Fun With Nuclear Targeting

Bush_at_offut.jpgMy wing o' the blogosphere is all worked up over an article -- in Pat Buchanan's The American Spectator, of all places -- that claims the OVP wants to nuke Iran in the event of another 9/11 attack ... whether Tehran was involved or not:

The Pentagon, acting under instructions from Vice President Dick Cheney's office, has tasked the United States Strategic Command (STRATCOM) with drawing up a contingency plan to be employed in response to another 9/11-type terrorist attack on the United States.The plan includes a large-scale air assault on Iran employing both conventional and tactical nuclear weapons. Within Iran there are more than 450 major strategic targets, including numerous suspected nuclear-weapons-program development sites. Many of the targets are hardened or are deep underground and could not be taken out by conventional weapons, hence the nuclear option. As in the case of Iraq, the response is not conditional on Iran actually being involved in the act of terrorism directed against the United States.Several senior Air Force officers involved in the planning are reportedly appalled at the implications of what they are doing--that Iran is being set up for an unprovoked nuclear attack--but no one is prepared to damage his career by posing any objections.
This particular statement may be exaggerated or flat out false. The author, Philip Giraldi, was a source on Sy Hersh's New Yorker article about attacking Iran. Giraldi loathes Cheney almost as much as I do, though from the opposite side of the spectrum.Wargaming an attack on Iran has been the hot hobby for pundits since Saddam's toppled statue provided a denouement for Operation Iraqi Freedom (the flight-suit-on-aircraft-carrier action was more like the bloopers that run during the credits). Even James Fallows, writing for The Atlantic Monthly, got in on the act (with slides).So, what's this got to do with DefenseTech?Most discussions about target sets leave the impression that the decision to use a nuclear weapon here or there is a deeply rational business, with great care taken not just in the selection of each target, but also to ensure each nuclear weapon is really necessary. After all, if we are going to put a nuclear weapon on a tank factory sitting next to a grade school, you'd think that someone made a careful, anguished decision about the lesser of two evils in a morally ambiguous world.You might think that, but you'd be wrong.When General Lee Butler become head of STRATCOM in 1991, he did something very strange. He actually asked to look at each and every target, individually -- something no one else had ever done before:
In his first months at SAC, he personally undertook a painstaking review of the million lines of computer code that constitute the SIOP. For the first time, he saw in detail what happens when broad presidential guidance is translated into actual weapons aimed at actual targets, what he calls "climbing down the ladder of abstraction." He was appalled at what he found at the bottom rung.For example, of the 12,500 targets in the SIOP at that time, one of them was slated to be hit by 69 consecutive nuclear weapons. It seems superfluous to say that this is crazy, but it is important to understand how the planning process could result in such a figure. At the level of a presidential directive, a document of a thousand words or so, you will have the reasonable-sounding requirement--if you're thinking about war-fighting at all--to, say, target the political and military leadership. That guidance goes to the Office of the Secretary of Defense, which in a 15- or 20-page document called a NUWEP (for "nuclear weapons employment policy") adds some detail: for example, what sorts of leadership facilities should be targeted. The NUWEP then goes to the Joint Strategic Target Planning Staff of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, which in hundreds of pages of a document called Annex C to the Joint Strategic Capabilities Plan lists specific facilities to be struck and damage requirements to be met. Annex C then goes to STRATCOM, where the targetting staff figures out which weapons, and how many, to apply to each target to meet the required level of damage.[snip]When I mentioned Butler's 69 weapons to Dr. Bruce Blair, a former Minuteman missileer and acknowledged expert on the operational aspects of nuclear warfighting now at the Brookings Institution, he found in his notes a statement by a high official at SAC in the late 1980s that the highest kill probability for the United States' best weapon against deeply buried, sprawling, hardened command posts was less than 5% (how they calculate this is a whole other matter, but the short answer is, they guess). Blair got out a calculator, assumed a kill probability of 4% for one weapon, and started multiplying. To attain a 50% confidence in destroying the target required 17 weapons. When Blair got up to 69 weapons, the "kill probability" had reached 94%.
The real issue here is that organizations abstract reality to manage it. That abstraction, James Scott pointed out in his book, Seeing Like A State, can produce disasterous consequences such as Soviet collectivization and the Maoist Great Leap Forward.Most of us intuitively understand the inhumanity of bureaucracies - a perhaps necessary evil in the modern world. This understanding is why General Butler's narrative is so compelling -- a human being acheives a vantage point from which to survey the madness of an inhuman organization. It's Kafka and Joseph Heller in equal measures.Only an organization would target 69 nuclear weapons on a single facility (later revealed to be the Sofrino missile defense radar) outside of Moscow in a strike designed to minimize "collateral damage". To take another example, STRATCOM calculates only blast damage from nuclear weapons. STRATCOM does not calculate the damage from any fires that would be ignited, even though such fires would be far more damaging than any blast effects. Why? Because fire damage is hard to calculate and, therefore, not real.Which is where we get to the technology part.Last fall, Lockheed Martin Integrated Systems & Solutions won a 10-year, $213 million contract "to develop the new architecture and functions" for the Integrated Strategic Planning and Analysis Network (ISPAN) -- STRATCOM's war planning system.Although the details are classified, the contract website makes clear that the ISPAN doesn't change how STRATCOM does business. ISPAN does not address the fundamental myopia of "kitchen sink" target sets, artificial damage expectencies and rigid delivery schedules that encourage the President to use nuclear weapons before an adversary has time to take protective measures.That's one reason to be worried about efforts by the OVP to plan to strike Iran -- not because there has been a policy decision to execute the plan (there has not), but because nuclear war planning continues to define the President's options in ways that alienate him from the execution.--posted by Jeffrey Lewis
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