering is critical for ensuring public trust in the field and in its practitioners, especially as engineers increasingly tackle international and socially complex problems that combine technical and ethical challenges. This report aims to raise awareness of the variety of exceptional programs and strategies for improving engineers’ understanding of ethical and social issues and provides a resource for those who seek to improve ethical development of engineers at their own institutions.

NAP-infuse engineers  Source: NAP

Reducing the Use of Highly Enriched Uranium in Civilian Research Reactors (2016)

Today, 74 civilian research reactors around the world, including 8 in the U.S., use or are planning to use HEU fuel. In the past decades, many civilian reactors around the world have been either shut down or converted from HEU to low enriched uranium fuel. Despite this progress, the large number of remaining HEU-fueled reactors demonstrates that further progress is needed on a worldwide scale.

Print  Source: NAP

Enhancing Participation in the U.S. Global Change Research Program (2016)

The U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) is a collection of 13 Federal entities charged by law to assist the U.S. and the world to understand, assess, predict, and respond to human-induced and natural processes of global change. As the understanding of global change has evolved over the past decades and as demand for scientific information on global change has increased, the USGCRP has increasingly focused on research that can inform decisions to cope with current climate variability and change, to reduce the magnitude of future changes, and to prepare for changes projected over the coming decades.

NAP-global change  Source: NAP

Frontiers of Engineering – Reports on Leading-Edge Engineering from the 2015 Symposium (2016)

This volume presents papers on the following topics covered at the National Academy of Engineering’s 2015 U.S. Frontiers of Engineering Symposium:

  • Cyber security and privacy
  • Engineering the search for Earth-like exoplanets
  • Optical and mechanical metamaterials
  • Forecasting natural disasters

NAP-frontiers of engg 2015  Source: NAP

There are many other annual reports in the NAP “Frontiers of Engineering” series, dating back to at least 1997, and covering many other engineering topics.

I hope you’ll take some time and browse the NAP library for documents that are of interest to you. You can start your browsing, without a MyNAP account, at the following link:

http://www.nap.edu

The Doomsday Clock, the Iraq War and the War Scare of 1983

The Doomsday Clock

On 26 January 2016, The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists Science and Security Board announced that the minute hand of its Doomsday Clock will remain at three minutes to midnight in spite of recent progress with the Iran nuclear agreement and the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris (COP 21).

Three minutes to midnight

The Science and Security Board gave the following rationale:

“Last year, the Science and Security Board moved the Doomsday Clock forward to three minutes to midnight, noting: ‘The probability of global catastrophe is very high, and the actions needed to reduce the risks of disaster must be taken very soon.’ That probability has not been reduced. The Clock ticks. Global danger looms. Wise leaders should act—immediately.”

You can read their complete announcement at the following link:

http://thebulletin.org/press-release/doomsday-clock-hands-remain-unchanged-despite-iran-deal-and-paris-talks9122

Also on this website, you will find a detailed chronology of the changes in the Doomsday Clock since its inception in 1947. The following link will take you directly to this timeline:

http://thebulletin.org/timeline

From the beginning, the Doomsday Clock has been a measure of the perceived risk to civilization of nuclear annihilation. In 2007, the Science and Security Board added climate change because of its perceived significant risk to civilization.

Another view of the Doomsday Clock timeline is available in Wikipedia at the following link:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doomsday_Clock

Here you will find the following timeline chart and a compact tabulation of the changes over the years.

Doomsday_Clock_graph

The Iraq War

On 25 January 2016, Stephen Colbert interviewed former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, focusing on the Iraq War and the state of knowledge leading up to the decision to go to war. Donald Rumsfeld had previously addressed the state of U.S. intelligence on Iraq in terms of “known knowns” (i.e., things on which we believe we have adequate intelligence), “known unknowns” (i.e., things on which we believe we do not have adequate, or any, intelligence), and “unknown unknowns” (i.e., things we don’t even know we should be concerned about). Stephen Colbert then asked about “unknown knowns”, which he defined as, “things we know, but choose not to let other people know.” The implication was that our leaders in the military and the Executive Branch had important information that they knew had a bearing on the decision to go to war with Iraq, but this information was unknown to other stakeholders in that decision; namely, most members of Congress and the American people. Then the U.S. went to war with Iraq on 20 March 2003. The Doomsday Clock remained at 7 minutes before midnight, even though the U.S. had just saved the world from Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction.

You can view Stephen Colbert’s interview with Donald Rumsfeld at the following link:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Z3z7DvoA-M

The War Scare of 1983

I need to expand on Donald Rumsfeld’s and Stephen Colbert’s categories for the state of U.S. intelligence by adding the following: “unknown, should have known better.” I define this as a serious, but avoidable, blunder known only at the highest levels and withheld from the public.

As an example of an “unknown, should have known better,” I present the “War Scare of 1983”. Remember that? I’d be quite surprised if you were even remotely aware of it when it occurred.

NATO forces conducted regular military exercises intended to improve their ability to execute war plans designed to counter a Soviet invasion of Europe. It now appears that only a few high-ranking people in the West knew that some of the Soviet leadership had misinterpreted NATO exercises conducted in the fall of 1983 as a prelude to an actual attack.

To set the stage, note in the timeline chart above that the Doomsday Clock had been reset from 7 minutes to 4 minutes before midnight in early 1981. This was a time of generally heightened tensions between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Perhaps as a consequence, the Soviets appear to have overreacted when they shot down Korean Airlines flight 007 in August 1983 after it strayed into Russian airspace near Sakhalin Island in the Russian Far East. Some believe that Soviet air defense forces had mistaken this civilian flight for a USAF RC-135 surveillance aircraft that previously had flown a similar route.

In the fall of 1983, the annual NATO exercise was known as Autumn Forge 83, consisting of at least six exercises. The final exercise, Able Archer 83, was a nuclear command and control exercise intended to simulate an escalating conflict with the Soviet Union leading to the simulated use of nuclear weapons by NATO. Overall, Autumn Forge 83 was a larger exercise than those conducted in previous years and Able Archer 83 was using new nuclear weapons command and control procedures.

In a 21 May 2013 article posted on The National Security Archives website entitled, The 1983 War Scare: “The Last Paroxysm” of the Cold War Part II”, Nate Jones includes the following diagram from an unclassified 9 September 1983 briefing showing the large scale of the Autumn Forge 83 exercise.

Autumn Forge Map

You can read the complete article at the following link:

http://nsarchive.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB427/

A declassified After Action Report issued by the Strategic Air Command (SAC) Seventh Air Division Headquarters on 1 December 1983 addressed the NATO activities conducted as part of Able Archer 83, but presented no information on Soviet reactions during or following the exercise. This After Action Report is available at the following link:

http://nsarchive.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB427/docs/7.%20Exercise%20Able%20Archer%2083%20After%20Action%20Report%201%20December%201983.pdf

I first became aware of the significance of Able Archer 83 via John Prados’ article, “The War Scare of 1983,” in The Quarterly Journal of Military History, Spring 1997 (Vol. 9, Issue 3).

In a 2007 article entitled, “A Cold War Conundrum: The 1983 Soviet War Scare,” author Benjamin Fischer attributed the following statement to Oleg Gordievsky, a KGB colonel who defected to the UK in 1985:

“In the tense atmosphere generated by the crises and rhetoric of the past few months, the KGB concluded that American forces had been placed on alert–and might even have begun the countdown to war…. The world did not quite reach the edge of the nuclear abyss during Operation RYAN. But during ABLE ARCHER 83 it had, without realizing it, come frighteningly close–certainly closer than at any time since the Cuban missile crisis of 1962.”

You can read the complete article in the CIA online library at the following link:

https://www.cia.gov/library/center-for-the-study-of-intelligence/csi-publications/books-and-monographs/a-cold-war-conundrum/source.htm#HEADING1-12

A Special National Intelligence Estimate entitled, “Implications of Recent Soviet Military – Political Activities,” dated 18 May 1984 and declassified in 2010, provides insights into the Soviet reactions to Able Archer 83. You can read / download this redacted document at the following link:

http://www.foia.cia.gov/sites/default/files/document_conversions/17/19840518.pdf

A much more readable overview is available in the 21 May 2013 article entitled, “The Able Archer 83 War Scare: ‘NATO requested initial limited use of nuclear weapons,’” by Nate Jones, in which he states that:

“According to a declassified National Security Agency history…. the ‘period 1982-1984 marked the most dangerous Soviet-American confrontation since the Cuban Missile Crisis.’ The secret history recounts that ‘Cold War hysteria reached its peak’ in the autumn of 1983 with a NATO nuclear-release exercise named Able Archer 83, which…. caused ‘Soviet air units in Germany and Poland [to assume] high alert status with readying of nuclear strike forces.’”

You can read the complete article posted on The National Security Archives website at the following link:

https://nsarchive.wordpress.com/2013/05/21/war-scare-the-real-life-war-game-that-almost-led-to-nuclear-armageddon/

On 24 October 2015, David E. Hoffman, writing for The Washington Post, reported that:

“A nuclear weapons command exercise by NATO in November 1983 prompted fear in the leadership of the Soviet Union that the maneuvers were a cover for a nuclear surprise attack by the United States, triggering a series of unparalleled Soviet military responses…”

The Kremlin, uncertain about U.S. intentions, ordered a series of military measures that appeared to be actual preparations for war. A recently declassified 1990 assessment entitled, “The Soviet ‘War Scare,’” by the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board concluded:

“In 1983, we may have inadvertently placed our relations with the Soviet Union on a hair trigger…”

The Washington Post obtained a copy of this formerly highly classified (Top Secret – Cover Word – Code Word) assessment, which you can read / download (with modest redactions) at the following link:

http://apps.washingtonpost.com/g/documents/world/read-the-us-assessment-that-concluded-the-soviet-leadership-feared-an-american-nuclear-strike-in-1983/1779/

Obviously, we all survived the War Scare of 1983. Maybe it was better for the public not to know. The Doomsday Clock was adjusted in January 1984 to three minutes before midnight, but not because of Able Archer 83. You can read the rationale for the clock setting on the editorial page in the January 1984 edition of The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, which you will find at the following link:

https://books.google.ca/books?id=zAUAAAAAMBAJ&pg=PA2&source=gbs_toc_r&cad=2#v=onepage&q&f=false

If the Science and Security Board had known the details that have surfaced in the past several years about Able Archer 83, I suspect the clock might have been a tick or two closer to midnight for a brief time.

The Doomsday Clock currently is set at three minutes to midnight.

 

 

Relax, the Planetary Defense Officer has the Watch

On 7 January 2016, NASA formalized its ongoing program for detecting and tracking Near-Earth Objects (NEOs) by establishing the Planetary Defense Coordination Office (PDCO). You can read the NASA announcement at the following link:

https://www.nasa.gov/feature/nasa-office-to-coordinate-asteroid-detection-hazard-mitigation

PDCO is responsible for supervision of all NASA-funded projects to find and characterize asteroids and comets that pass near Earth’s orbit around the sun. PDCO also will take a leading role in coordinating interagency and intergovernmental efforts in response to any potential impact threats. Specific assigned responsibilities are:

  • Ensuring the early detection of potentially hazardous objects (PHOs), which are defined as asteroids and comets whose orbits are predicted to bring them within 0.05 Astronomical Units (AUs) of Earth (7.48 million km, 4.65 million miles); and of a size large enough to reach Earth’s surface – that is, greater than 30 to 50 meters (98.4 to 164.0 feet);
  • Tracking and characterizing PHOs and issuing warnings about potential impacts;
  • Providing timely and accurate communications about PHOs; and
  • Performing as a lead coordination node in U.S. Government planning for response to an actual impact threat.

As you can see in the following organization chart, PDCO is part of NASA’s Planetary Science Division, in the agency’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington D.C.  PDCO is led by Lindley Johnson, longtime NEO program executive, who now has the very impressive title of “Planetary Defense Officer”.

Planetary Defense Coordination OfficeSource: NASA PDCO

You can find out more at the PDCO website at the following link:

https://www.nasa.gov/planetarydefense

The PDCO includes the Near Earth Object (NEO) Observation Program, which was established in 1998 in response to a request from the House Committee on Science that NASA find at least 90% of 1 km (0.62 mile) and larger NEOs. That goal was achieved by end of 2010.

The NASA Authorization Act of 2005 increased the scope of NEO objectives by amending the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958 (“NASA Charter”) by adding the following new functional requirement:

 ‘‘The Congress declares that the general welfare and security of the United States require that the unique competence of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration be directed to detecting, tracking, cataloging, and characterizing near-Earth asteroids and comets in order to provide warning and mitigation of the potential hazard of such near-Earth objects to the Earth.’’

 This was further clarified by stating that NASA will:

“…plan, develop, and implement a Near-Earth Object Survey program to detect, track, catalogue, and characterize the physical characteristics of near-Earth objects equal to or greater than 140 meters (459 feet) in diameter in order to assess the threat of such near-Earth objects to the Earth. It shall be the goal of the Survey program to achieve 90 percent completion of its near-Earth object catalog within fifteen years (by 2020)”

The contractors supporting the NASA NEO Observation Program are Jet propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) / Lincoln laboratory, Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, University Space Research Association, University of Arizona, and University of Hawaii / Institute of Astronomy.

Once detected, NEO orbits are precisely predicted and monitored by the Center for NEO Studies (CNEOS) at JPL. Their website is at the following link:

http://neo.jpl.nasa.gov/neo/

The catalog of known NEOs as of 3 November 2015 included 13,206 objects. NASA reports that new NEOs are being identified at a rate of about 1,500 per year. Roughly half of the known NEOs – about 6,800 – are objects larger than 140 meters (459 feet) in diameter. The estimated population of NEOs of this size is about 25,000. Current surveys are finding NEOs of this size at a rate of about 500 per year.  Recent encounters with NEOs include:

  • Asteroid 2015 TB145, the “Halloween Pumpkin”
    • Roughly spherical, about 610 meters (2,000 feet) in diameter
    • Detected 10 October 2015, approaching from the outer solar system, 21 days before closest approach
    • Closest approach occurred on 31 October 2015 at a distance of 310,000 miles (1.3 times the distance to the Moon) at a speed of about 78,000 miles an hour.
  • Asteroid airburst near Chelyabinsk, Russia
    • Airburst occurred 15 February 2013
    • Object estimated to be about 19 meters in diameter
    • Approached from the inner solar system; not detected before airburst
    • Peter Brown at the University of Western Ontario, estimated the energy of the Chelyabinsk airbust at 400 to 600 kilotons of TNT.  You can read this analysis in at the following link:

http://www.nature.com/articles/nature12741.epdf?referrer_access_token=OvLha95ujqCh0k4maNPuFNRgN0jAjWel9jnR3ZoTv0PyqszVJsMboh07BaZDfmONEget5lbJtDTXTwE2VvrDWIEgk5iXkd1EFvngsntJFeC1wOg4ASyku1lPPrkWlAPvoRMkxnjovQe0UYqFmFkZ6v9qqq9DL9_3CwYPmTWA6e-sweRQPIyrDHMUaAQYWA9H4TNSsZGN662UcGxlW5d1GA%3D%3D&tracking_referrer=www.theguardian.com

Another result of the NEO Observation Program is the following map of data gathered from 1994-2013 on small asteroids impacting Earth’s atmosphere and disintegrating to create very bright meteors, technically called “bolides” and commonly referred to as “fireballs”.  Sizes of orange dots (daytime impacts) and blue dots (nighttime impacts) are proportional to the optical radiated energy of impacts measured in billions of Joules (GJ) of energy, and show the location of impacts from objects about 1 meter (3 feet) to almost 20 meters (60 feet) in size.  You can see a rather uniform distribution of these fireballs over the surface of the Earth.

bolide_events_1994-2013 Source: NASA NEO Observation Program

In September 2014, the NASA Inspector General published the report, “NASA’s Efforts to Identify Near-Earth Objects and Mitigate Hazards,” which you can download for free at the following link:

https://oig.nasa.gov/audits/reports/FY14/IG-14-030.pdf

Key findings were the following:

  • Even though the Program has discovered, categorized, and plotted the orbits of more than 11,000 NEOs since 1998, NASA will fall short of meeting the 2005 Authorization Act goal of finding 90 percent of NEOs larger than 140 meters (459 feet) in diameter by 2020.
  • ….we believe the Program would be more efficient, effective, and transparent were it organized and managed in accordance with standard NASA research program requirements

You will find an NEO Program update, including a reference to the new Planetary Defense Coordination Office, presented by Lindley Johnson on 8 November 2915 at the following link:

http://www.minorplanetcenter.net/IAWN/2015_national_harbor/NEO_Program_update.pdf

So, what will we see in the years ahead as technology is explored and techniques are developed to defend Earth against a significant NEO impact? There have been many movies that have tried to answer that question, but none offered a particularly good answer.

Asteroid movies 2Asteroid movies 1 Source: Google

In 1968, Star Trek explored this issue in Season 3, Episode 3, “The Paradise Syndrome”. Ancient aliens had left a planetary defense device to protect a primitive civilization against their equivalent of NEOs. Only the intervention of Capt. James T. Kirk restored the device to operation in time to deflect an incoming asteroid and save the indigenous civilization.

Star Trek - The Paradise Syndrome 1 Source: memory-alpha.wiki.comStar Trek - The Paradise Syndrome 2 Source: technovelgy.com

Our new Planetary Defense Officer has a comparable responsibility on Earth, but without the benefits of special effects.

In 2010, National Academies Press published, “Defending Planet Earth: Near-Earth Object Surveys and Hazard Mitigation Strategies.” This report explores civil defense mitigation action and three basic defense techniques:

  • Slow push-pull methods
  • Kinetic impact methods
  • Nuclear methods

If you have a MyNAP account, you can download this report for free at the following link:

http://www.nap.edu/catalog/12842/defending-planet-earth-near-earth-object-surveys-and-hazard-mitigation

NAP Defending Planet Earth Source: NAP

 

 

Heritage Foundation’s 2016 Index of U.S. Military Strength

Heritage Foundation recently released the subject report, which assesses the current ability of the U.S. military to provide for the common defense. Heritage Foundation notes: “This …. Index of U.S. Military Strength gauges the ability of the U.S. military to perform its missions in today’s world, and each sub­sequent edition will provide the basis for measuring the improvement or weakening of that ability.”

Heritage Foundation 2016 index cover  Source: Heritage Foundation

The report, edited by Dakota L. Wood, is organized as follows:

  • Introduction.
  • Executive Summary
  • The Role of a Strong National Defense
  • The Contemporary Spectrum of Conflict: Protracted, Gray Zone, Ambiguous, and Hybrid Modes of War
  • Preempting Further Russian Aggression Against Europe
  • Intelligence and National Defense
  • America’s Reserve and National Guard Components: Key Contributors to U.S. Military Strength
  • Assessing the Global Operating Environment
  • Assessing Threats to U.S. Vital Interests
  • An Assessment of U.S. Military Power
  • Glossary of Terms and Abbreviations
  • Methodology
  • Appendix: Military Capabilities and Corresponding Modernization Programs

The Heritage Foundation notes that the, “2016 Index of U.S. Mil­itary Strength concludes that America’s ‘hard power’ has deteriorated still further over the past year, pri­marily as a result of inadequate funding that has led to a shrinking force that possesses aging equipment and modest levels of readiness for combat.”

You can download the complete report, or just individual sections or chapters, at the following link:

http://index.heritage.org/military/2016/resources/download/

I hope you will read this report and draw your own conclusions.

 

The Sad State of Affairs of the U.S. Icebreaking Fleet and Implications for Future U.S. Arctic Operations

On 1 Sep 2015, while visiting Alaska, President Obama announced that he would speed up the acquisition of icebreakers to help the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) operate in the Arctic. A Congressional Research Service report entitled, Coast Guard Polar Icebreaker Modernization: Background and Issues for Congress, was issued on 2 Sep 2015.  You can download this report at the following link:

https://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/weapons/RL34391.pdf

This report asserts that a new heavy polar icebreaker will cost in the range from $900 million to $1.1 billion.  The report also provides an interesting history of prior USCG assessments  of their icebreaker needs and  budget actions taken over the past few years that significantly reduced the budget available to pursue new icebreaker acquisition.

Role of the National Science Foundation

In 2006, the G.W. Bush administration moved budget and management authority for the U.S. polar icebreaker fleet from the USCG to the National Science Foundation (NSF). The USCG retained custody of the polar icebreakers, which continue to be operated by USCG crews. This arrangement is recorded in the following 2006 document: Memorandum of Agreement Between United States Coast Guard and National Science Foundation Regarding Polar Icebreaking Support and Reimbursement. You can read the details of this convoluted agreement at the following link:

https://www.nsf.gov/geo/plr/opp_advisory/briefings/oct2005/2005_uscgnsf_moa.pdf

The current U.S. polar icebreaker fleet

Currently the entire U.S. national capability for Arctic and Antarctic icebreaking operations is found in a very small icebreaking fleet consisting of:

  • One heavy polar icebreaker, Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star
    • Commissioned in 1976
    • Displacement: 13,194 tons
    • Horsepower: 75,000 hp (gas turbines) + 18,000 hp (diesels)
  • One medium polar icebreaker, Coast Guard Cutter Healy
    • Commissioned in 1999
    • Displacement: 16,000 tons
    • Horsepower: 30,000 (diesels)
  • Some ice-capable tugs and tenders

In addition to this active “fleet”, the U.S. also has an inactive heavy polar icebreaker; the  Polar Sea (sister ship of Polar Star), which was commissioned in 1978 and placed in inactive commission in Seattle, WA in 2010 after a major propulsion plant equipment casualty. A 2013 USCG analysis, required by Congress to forestall the planned scrapping of the Polar Sea, showed that Polar Sea could be rehabilitated and reactivated for a fraction of the cost of building a new icebreaker. Polar Sea remains in inactive commission.

Polar Star_Polar SeaSource: Wikipedia

Polar Star & Polar Sea together in happier days.

In 2006, NSF put Polar Star in caretaker status due to equipment aging / wear-out issues. The ship originally was designed for a 30 year operating life.  After a modest refurbishment, the ship returned to Antarctic service in late 2013. Polar Star is expected to continue operating until about 2020.

After Polar Sea suffered its major propulsion system casualty in 2010, and until the Polar Star returned to service in late 2013, the medium icebreaker Healy was the only active U.S. polar icebreaker.

In February 2015, the USCG reported that it needed three heavy and three medium icebreakers to cover the U.S. “anticipated needs” in the Arctic and Antarctic. Six different U.S. agencies have missions in Polar regions.

U.S. Coast Guard’s 2013 Review of Major Icebreakers of the World is a chart that provides a good visual representation of the world’s icebreaker fleets. This chart is reproduced below, but you may need to go to the following link to see a more readable and downloadable pdf version of this  chart:

https://www.uscg.mil/hq/cg5/cg552/docs/20130718%20Major%20Icebreaker%20Chart.pdf

Icebreakers

The icons in this chart for the U.S. icebreaker fleet include the Polar Star, Polar Sea (inactive) and Healy, as expected. The other two vessels are:

  • Nathaniel B. Palmer, a privately owned, ice capable research ship leased by NSF to support Antarctic science missions.
  • Aiviq, a privately owned icebreaking, anchor-handling tug supply vessel chartered by Royal Dutch Shell to support their oil exploration activities in the Chukchi Sea off Alaska.

So, really, the U.S. currently only has two polar icebreakers. One typically serves the Antarctic and one serves the Arctic.  In 2013, the USCG got approval too explore developing a new heavy-duty icebreaker.  In mid-2015, the USCG website reports:

“The Coast Guard is in the preliminary phase of a new, heavy polar icebreaker acquisition program. This stage in the process includes developing a formal mission need statement, a concept of operations, and an operational requirements document – all necessary before developing and implementing a detailed acquisition plan.”

Russia’s polar icebreaker fleet

In comparison, the USCG’s 2013 chart shows that Russia fields almost 40 icebreakers with up to a dozen more planned or under construction. Russia has national plans to exploit its Arctic resources along the Northern Sea Route, which passes through the Arctic Ocean along the north coast of Russia. Nuclear-powered icebreakers play important roles in those plans.

The first of the new LK-60 nuclear-powered heavy polar icebreakers, Arktika, is under construction in St. Petersburg’s Baltic Shipyard and is expected to enter service in 2017. Its icebreaking bow was installed in August 2015.

LK-60_Arktika-bow_Aug2015 Source: http://bellona.org/

Contracts for two additional LK-60-class icebreakers were placed in May 2014. They are scheduled for delivery in 2019 and 2020.

U.S. Navy Arctic Roadmap 2014 – 2030

The recently published U.S. Navy Arctic Roadmap 2014 – 2030 includes the following observations:

  • U.S. Navy expects the Arctic “to remain a low threat security environment where nations resolve differences peacefully.”
  • It sees its role as mostly a supporter of U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) operations and responder to search-and-rescue and disaster situations.
  • However, the presence of vast resource endowments and territorial disagreements “contributes to a possibility of localized episodes of friction in the Arctic Region, despite the peaceful intentions of the Arctic nations.”
  • “Navy functions in the Arctic Region are not different from those in other maritime regions; however, the Arctic Region environment makes the execution of many of these functions much more challenging.”

Regarding the first and third points, above, Russian activities in the Arctic during the past year suggest that the U.S. Navy has underestimated, at least publically, the likelihood of non-peaceful actions in the Arctic and the potential need for a military response in the region. Recent Russian activities in the Arctic highlight this risk.

Given the poor state of the U.S. polar icebreaker fleet, I would say that the last point, above, is a gross understatement. The USCG and the Navy are not well-positioned for surface operations in the Arctic Ocean. Surface naval operations in ice-covered Arctic regions will be almost impossible to execute without a capable U.S. icebreaker fleet.

You can download a copy of the Navy’s Arctic Roadmap at the following link:

http://www.navy.mil/docs/USN_arctic_roadmap.pdf

Examples of worrisome recent Russian activities in the Arctic are:

  • Since early 2014, Russia has been conducting bomber and fighter missions close to the airspace of its Arctic neighbors.  This kind of military behavior has not been seen since the Cold War ended in the early 1990s.
  • 1 December 2014: Russia’s new Arctic Joint Strategic Command became operational. This provides central management of all Russian military resources in the Arctic, and there are a lot of them. The new command, based on the Northern Fleet and headquartered at Severomorsk, will acquire military, naval surface and strategic nuclear subsurface, air force and aerospace defense units, assets, and bases transferred from other Russian Military Districts
  • 15 – 20 March 2015: Russia conducted a massive, five-day military exercise in the Arctic involving about 80,000 troops, 220 aircraft, 41 ships, and 15 submarines. This exercise was conducted on the one-year anniversary of the Russian annexation of Crimea.
  • 4 August 2015: Russia’s Foreign Ministry confirmed that Russia had re-submitted to the United Nations it’s Arctic extended continental shelf claim. Russia is seeking recognition for its formal economic control of 1.2 million square kilometers (463,320 square miles) of Artic sea shelf extending more than 350 nautical miles from the shore.

The new U.S. Arctic Executive Steering Committee

In contrast to  Russia’s new Arctic Joint Strategic Command, President Obama issued an Executive Order in 15 January 2015 setting up the Arctic Executive Steering Committee, which will be responsible for enhancing coordination of national efforts in the Arctic.  How this new Steering Committee will affect progress on revitalizing the U.S. polar icebreaker fleet remains to be seen. You can read the full text of this Executive Order at the following link:

https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2015/01/21/executive-order-enhancing-coordination-national-efforts-arctic

The bottom line

The U.S. is well behind the power curve for conducting operations in the Arctic that require icebreaker support.  Even with a well-funded new U.S. icebreaker construction program, it will take a decade before the first new ship is ready for service, and by that time, the new ship will be entering the fleet just as the  Polar Star is retiring or entering a comprehensive life-extension refurbishment program.

If you find yourself icebound in the Arctic anytime in the next decade, I think your best bet is to call the Canadians or the Russians for help.

5 February 2016 update:

In mid-January 2016, former Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Bob Papp made the following points at the annual Surface Navy Association meeting near Washington D.C.:

  • The U.S. will need eight icebreakers if it decides to have one patrolling in each polar region at all times.  The Coast Guard has never been able to support that high an operational tempo.
  • U.S. Arctic policy is a matter of national security; not just a matter of defense. The State Department’s vision focuses as well on sovereign rights and responsibilities of Arctic nations, maritime safety, energy, economic interests, environmental stewardship, scientific research and support to indigenous peoples.
  • More icebreakers are essential, because the U.S. can’t support its policies without being physically able to move about in the polar regions.

Read more details at the following link:

http://www.navytimes.com/story/military/2016/01/15/coast-guard-needs-8-icebreakers-cover-polar-regions-retired-4-star/78749864/

The current Coast Guard Commandant, Adm. Paul Zukunft, has stated that the schedule for the new icebreaker procurement program calls for a contract award for one icebreaker by fall 2019, with production beginning in 2020. Initial operational capability for this first new icebreaker would not be until the mid-2020s.  A Federal Business Opportunity (FBO) notice for the USCG Polar Icebreaker Replacement Program was posted online on 13 January 2016.  You can read the FBO notice and download the industry data package at the following link:

https://www.fbo.gov/index?s=opportunity&mode=form&id=68bf40747603b6acecc73e5ccc2974b6&tab=core&_cview=1

Well, this is a start.  When the new icebreaker enters the Coast Guard fleet and Polar Star retires after about 50 years of operation, the U.S. still will have only two polar icebreakers.