Soviet/Russian Silo-Based Nuclear Weapons

A definitive historical account of the origins of the Russian A-bomb has never been published, but by consulting various sources a brief account can be gleaned. Only a summary can be provided here.

Research into nuclear physics had gone on in the Soviet Union as far back as the 1920s, and some scientists such as Igor Kurchatov had at the beginning of the Second World War recognized the atom’s potential military application and had recommended funding for laboratory work. The war prevented such research from taking place, but when Josef Stalin heard the Americans had driven down that road, he decided Russia should follow suit. Stalin had heard from his spies working in key American labs that the research they were engaged in was ultimately to be used in an atomic weapon. But it was really only the United States government’s test and only after two bombs were dropped on Japan in the summer of 1945 that the Russians began seriously focusing on their own weapons. The secrets passed onto Moscow from those American individuals greatly helped the Russians in their endeavour, and in August 1949, years earlier than the Americans had predicted, they detonated their first bomb.

The next step in Soviet weapons development was to find ways to deliver those bombs. Air dropping was the first mode of delivery, but since the bombers the Soviet air force then possessed had a limited range, other methods were contemplated. Research on rocket technology had progressed well, thanks mainly to captured German scientists and information, and tests were made with missiles that carried conventional warheads. By the 1950s, Soviet rocket technology had so advanced that by 1957, it succeeded in placing a Sputnik satellite into space. At the same time, rockets were being examined as nuclear delivery platforms, and more than a full year before Sputnik said ‘hello’ to the world, the first ballistic missile regiments were deployed. Within a few years, the Soviet Union’s first operational rocket, the R-5M, would be supplemented with the R-7, the R-12 and the R-14. The rockets then became so plentiful Soviet Premier Nikita Krushchev claimed they were coming out of the factories like sausages.

By the late 1950s, Soviet missile production was running at full speed. Rockets were being deployed on launch pads in bases throughout Russia. The missiles represented such an important element of the Soviet Union’s warfighting machine that some generals thought a new and separate branch of the armed forces should be created specifically for them. At first, all rocket units belonged to the artillery corps, but eventually some were assigned to Long-Range Aviation forces and others to the Soviet Supreme High Command. On 17 December 1959, however, history would be made and the new Strategic Rocket Forces (RVSN) were born. It would soon become a military service on a par with the army, air force, air defence service and navy.

The RVSN would be Russia’s first line of action against the West, and in consequence it recruited the best and the brightest among Russian conscripts. Throughout its history, it would have the best facilities, the best equipment and the smartest and most loyal officers. The officers and men were treated so well that in return, Moscow expected utmost dedication from them. To expect anything less, in the Kremlin’s mind, would have invited disaster.

The RVSN’s organizational structure follows a pattern very similar to that of the USAF. In the United States, numbered ‘Air Forces’ consist of Wings and Wings are made up of Squadrons. The latter are further divided into Flights. Since the Strategic Rocket Forces were an outgrowth of the artillery corps, it adopted the army structure of numbered Armies, Divisions and Regiments. The latter are composed of Battalions where each consist of a single launcher. Armies and Divisions have their own primary underground headquarters, and the Armies have apparently also a secondary command post that is airmobile. Regimental headquarters are located in launch tubes on remote properties. The missiles are either silo-based or rail or road-mobile. Following the standard Soviet practice, the various units are identified by both ordinal and five-digit numbers. Some units use the prefix ‘Guards’ to indicate a form of eliteness. Divisions are normally numbered, although some carry names. The RVSN has its own test and support sites such as the No. 4 Central Research Institute at Bolshevo in the suburbs of Moscow, and the No. 25 Central Military Clinical Hospital at Odintsovo, again outside Moscow. Training of staff takes place at military engineering institutes at Perm, Rostov-on-Don, Krasnodar, Serpukhov and at the Peter the Great Military Academy in Moscow.

In 1985, the RVSN consisted of the following six Armies:

Headquarters Missile Army Location

Vladimir 27th Russia

Orenburg 31st Russia

Omsk 33rd Russia

Vinnitsa 43rd Ukraine

Smolensk 50th Belarus

Chita 53rd Russia

It then had 1,398 missiles in service, 6,840 warheads and counted 415,000 men and women on its payroll. Today, however, only the first three armies remain, and its population is only a fraction of what it used to be. In 2008, the RVSN had 430 ICBMs in service.

Ultimate use of nuclear weapons is decided upon by a very small number of individuals: the President, the Minister of Defence and the Chief of the General Staff (the Nachalnyk Generalnovo Shtaba or the NGS). All three have access to a nuclear football, called Cheget or more colloquially chemodanchik, that is nearby at all times in the hands of an officer from the General Staff’s 9th Directorate. According to Peter Pry in his book War Scare, only one person, the President, needs to issue the order. He does not need, ‘in all likelihood’, the consent of the other two, although he would certainly consult with them. If the President was unavailable or dead, the Minister of Defence would likely assume command, and if the Minister was incapacitated, he would probably be replaced by the NGS. This line of succession seems to confirm that only one person needs to issue the go signal from the Cheget.

The Russian command and control system is predicated on the concept of ‘launch on warning’, which states that nuclear forces should act only when there are definite indications that an attack is under way. Orders to launch can be passed through the footballs (or from some of the underground command posts around Moscow) via a special communications network called Kavkaz, to the General Staff’s and to the military services’ command centres. At the General Staff’s bunker, the orders are transmitted via the Signal-A multifaceted communications system to the RVSN main staff, then to Armies, Divisions and Regiments. Here, they are received by special equipment called Baksan. The orders are then transmitted to the launchers by launch crews. At the same time, missile unlock codes (which are nicknamed ‘goschislo’) and authorization codes are passed onto the regimental command posts. One key feature present in the Russian command and control system not present in the American system is the ability of the Russian high command to bypass intermediate stages using a radio system called V’yuga and transmit orders to fire directly to launch control centres. As Bruce Blair put in in his book The Logic of Accidental Nuclear War, the General Staff is not only the band leader but can also play the instruments.

Before the missileers shoot their loads, several steps must take place throughout the command and control system. First, a preliminary command must be sent from Moscow. The command is really generated from two parts, one that originates from the General Staff and the other from the RVSN main staff, and is then validated, combined and transmitted down the chain of command. This order can only be created after enemy launches have been detected by at least two types of sensors and only after the President has so decided. Once this order is received at the regimental Launch Control Centres, launch consoles are activated. Next, a permission command is generated by the same three individuals (the President, Minister of Defence and the NGS) and transmitted to the Commander-in-Chief of the RVSN. Its only role is to provide legality to the launch order. Finally, a direct command is generated in two parts, one from the General Staff and the other from RVSN Headquarters. The command is later combined and again sent down the chain of command. Once received by Baksan equipment at the LCCs, it is authenticated by launch crews. The same crews then check certain computer symbols against a list kept in their safe, choose their targets (probably from a coded list) and set launch times. The command also allows any missile blocking device to be disabled. It then only remains to turn the two keys. Some Russian experts estimate that launch can take place within twenty-one minutes from the time of initial missile detection. Since an American ICBM takes thirty minutes to reach Russia, this would still give a nine minute window of reaction time. On the other hand, this would prove of little comfort to Russian forces if SLBMs were fired from American or British submarines from the Barents or Mediterranean Sea.

Individual missiles contain the target co-ordinates in the memory of their re-entry vehicles. The co-ordinates are chosen from a set listed in the ‘Plan of Operations of the Strategic Rocket Forces’, a document that parallels the American SIOP. In the 1990s, the two superpowers agreed to de-target their missiles as a gesture of goodwill, but this is only a symbolic move as the rockets can be reprogrammed within minutes thanks to computerization. During an attack, some writers have speculated that silo-based missiles would be fired first because of their susceptibility to a first strike, and that mobile missiles, which can relocate to virtually any point, would be used in a retaliatory assault.

The command and control system in Russia has a feature that guarantees near-total reliability. Should the various communications systems be rendered inoperable, or should the human decision triad described above be unavailable, the RVSN would still be able to launch its missiles. In the early 1970s, a decision was made by Moscow to develop a system that would allow the launch of missiles if most of the human input was erased. In 1974, work began on a system that would see special UHF radio-equipped rockets take off if certain conditions were satisfied and that would automatically transmit pre-recorded voice commands to launching crews. Other missiles would then fire after a pre-set time interval. Called Perimetr, this system was implemented to give Russian leaders an insurance policy against decapitation. This ‘Doomsday Machine’, as it is often called in the Western press, was declared operational in 1985. It is also referred to as ‘Dead Hand’.

The Perimetr system operates in three stages. First, once duty officers located in a special underground radio command post receive the proper order, they must turn the system on. Second, they must determine if communications are still available with the Supreme High Command (e.g. the President). If they are not, they are to assume the leadership no longer exists. Third, the officers are to determine if any detonations have taken place on Russian soil. If all three conditions are met, they are to load a message into the radio warhead and launch the rockets, one from each end of the country. Over the next fifteen minutes, these rockets will broadcast the order to fire to the launch crews. There is apparently no way to stop the Perimetr rockets, which means the responsible officers must be sure of themselves before launching them.

Automated systems notwithstanding, the value of human input in the Russian command and control system was clearly demonstrated in 1983. On 25 September of that year, Lieutenant-Colonel Stanislas Petrov was working as a missile warning officer in one of the nation’s early warning facilities, called Serpukhov-15, south of Moscow. The facility received inputs from a series of detection satellites flying high over the planet. At 12.15am on the 26th, one of the warning panels in the control centre flashed the word ‘launch’. It had originated from the United States.

This had never happened before to Petrov. A launch from the US required the Colonel to contact higher authorities and brace for the worst. He and others began to wonder if the United States was using the NATO exercise Able Archer which was then in process as an excuse for a missile attack. Petrov’s staff began to worry and looked to him for guidance. Another indicator panel in the room showed ‘high reliability’. The electronic map in front that showed all the American missile bases had one lamp turned on showing from which base the missile had come from. Petrov’s duty was to alert the Kremlin and the General Staff, but he held off until he could confirm the systems were working properly and that the launch was real. He knew the system was not perfect, and he began to have doubts when the map showed only one missile launch and when the optical telescopes could not confirm that launch. Petrov’s instincts told him it was a false alarm, and said so to his staff. Soon, however, the system showed five more missiles on the way. Again, knowing the system was full of glitches, he assumed it was giving false readings. Petrov knew that if the United States was to attack, it would do so with hundreds of missiles, not just five, so this knowledge served to reinforce his suspicion. He thus refused to sound the alarm, and the world was spared from a potential Armageddon.

One would think that Soviet generals would have thanked Petrov for using his judgment. Not so. A few hours after the event, senior Army officers dropped in not to congratulate him, but to berate him for not passing on the warnings. Had he done so, however, who knows what actions would have been taken by the leadership? For his actions, Petrov was soon transferred to less sensitive duties, and within a year, he would be gone from the military. Eventually, it would be learned that the warnings were generated from the sun’s reflection from the clouds.

When it comes to Russian targeting policy, very little has been revealed about it. What has been divulged has often been based on educated guesswork, limited military writings and, on rare occasions, on information from defectors. What is known is that during the Cold War, the Soviets’ targeting plan called for the destruction of every single enemy nuclear device, preferably in one massive sweep. The most important targets were bomber airfields, submarine bases, nuclear weapons depots and strategic command and control centres. Secondary targets included radar stations and tactical air and missile bases. Other less important aimpoints would have been large army bases, conventional munitions stores and fuel depots. Civilian sites such as political centres and economic facilities (such as power stations and petroleum stockpiles) would also have been wiped out. Early Russian missiles were not very accurate, so they were likely reserved for large facilities such as air and naval bases, although when the Americans began building missile-launching facilities in the 1960s, the rockets’ quick reaction time meant they too would have to be knocked out in the first wave. To ensure their destruction, some installations, such as ammunition depots (of which there were many in West Germany), could have required up to eighteen bombs to destroy because of their hardened igloos. Russia therefore had a clear incentive to build up its arsenal and to increase the accuracy of its weapons.

While it was always clear that the United States and Canada were prime targets for the Strategic Rocket Forces, some have wondered how Western Europe would have fared. Some academics thought that part of the continent might have been spared the use of strategic weapons during an all-out attack for a number of reasons. First, if the Soviet Union’s goal was annexation, they obviously would not want to occupy a smouldering radioactive ruin. Second, more than likely the Russians would have wanted to take over heavy industries for their own use, as they did with Germany after the Second World War. (This would have also applied to Japan.) Third, if the Russians had indeed attacked with ICBMs, normal west-to-east wind patterns and the resultant radioactive clouds would have meant that they themselves would have been contaminated. For these reasons, theorists believe the Soviets would have restricted their attacks to mostly military targets using tactical weapons only.

When it comes to actual missiles, Russia has developed a much larger array than the United States. Victor Suvorov in his book Inside the Soviet Army claims that one of the reasons was that the Soviet Union was not capable of manufacturing a large quantity of rockets because of the dearth of key components; it was therefore forced to produce limited runs. Whereas the United States had only two ICBMs deployed in 1975–the Minuteman and the Titan II–the RVSN had nine models. The larger number of types was not necessarily a disadvantage, though, since one could make up for the shortcomings of another.

The year 1975 also saw three new missiles come off the assembly line; the UR-100, R-36M and the UR-100N. The UR-100N, known in the West as the SS-19, is described here as an example.

The UR-100N was a two-stage UDMH-fueled ICBM with a range of 10,000km. It was designed by the OKB-52 development facility at Reutov outside Moscow and built in two models: the first carried six independent warheads of 550 kiloton yield each and the second, a single 5 megaton re-entry vehicle. The Russians claim it had a circular error of probability (or impact accuracy level) of 350m, but in his book Russian Strategic Nuclear Forces Podvig claims it is 920m, which is still better than older ICBMs. The UR-100N was a leader in fourth-generation missiles since it incorporated new microprocessor technology and improved launch techniques. Some thought that the heavy warhead model was aimed at American missile silos, until it was realized too few were produced and that their high yield made them more suitable for deeper targets such as Mount Weather. Both models were manufactured at the Krunichev machine plant outside Moscow and fitted into modified SS-11 silos, such as at Pervomaysk, Ukraine, or into new silos such as at Tatishchevo. The UR-100N was also eventually put in Derazhnaya, Ukraine, and Kozelsk, Russia. When hints of the missile first appeared in the 1970s, Jane’s Weapons Systems asserted it was hot-launched–launched from within its silo–while the US Department of Defense claimed it was raised first, then fired, or cold-launched. As it turned out, Jane’s was right. The UR-100N was replaced with the UR-100NU in the 1980s due to its launch instability.

The pattern of missile deployment in the Soviet Union seems to have paralleled, up to a point, American patterns. The rockets were either placed in earth-covered bunkers, kept on launching pads or installed in groups of silos, but later models were placed in individual silos. One of the early ICBMs, the R-7, was kept on launching pads and supported by four masts, while some of the R-12Us were put in Dvina complexes that consisted of four silos. One variant of the R-14U was placed in a Chusovaya complex of three silos located less than 100m apart, while the R-16U was deployed in threes in a Sheksna-V complex of three silos forming a straight line 60m from each other. All these complexes included an underground command post. Newer missiles, such as the UR-100 and the RT-2, were placed in individual silos, and their LCCs were located separately.

Russian engineers would end up devising unique ways to install and launch a missile. The R-16U, for example, was placed in a silo in a tube that could be rotated to align the missile’s guidance system. The UR-100 was delivered to the launch facility in a sealed container that was simply lowered in a silo and fastened. In the case of the UR-100U, the missile and its tube were suspended from the top and stabilized at the bottom. Unlike American missiles, some Russian missiles are launched first by ejection from the tube by forced gas, followed by ignition of their motors once outside.

Where launch facilities are concerned, from satellite photos these appear simple. They are often located in wooded areas far from major highways. The properties are large and clear of nearby trees. They include a small number of buildings–one to house guards–and a square landing pad nearby for helicopters. The silo hatches are often circular-shaped and open on a hinge, unlike American silo hatches which travel horizontally on rails. The facilities are connected to their control centres by underground cable. They can be spotted relatively easily on the Internet; two of the facilities associated with the Tatishchevo base can be seen west of Saratov near Petrovo and Bolshaya Ivanovka respectively.

To say that security arrangements at Russian missile bases are tighter than in the US is an understatement. The precautions taken against enemy intrusion are more than adequate and leave practically nothing to chance, as the following shows.

Both launch and control sites are ringed with three or four coils of barbed wire, an electrified fence and in the internal perimeter POMZ-2 anti-personnel and MON-type directional mines. The first coil of wire is 200m to 300m from the silo giving guards much response time and latitude for action. The fence normally carries 800V but this can be increased to 1,600V when conditions require. In between the coils of wire, another fence responds to large objects through a change in capacitance, and the approximate point of disturbance is registered on the guards’ security control panel. The entire site is kept clear of obstructions and mowed to give the greatest possible field of fire.

Inside the perimeter of a launch site, the only structure seen is a bunker for the guards. As stated above, the bunker houses intrusion detection equipment that is continuously monitored. The guards are armed with submachine guns, night vision goggles, floodlights, radios and loudspeakers. The bunkers are topped with either armoured turrets or concrete heads with small arms slits. The land mines can either detonate when tripped or be remotely activated from this position. The launch sites also include an antenna, the main role of which is to receive emergency war orders. The silos are very survivable since they can reportedly withstand thousands of pounds of overpressure.

A command post consists of much more. The property is divided into two parts where the first contains a number of buildings such as the guards’ quarters and a vehicle garage, and the second, a defensive bunker, office hut, a buried LCC (called globes, or in Russian, shariki) and an ICBM launcher. A tunnel that connects the launch control centre to the guards’ barracks provides protection against enemy fire and radiation. The entrance to the LCCs came in two basic forms. The older model, which is no longer used, consisted of only a round metal hatch set on a concrete pad from which one descended by way of ladder. The newer entrances are hidden in camouflage-painted buildings. The mode of descent, whether stairs or a lift, leads to a very long and narrow tunnel that terminates at three consecutive blast doors. The two-man launch crew, a captain and a lieutenant, sit in chairs a few feet apart at desks surrounded by consoles and indicator lights. Two of the most important features of the consoles are the launch-key slots and the square ‘launch’ indicator light. Working in six-hour shifts, these ‘raketchiki’, or missileers, routinely practise drills and continuously monitor the various systems. A third man, a warrant officer, mans a communications panel. At any given time, the trio can be subject to inspections and exercises where the focus could even include armed attacks on their posts. During the Cold War, the two launch officers carried sidearms and had to surrender these to the warrant officer for safekeeping, but nowadays, they no longer carry these. Also, it was the KGB, not the missileers, that armed the warheads, but again, this is no longer the case. Two of the Tatishchevo LCCs can be seen near Chernyshevka and Radishchevo northwest of Saratov.

The support bases contain all the amenities found on a typical military base. There are offices, dormitories, schools for dependents, a store, a gym and dining halls for the missileers where food is served by young women wearing short black skirts. Several missile bases are located near large cities, such as Saratov and Novosibirsk, which provide additional shopping and recreational convenience. The bases have their own motor pools that include a fleet of green trucks used to ferry launch crews to their posts. All three Missile Armies have their own aviation squadrons that use helicopters to ferry such personnel as security response teams and VIPs. Some of the helicopters can serve as airborne command posts.

Some of the key questions that have dogged defence analysts about Soviet/Russian warfighting capability regard the reliability of the RVSN. How reliable are the weapons and how dependable is the personnel? What changes are going on in the Russian nuclear world that will guarantee that the forces will work as required? Of the hundreds of ICBMs, how many will actually launch? Initially, the RVSN counted on the fact that while its missiles had low accuracy, they compensated for this by outfitting them with high-yield warheads. Nowadays, we see the opposite. Accuracy has increased and yields have been lowered. One of the early missiles, the R-9A, had a 5 megaton warhead with a maximum error of 20km, but later on, one of the variants of a newer missile, the MR UR-100, had four 550 to 750 kiloton warheads with a maximum error of 400m. The RT-23UTTH (SS-24) road-mobile missile’s accuracy is even better at 200m. Also, some of the weapons in the RVSN’s arsenal now have the capability to deliver an EMP pulse, which would be particularly useful in knocking out an enemy’s electronic systems. On the other hand, in Soviet times some scholars estimated that during a nuclear war, perhaps only 50 per cent of the missiles would fire, and this may have been the reason why they had so many of them deployed. Bruce Blair in his book The Logic of Accidental Nuclear War writes that the Russian armed forces have established three tiers of nuclear forces, first echelon, operational reserves and uncommitted reserves, where the second category is meant to compensate for launch failures of the first, and where the uncommitted reserves are simply surplus weapons. What they lacked in quality, they made up for in quantity.

When it comes to the reliability of the command and control system itself, besides its high redundancy (radio, radio relay, satellite, cables), new technology developed in the 1990s was designed to enhance threat data collection and analysis. The RVSN tried to establish a system that reduced guesswork partly, no doubt, because of the early warning mishap of 1983. On the other hand, the RVSN has suffered from the same funding problems as have other military services, a situation that has sometimes put it in a precarious position. Throughout the 1990s, articles appeared in the press on the RVSN’s reduced effectiveness. Not only were bases put at risk for not paying their electricity bills, some parts of the command and control system were said to still suffer because they relied on older technology or because of crime. For example, the system has been known to put itself into combat mode for no reason, and thieves have been found to steal underground cables that link the LCCs to the silos for their metal. The armed forces have made up for the decline of its strength by deploying new weapons such as the EMP device previously mentioned, nuclear earth-penetrating weapons, ABMs and precision low-yield warheads, but it is not known how they have tackled the issue of theft. In the final analysis though, if the RVSN command and control system works well enough, and if the new rocket technologies it has acquired have increased firing probabilities, Russia may very well have the ability to meet its attack objectives.

Concerned about the security of its weapons, the RVSN has established its own personnel reliability programme. The missileers are tested for personality defects, not only before they enter the service, but also routinely once accepted. Membership in the ‘nuclear club’ is restricted to those who would turn the keys unhesitatingly and who possess no serious vices. During Soviet times, the staff was also checked for political reliability, but these days the requirement no longer exists: gone is the annoying zampolit. In the offices of missile commanders, one will no longer find the ubiquitous red star but perhaps rather a picture of St Barbara, the patron saint of the RVSN. On the other hand, Deborah Yarsike Ball writes in Jane’s Intelligence Review that since the end of the Cold War, the Russian armed forces have seen a dramatic increase in diseases and drug abuse in its soldiers. If such individuals were to be put in charge of nuclear weapons, the West could be put at risk. Russian officers claim the West does not need to worry since those in charge of the nuclear arsenal are ‘different’.

For a few years following the end of the Cold War, the two superpowers enjoyed a spirit of co-operation. Both the United States and Russia sent officers to each other’s country to see first hand how their armed forces worked. Both have also witnessed the destruction of each other’s silos, and in 2001 a Joint Data Exchange Center was created in Moscow as a point of contact when the USAF and NASA want to warn the Russians when they are launching missiles. This spirit, however, soon disappeared when the relationship between the two superpowers began to freeze; even though its ICBMs are supposed to be de-targeted, the RVSN still conducts exercises where the main enemy is the United States. At the doctrinal level, while the Russian government has dropped its ‘no-first-use’ policy on nuclear weapons employment in 1993, it has stated that it would be willing to use such weapons in a conventional conflict, this to make up for the reduction of its conventional forces. Some say that if the United States began such a war and later decided to use atomic weapons, Russia would respond in kind. Both sides would then end up with a conflict no one wants.

Missile development in Russia is still taking place. The new single-warhead Topol RS-12M Model 2 ICBM (the SS-27) was put into active service in existing silos in 1997–98, despite long delays and financial cutbacks, at the 104th Missile Regiment at Tatishchevo. At the same time, a road-mobile version was developed. The Topol is a three-stage rocket with a single 550 kiloton warhead and comes equipped with protection against ABMs. It is thought to have a CEP of 100m to 200m. The RVSN was expected to have 160 to 220 RS-12Ms in active service by 2005, but in 2007, only 47 of both the fixed and mobile variants were found on the roster.

USA Hypersonic Weapon

Hypersonic Glide Body

Today, with modern air power operating inside the atmosphere, we can impose kinetic effects at the speed of sound. With the maturing of hypersonic weapons, we will be able to do that at multiples of the speed of sound.

The March 19 test of a hypersonic glide body at the Pacific Missile Range Facility in Hawaii is just the start for the Defense Department, the assistant director for hypersonics in the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering said, and after ample flight testing, the department will move toward developing weapons from the concepts it’s been testing.

“Over the next 12 months really what we will see is continued acceleration of the development of offensive hypersonic systems,” Michael E. White said today during an online panel discussion hosted by Defense One.

Hypersonic weapons move faster than anything currently being used, giving adversaries far less time to react, and they provide a much harder target to counteract with interceptors. White said DOD is developing hypersonic weapons that can travel anywhere between Mach 5 and Mach 20.

The March test of the hypersonic glide body successfully demonstrated a capability to perform intermediate-range hypersonic boost, glide and strike, he said. That test, White added, begins a “very active flight test season” over the next year, and beyond, to take concepts now under development within the department and prove them with additional tests.

“A number of our programs across the portfolio will realize flight test demonstration over the next 12 months and then start the transition from weapon system concept development to actual weapon system development moving forward,” he said.

Also part of the department’s efforts is the defense against adversary use of hypersonic missile threats — and that may involve space, said Navy Vice Adm. Jon Hill, director of the Missile Defense Agency. Land-, silo- or air-launched hypersonic weapons all challenge the existing U.S. sensor architecture, Hill said, and so new sensors must come online.

“We have to work on sensor architecture,” Hill said. “Because they do maneuver and they are global, you have to be able to track them worldwide and globally. It does drive you towards a space architecture, which is where we’re going.”

DOD is now working with the Space Development Agency on the Hypersonic and Ballistic Tracking Space Sensor to address tracking of hypersonics, the admiral said. That system is part of the larger national defense space architecture.

“As ballistic missiles increase in their complexity … you’re going to be able to look down from cold space onto that warm earth and be able to see those,” he said. “As hypersonics come up and look ballistic initially, then turn into something else, you have to be able to track that and maintain track. In order for us to transition from indications and warning into a fire control solution, we have to have a firm track and you really can’t handle the global maneuver problem without space.”

Hill said the department already has had a prototype of such satellites in space for some time, and is collecting data from it. In the early 2020s, he added, additional satellites will also go up to demonstrate tracking ability.


Flight at five times the speed of sound and above promises to revolutionize military affairs in the same fashion that the combination of stealth and precision did a generation ago. Hypersonic air weapons offer advantage in four broad areas. They counter the tyranny of distance and increasingly sophisticated defences; they compress the shooter-to-target window, and open new engagement opportunities; they rise to the challenge of addressing numerous types of targets; and they enhance future joint and combined operations. Within each of these themes are other advantages which, taken together, redefine air power projection in the face of an increasingly unstable and dangerous world.

The Physical Component is the one with which airmen and women tend to be instinctively the most comfortable. It is about the platforms, capabilities, weapons and `stuff’ that, to many, define what the RAF `is’. This applies just as much to the Space domain as it does to the Air domain, and the best way of achieving this may be to address both domains as seamless entities. In years gone by, the reality of doing just that was limited by technology separation: what worked in space did not work in the air and vice-versa. But modern technology – especially with hypersonic engines, pseudo-satellites, high-resolution optics and radar technologies – makes it conceivable that, with appropriate investment choices, future military capabilities could have the potential to be employed in both domains, perhaps even within the same mission. These technological enhancements are also likely to deliver the improvements in speed, reach, persistence, coverage, survivability, and precision necessary to provide an increased range of options for military commanders and political masters alike. But to embrace this new technology will undoubtedly require us to change our preconceived ideas of air power as being delivered predominantly from manned, fixed-wing, air-breathing platforms which operate at relatively low altitude. The blurring of the Air and Space domains allows us to translate our experiences of inner atmosphere aviation into even higher vertical limits and far greater ranges of effect. In the remaining paragraphs of this section, I will explore what I believe to be the four greatest technological developments that will allow us to transform air and space power over the next 30 years.

Hypersonic Engines.

At a glance, hypersonic engines may appear to be a `silver bullet’ which will unleash air and space power in the twenty-first century. This field of technology shows great promise, and much is possible within the next couple of decades providing there is investment in the emergent technology. So, what can hypersonics offer the Air environment? A good place to start would be to look at what Reaction Engines Limited (REL) has to offer with their experimental Synergetic Air-Breathing Rocket Engine, or SABRE. 9 Initial work looks incredibly exciting and could give rise to a working platform by 2030 that is capable of Mach 5+ and offers high cadence space access as well as long range inner-atmosphere flight. Such technology also appears promising because it purportedly offers `speed as the new stealth’ and potentially increases the survivability against an array of current and anticipated anti-access systems. Furthermore, while the technology claims to enable space access it can also, in theory at least, provide a vehicle from which a space payload could be launched. But hypersonic technology is not limited to just platforms. It can be applied effectively to weapons: air and groundlaunched, offensive and defensive. Whatever the manner of its employment, hypersonic technology has the potential to provide significant benefit to all operating domains – a true force multiplier. Thus, even at this relatively early stage in its programme, hypersonic technology represents a very strong candidate to address the physical aspects of the blurred Air and Space domains. While there are numerous hypersonic technologies under development, SABRE is novel, it is British, and therefore offers a sovereign capability with all the accordant benefits for our national prosperity agenda.

Hypersonic Vehicles Aerial vehicles that can travel in excess of five times the speed of sound, or Mach-5, are labelled hypersonic. Hypersonic weapons can be broadly divided into two categories, that is, Hypersonic Glide Vehicles (HGV) and Hypersonic Cruise Missiles (HCM).

Hypersonic Glide Vehicles

The aerodynamic HGV is a boost-glide weapon-it is first `boosted’ up into near space atop a conventional rocket and then ejected at an appropriate altitude and speed. The height at which it is released depends on the intended trajectory to the target. Thereafter, the HGV starts to fall back to Earth, gaining more speed and gliding along the upper atmosphere, before diving on the target.

Hypersonic Cruise Missiles

An HCM on the other hand, is typically propelled to high speeds (around Mach 4 to 5) initially using a small rocket; thereafter, an air-breathing supersonic combustion ram jet or a `scramjet’ accelerates it further and maintains its hypersonic speed. HCMs are hypersonic versions of existing cruise missiles but would cruise at altitudes of 20-30 km in order to ensure adequate pressure for its scramjet. Standard cruise missiles are difficult to intercept-and the speed of the HCM and the altitude at which it travels complicates this task of interception manifold. The United States’ underdevelopment `WaveRider’ is a typical HCM. Russia’s HCM, the aircraft-launched Kh-47M2 `Kinzhal’, (Dagger), has a reported top speed of Mach-10 and a range of about 2000 km. India’s underdevelopment `Hyper Sonic Technology Demonstrator Vehicle’ (HSTDV) too, capable of speeds around Mach-7, falls in the category of an HCM.

1. Aerial vehicles that can travel in excess of Mach-5 are labelled as hypersonic.

2. Three nations (Russia, China, USA) have been testing hypersonic glide vehicles (HGVs), although a number of other countries are also pursuing hypersonic programmes.

3. An HGV, armed with a nuclear or a conventional warhead, or merely relying on its kinetic energy, has the potential to allow a military to rapidly and pre-emptively strike distant targets anywhere on the globe within hours or less.

4. On account of their quick-launch capability, high speed, lower altitude and higher manoeuvrability vis-a-vis Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles , HGVs are difficult to detect and intercept with existing air and missile defence systems.

5. This capability could tempt a nation to consider using HGVs for a disarming and first-strike on an adversary’s nuclear arsenal.

6. While numerous challenges remain, operational deployment of HGVs would thus compel target nations to set their nuclear forces on a hair-trigger readiness and “launch on warning” alerts, leading also to the devolution of command over nuclear weapons.

7. Overall, this would aggravate strategic instability, and also generate unacceptable levels of instability in crisis management at many levels.


In their early years at Peenemünde, the German rocket researchers had no difficulty in attracting the funds they needed. Money was printed in large amounts and military expenditure for the Army now seemed to have no limits.

Von Braun was in his element at Peenemünde, and the design of the great A-4 rocket proceeded apace. It was to be based on the successful design of the A-5, with a redesigned control system and updated construction. The A-5 had reached an altitude of 35,000ft (10,000m) in tests during 1938, and the A-4 was designed with the benefit of the results of these pioneering tests. But things changed when Hitler began to anticipate an early end to hostilities, with Germany reigning supreme across Western Europe, and as a result research at Peenemünde was reduced. In a scaled-down programme of research, the engineers contented themselves by designing improved servo-control systems and new, high-throughput fuel pumps were systematically developed. Rocket development had essentially been put on hold.

Within two years the tide was turning, and the need for rocket research began to re-emerge. Work on the A-4 picked up again and on 13 June 1942 the first of the new monster rockets was ready for test firing. The rocket was checked and re-checked. Meticulous records were maintained of every aspect of its functioning. It stood 46ft 1.5in (14.05m) tall, weighed 12 tons, and was fuelled with methyl alcohol (methanol). The oxidant, liquid oxygen, was pumped in just prior to launch. The pumps were run up to speed, ignition achieved and the rocket rose unsteadily from its launch pad. In a billowing cloud of smoke and steam it began to climb, rapidly gaining speed, and then – at just the wrong moment – the propellant pump motor failed. The rocket staggered for a moment and crashed back onto the launch pad, disintegrating in a huge explosion. The technicians were terrified and were lucky to escape.

On 16 August 1942 a second A-4 was tested. Once again, the fuel motor pump stopped working but this time it failed later in the flight, after the rocket had already passed through the sound barrier. The third test was a complete success. It took place on 3 October 1942 and this rocket was fired out along the coast of Pomerania. The engine burned for over a minute, boosting the rocket to a maximum altitude of 50 miles (80km). It fell to earth 119.3 miles (192km) from the launch pad. The age of the space rocket had arrived, and the ballistic missile was a reality. The design of the A-4 rocket could now be fine tuned and – given time – the complex design could be optimized for mass production. The Nazis now had their new Vergeltungswaffe (‘retaliatory’ or ‘reprisal’ weapon). The term was important; although Hitler saw these as weapons of mass destruction, he hoped that the world – instead of seeing him as the aggressor – would regard him as simply responding to Allied attacks. The ‘V’ is sometimes translated into English as ‘vengeance’, but that is not right as the term in German connotes reprisal. The first of such weapons was their V-1 cruise missile, the ‘buzz-bomb’ and now they had the V-2. It would surely strike terror into the hearts of those who challenged German supremacy.

Aspects of the design were refined and developed by teams in companies including Zeppelin Luftschiffbau and Heinkel, and the final production version of the V-2 was a brilliantly successful rocket. Over 5,000 would be produced by the Germans. The production model stood 46ft (14m) tall, was 5ft 5in (1.65m) in diameter, and weighed over 5 tons of which 70 per cent was fuel. The tanks held 8,300lb (3,760kg) of fuel and just over 11,000lb (5,000kg) of liquid oxygen at take-off. The combustion chamber consumed 275lb (125kg) per second, emitting exhaust gases at a velocity of 6,950ft/s (2,200m/s). The missile was steered by vanes in the exhaust and could land with an accuracy better than 4 per cent, or so claimed the designers. No metal could withstand the intense heat, so these internal fins were constructed from carbon. They ablated in the heat, but could not burn away rapidly due to the lack of free oxygen and lasted long enough for the entire rocket burn. For the time, the V-2 was – and it remains – an extraordinary achievement made in record time.

Dörnberger tried to take full advantage of the success. Ever since the United States had declared war on Germany on 8 December 1941, the balance of power had begun to tip against the Nazis and Dörnberger knew the time was ripe for official endorsement of his teams’ progress. Hitler had been to see static tests of rocket motors at Kummersdorf but he had not been greatly impressed by the noise, fire and smoke. These were so exciting to the rocket enthusiasts – it was what rocketry was all about – but Hitler could not imagine how these ‘boys’ toys’ could transmute into agencies of world domination and he was reluctant to give the rocket teams the high priority they sought.

Dörnberger was frustrated by the bureaucracy and the lack of exciting new developments. Some of the pressure had been temporarily relieved from Dörnberger on 8 February 1942 when news reached him that the Minister for Armaments and Munitions, Fritz Todt, had died at the age of 50. Todt was aboard a Junkers Ju-52 aircraft on a routine tour when it crashed and exploded shortly after take-off. Albert Speer was supposed to have been on the same flight, but cancelled at the last minute. Speer was immediately appointed by Hitler to take Todt’s place, and he was far more interested in what Dörnberger had to say. Speer was a professional architect and had joined the Nazi party in 1931. He had soon become a member of Hitler’s inner circle and had gained the Führer’s trust after his appointment as chief architect. Speer clearly felt that Hitler could be reconciled to the idea of the V-2 as progress continued.

As luck would have it, the new committee was put under the charge of General Gerd Degenkolb, who disliked Dörnberger intensely. Von Braun said at the time: ‘This committee is a thorn in our flesh.’ One can see why. Degenkolb exemplified that other German trait, a talent for bureaucracy and administrative complexity. He had been in a group including Karl-Otto Saur and Fritz Todt, who espoused Hitler’s policy of being ‘not yet convinced’ by the rocket as a major agent in military success. Degenkolb immediately began to establish a separate bureaucratic structure to work alongside Dörnberger’s. Details of the design of the V-2 rocket were reconsidered in detail by Degenkolb’s new committee, and some of their untried new recommendations were authorized without Dörnberger’s knowledge or approval.

Progress remained problematic even following the successful launches. The Director of Production Planning, Detmar Stahlknecht, had set targets for V-2 production which were agreed with Dörnberger – but which were then unilaterally modified by Degenkolb. Stahlknecht had planned to produce 300 of the V-2 rockets per month by January 1944 – but in January 1943 Degenkolb decreed that this total be brought forward to October 1943. Stahlknecht was aiming for a monthly production target of 600 by July 1944; Degenkolb insisted the figure be raised to 900 per month, and the date brought forward to December 1943. The success of the rocket was encouraging the policy makers to raise their game, and their new targets seemed simply unattainable.

The Capitalist dream

At this point, Dörnberger was presented with a startling new prospect. He learned of a bizarre idea to capitalize on the sudden enthusiasm for the new rockets. He was told that it was being proposed to designate Peenemünde as a ‘land’ in its own right. It would be jointly purchased by major German companies like AEG and Siemens who would pay more than 1,000,000 Reichsmarks for the property and then charge the Nazi government for each missile produced. AEG, in particular, were highly impressed by the telemetry developed for the V-2 rocket and recognized that it had far-reaching implications and considerable market potential.

The guidance systems were remarkably advanced. They had been developed by Helmut Gröttrup, working alongside Von Braun, though there was little friendship between the two. Dörnberger fought to have Peenemünde maintained as an army proving ground and production facility, and won the battle only after bitter negotiations. This had been a narrow victory for Dörnberger, and was one that he would have been unlikely to win without the support of Speer.

Three sites were immediately confirmed for the production of the new rockets: Peenemünde, Friedrichshafen and the Raxwerken at Wiener Neustadt. Degenkolb issued orders at once, but he failed to see that the senior staff were not available in sufficient numbers to train and organize production on such a rapidly expanding scale. Degenkolb refused to be challenged and insisted that production begin immediately – and, when the engineers explained the impossibility of the task at such short notice, Degenkolb issued orders that they be imprisoned if his schedule was not met. Clearly, he meant business.

Although Degenkolb saw Von Braun as a personal rival, and someone he disliked, he recognized that his participation was crucial to the success of the rocket development. Others knew this too. At one stage, Von Braun had even been arrested by the authorities under the suspicion that his covert purpose was not the bombardment of foreign cities for the benefit of the Fatherland, but that he was secretly planning to develop rockets for space exploration at government expense. At first, Von Braun’s protests came to nothing and a lengthy bureaucratic enquiry seemed inevitable, until Dörnberger intervened to say that, without Von Braun, there could be no further progress. At this, Von Braun was released and sent back to his work. Dörnberger reported his frustrations with a lack of progress towards full production. Speer understood that the heavy-handed administrative interference of Degenkolb had introduced an unnecessary hold-up (reckoned by Dörnberger to be a delay of 18 months) and promised to remove him if it would help.

In the event, Degenkolb survived because of the influence of Fritz Todt’s long-standing friend, Karl-Otto Saur. Saur himself had a remarkable instinct for survival and, after the war, he was used as a key witness for the prosecution on behalf of the American authorities and was subsequently released. The fact that Karl-Otto Saur was designated by Hitler to replace Speer as Minister for Armaments was not a sufficient crime for him to be tried as a war criminal, and he eventually set up a publishing house back in Germany named Saur Verlag. The company survives to this day publishing reference information for librarians – a curious legacy from World War II.

The remaining serious challenger to the V-2 was the Luftwaffe’s buzz-bomb, the V-1. Its proponents pointed out that it was cheap to fly, economic to fuel, easy to produce in vast numbers and surely a far better candidate for support than the costly and complex V-2. Dörnberger argued strongly in favour of his own project. The V-1 needed a launch ramp, whereas the V-2 could be launched from almost anywhere it could stand. The flying bomb was easy to detect, shoot down or divert off course, whereas a rocket was undetectable until after it had hit. In the end the Nazi authorities were persuaded by both camps and the two weapons were ordered into mass production. Nonetheless, the delays remained an obstacle to progress, and by the summer of 1943 – with Degenkolb’s production target of 900 per month looming ever closer – the engineers protested that their highly successful engine was still not ready for manufacture in large amounts by regular engineers.

Once again there were conflicting interests and opposing policies. Adolf Thiel, senior design engineer on the V-2, protested that mass production was not likely to be achieved before the war had come to its natural conclusion. Friends of Thiel reported he was close to a nervous breakdown, and wanted to stop work at Peenemünde and retire to an academic career at university. However, Von Braun remained obdurately convinced that they were close to success and, on balance, Dörnberger sided with that view.

Watching from London

Meanwhile, British Intelligence was watching. A major breakthrough for the British came on 23 March 1943. A captured German officer, General Wilhelm Ritter von Thoma, provided timely information that the Allies would find of crucial importance. Back on 29 May 1942 the Nazi Lieutenant-General Ludwig Crüwell had flown to inspect German operations in Libya when his pilot mistook British soldiers for Italian troops and he landed the plane alongside them. Crüwell was taken prisoner and on 22 March 1943 he was placed in a room with General Von Thoma. The room was bugged, and their muffled conversation was partly overheard by the eager British agents, listening in the next room. The notes were recorded in the secret Air Scientific Intelligence Interim Report written up on 26 June 1943, and now held in the archives at Churchill College, University of Cambridge, England:

No progress whatsoever can have been made in this rocket business. I saw it once with Field Marshall [Walther von] Brauchitsch. There is a special ground near Kummersdorf. They’ve got these huge things which they’ve brought up here… They’ve always said that they go fifteen kilometres up into the stratosphere and then … you only aim at an area. If one was to … every few days … frightful! The major there was full of hope – he said, ‘Wait until next year and the fun will start. There’s no limit [to the range]…

Hydra Part I

Hydra Part II


Further substantiation came in June 1943, when a resourceful Luxembourger named Schwaben sent a sketch of the Peenemünde establishment to London in a microfilm through a network of agents known as the Famille Martin. This fitted well with the other reports that had been arriving, including eye-witness accounts and notes smuggled out from secret agents about activity at Peenemünde. The intelligence service kept meticulous records of the reports of vapour trails, explosions and occasional sightings that were relayed back to London from those witnesses who were anxious to see an end to Nazi tyranny. Churchill appointed his son-in-law, Duncan Sandys MP, to head a committee to look further into the matter and on 12 June 1943 an RAF reconnaissance mission was sent to fly over the site at high altitude and bring back the first images of what could be seen at Peenemünde. The unmistakable sight of rockets casting shadows across the ground could be picked out in the images. Measurements suggested to the British that the rocket was about 38ft (11.5m) long, 6ft (1.8m) in diameter and had tail fins. The intelligence report estimated the mass of each rocket must be between 40 and 80 tons. It was guessed that there might be 5 or 10 tons of explosives aboard.

This was partly right, and partly a gross exaggeration. The V-2 was actually 46ft (14m) long and 5ft 5in (1.65m) in diameter, so the measurements calculated by the British were reasonable estimates. But the weight of the missile was wildly over-estimated – rather than 40 tons or more, it weighed just under 13 tons and carried 2,200lb (980kg) of explosive rather than ‘up to 10 tons’ of the British estimates. A ‘rough outline’ drawing of the rocket was prepared for this report and it looks more like a torpedo. Perhaps the missile as drawn lacked its 7.5ft (2.3m) warhead nose cone. In that case, the dimensions were surprisingly accurate – though there is no accounting for the gross over-calculation of the weight.

Although the guesswork about the rocket’s weight was wrong, the comments that R. V. Jones added to the secret intelligence report of 26 June 1943 show a remarkably clear analysis of Germany’s position at the time.

The evidence shows that … the Germans have for some time been developing a long range rocket at Peenemünde. Provided that the Germans are satisfied with Peenemünde’s security, there is no reason to assume the existence of a rival establishment, unless the latter has arisen from inter-departmental jealousy.

Almost every report points to the fact that development can hardly have reached maturity, although it has been proceeding for some time. If, as appears, only three rockets were fired in the last three months of 1942, with two unsuccessful, the Germans just then have been some way from success and production.

At least three sorties over Peenemünde have now shown one and only one rocket visible in the entire establishment and one sortie has perhaps shown two. Supposing that the rockets have been accidentally left out in the open or because the inside storage is full, then the chances are that the rocket population is less than, say, twenty. If it were much greater, then it would be an extraordinary chance that this number should always be one greater than storage capacity. Therefore the number of rockets at Peenemünde is small, and since this is the main seat of development, the number of rockets in the Reich is also likely to be relatively small…

Since the long range rocket can hardly have reached maturity, German technicians would probably prefer to wait until their designs were more complete. If, as seems very possible, the genius of the Führer prevails over the judgement of the technicians, then despite everything the rocket will shortly be brought into use in its premature form.

Jones drew this conclusion: ‘The present population of rockets is probably small, so that the rate of bombardment [of London] would not be high. The only immediate counter measure readily apparent is to bomb the establishment at Peenemünde.’

Jones was right, and plans for a massive bombing raid began at once. Three days later, on 29 June 1943, a meeting was convened at the Cabinet War Room at which Duncan Sandys revealed the contents of the photographs. He had short-circuited R. V. Jones’s connections with the photo labs and insisted that they all be sent first to him. One of those attending the meeting was Professor Frederick Lindemann, Viscount Cherwell, who immediately poured scorn on the idea of a rocket base. Lindemann was a German-born physicist and Churchill’s chief scientific adviser. He said at the meeting that a rocket weighing up to 80 tons was absurd. The rockets, he insisted, were an elaborate sham; the Germans had mocked them up to frighten the British and lead them on a false trail. It was nothing but an elaborate cover plan. After his analysis, which left the officials in the room sensing that a dreadful mistake was being made, Churchill turned to R. V. Jones and said that they would now hear the truth of the matter. Jones was crisp and to the point. Whatever might be the remaining questions over the details of these missiles, said Jones, it was clear to him that the rockets were real – and they posed a threat to Britain. The site must be destroyed. The idea of sending further reconnaissance flights was quickly dismissed, for it could alert the Germans to the fact that the Allies had discovered the site.

Peenemünde was too far away to be in contact by radio, and out of range of the fighters; so the Allied bombers would be completely unprotected. German fighters would soon be on the scene, and heavy Allied losses were likely. The conclusion was that the heaviest bombing would be arranged, and it would take place on the first night that meteorological conditions were suitable. The attack was code named Operation Hydra.

Operation Hydra

On 8 July 1943 Hitler was shown an Agfacolor film of the launch of a V-2 and was finally convinced that the monster rocket could win him back the advantage. Having been sceptical, Hitler was now an enthusiastic supporter. He immediately decided that new launch bases would be needed across the northern coast of continental Europe in order to maximize the range of the rockets and the number of launches that Germany could make against Britain. He also ordered that the production of the V-2 was now to be made a top priority. Hitler believed that with these rockets he could turn the tide of war against the Allies. The Germans were busy working to comply with orders to construct a production line at the Peenemünde Army Research base just as the Royal Air Force was instructed to launch Operation Hydra to destroy the establishment.

The planning of Operation Hydra was meticulous. Bombing would be carried out from 9,000ft (about 3,000m; normally bombing raids were from twice as high), and practice runs over suitable stretches of British coastline were quickly arranged. The accuracy improved greatly during the practice sessions, an error of up to about 1,000 yards (900m) improving to 300 yards (270m). None of the aircrew were told the true nature of their target; they were informed that the installation was a new radar establishment that had to be destroyed urgently. By way of encouragement to be thorough on the first raid, they were also told that repeat attacks would be made, regardless of the losses, if they did not succeed first time. Meanwhile, a decoy raid was arranged, code named Operation Whitebait. Mosquito aircraft were to be sent to bomb Berlin prior to the raid on Peenemünde in the hope of attracting German fighters to the area. Further squadrons were meanwhile sent to attack nearby Luftwaffe airfields to prevent German fighters taking to the air over Peenemünde. As the attack began, a master bomber, Group Captain J. H. Searby, would circle around the target to call in successive waves of bombers.

On the night of 17 August 1943 there was a full moon, and the skies were clear. At midnight the raid began, and within half an hour the first wave was heading for home. Over the target, however, there was some light cloud and the accuracy of the first bombs was poor. Guns from the ground were returning fire, and a ship off-shore brought flak to bear on the bombers, but no fighters were seen. The second wave of Lancasters was directed at the factory workshops and then at 12.48am the third and final wave attacked the experimental workshops. This group of Lancaster and Halifax bombers overshot the target and most dropped their bombs half a minute late, so their bombs landed in the camp where conscripted workers were imprisoned. By this time German fighter aircraft were arriving, but they were late and losses to the British bombers were less than 7 per cent.

However, the laboratories and test rigs were damaged – and the Germans now knew, with dramatic suddenness, that their elaborate plans were known to the Allies. On the brink of realization, the plans to manufacture the V-2 at Peenemünde had to be abandoned. The Germans decided to fool the Allies into thinking that they had caused irreparable damage, so they immediately dug dummy ‘bomb craters’ all over the site, and painted black and grey lines across the roofs to look like fire-blackened beams. Their intention was to fool any reconnaissance flights into believing the damage was much worse than it was, thus convincing the British that further raids were unnecessary. The British still had one further element of retaliation, however; a number of the bombs were fitted with time delay fuses and exploded randomly for several days after the raid. They did not cause much material damage, but the continued detonations delayed the Germans from setting out to move equipment from the site.

The move to Poland

As the Germans sought to recover what they could from Peenemünde, the top-secret development work on the V-2 was immediately transferred to the SS training base near Blizna, deep inside Poland, where it would be undetected by the British and less easily reached by air. Meanwhile, a launch site at Watten, near the coast of northern France, had already been selected as a V-2 base. Work had started in April 1943 and was duly reported to the British by agents of the French resistance. Dörnberger had long recognized that a V-2 could be launched from a small site – it would be a case of ‘shoot and run’. But after the raid on Peenemünde, Hitler decided that further major new launch and storage sites were the prime requirement. At d’Helfaut Wizernes, a site inland from Calais in northern France, they constructed a huge reinforced concrete dome, La Coupole, within a limestone quarry. The idea was to store the rockets within reinforced bomb-proof concrete chambers and bring them out for firing in quick succession. In May 1943 reconnaissance photographs disclosed details of the work, and by the end of the month bombing raids had been sent to the site. The timing of the bombing was set to coincide with freshly laid cement, so that the ruins would harden into a chaotic jumble that would be difficult for the Germans to repair. Repeated bombing by the Allies led to the idea being abandoned. The V-2 bombardment was then carried out from small scattered sites, as Dörnberger had always envisaged. The vast German bunkers were never fully operational, and they stand to this day as a World War II museum.

After the raid on Peenemünde, the main manufacture of the V-2 rockets was transferred to the Mittelwerk in Kohnstein. The rockets were manufactured by prisoners from Mittelbau-Dora, a concentration camp where an estimated 20,000 people died during World War II. A total of 9,000 of these were reported to have died from exhaustion, 350 were executed – including 200 accused of sabotage – and most of the rest were eventually shot, died from disease, or starved. By the war’s end, they had constructed a total of 5,200 V-2 rockets. On 29 August 1944 Hitler ordered V-2 attacks to commence with immediate effect. The offensive started on 8 September 1944 when a rocket was aimed at Paris. It exploded in the city, causing damage at the Porte d’Italie. Another rocket was launched the same day from The Hague, Netherlands, and hit London at 6.43pm. It exploded in Staveley Road, Chiswick, killing Sapper Bernard Browning who was on leave from the Royal Engineers. A resident, 63-year-old Mrs Ada Harrison, and three-year-old Rosemary Clarke also perished in the blast. Intermittent launches against London increased in frequency, though the Germans did not officially announce the bombardment until 8 November 1944. Until then, every time a V-2 exploded in Britain the authorities insisted it was a gas main that had burst; but with the German announcement the truth had to emerge. Two days later, Churchill confessed to the House of Commons that England had been under rocket attack ‘for the last few weeks’.

Over several months more than 3,000 V-2s were fired by the Germans. Around 1,610 of them hit Antwerp; 1,358 landed on London, and additional rockets were fired into Liege, Hasselt, Tournai, Mons, Diest, Lille, Paris, Tourcoing, Remagen, Maastricht, Arras and Cambrai on continental Europe. In Britain, Norwich and Ipswich also suffered occasional V-2 attacks. The accuracy of the rockets increased steadily, and some of them impacted within a few yards of the intended target. The fatalities were sometimes alarming. On 25 November 1944 a V-2 impacted at a Woolworths store in New Cross, London, where it killed 160 civilians and seriously injured 108 more. Another attack on a cinema in Antwerp killed 567 people. This was the worst loss of life in a single V-2 attack.

The V-2 falls into Allied hands

The Allies were receiving regular intelligence reports about the rockets, but knew little of the precise design details until a V-2 was retrieved from Sweden and examined in detail. On 13 June 1944, a V-2 on a test flight from Peenemünde exploded several thousand feet above the Swedish town of Bäckebo. The wreckage was collected by the Swedes and offered to the British for reconstruction. Officially neutral, Sweden was also secretly supplying the German weapons factories with up to 10,000,000 tons of iron ore per year. To maintain their ostensibly neutral stance, the Swedes asked for some British Supermarine Spitfire fighter aircraft in exchange. In August 1944 reconstruction of the rocket was begun, and the resulting insight into the construction of the missile was highly revealing to the Allies. As it happens, this particular rocket was fitted with a guidance system that was never installed on the rockets raining down on Britain, and so the British were more impressed with the technology than they might otherwise have been. Yet the fact remained: although the design of the V-2 was now thoroughly understood, it was abundantly clear there was no defence against them. These weapons arrived at supersonic speeds, so there could be no advance warning and it seemed as though there was nothing that could be done to resist the onslaught.

Or was there? The resourceful officers at British Intelligence had a simple response. Because the area of damage was small, they began releasing fictitious reports that the rockets were over-shooting their targets by between 10 and 20 miles (16 to 32km). As soon as these covert messages were intercepted by the Germans, the launch teams recalibrated the launch trajectory to make good the discrepancy … and from then on, the rockets fell some 20 miles short of their target, most of them landing in Kent instead of central London. The final two rockets exploded on 27 March 1945 and one of these was the last to kill a British civilian. She was Mrs Ivy Millichamp, aged 34, who was blown apart by the V-2 at her home in Kynaston Road, Orpington in the county of Kent, just 20 miles from the centre of London.

As the V-2 was proving the reliability of the ballistic missile, larger rockets were soon on the drawing-board. The A-9 was envisaged as a rocket with a range of up to 500 miles (800km) and an A-10 was planned to act as a first-stage booster that could extend the range to reach the United States. The original development work had been undertaken in 1940, with a first flight date set for 1946, but the project – as so often happened – was summarily stopped. When the so-called Projekt Amerika re-emerged in 1944, work was resumed, and the A-11 was planned as a huge first stage that would carry the A-9 and A-10. The plans (which were released in 1946 by the United States Army) were for a rocket that could even place a payload of some 660lb (300kg) into orbit. The proposed A-12 fourth stage would have a launch weight of 3,500 tons and could place 10 tons into orbit. In the event, all these plans were to fall into Allied hands as the European war drew to a close. During the spring of 1945 the Allies advanced from the west, and the Russians closed in from the east. When news reached Peenemünde that the Soviet Army was only about 100 miles (160km) away, Von Braun assembled the planning staff and broke the news. It was time to decide by which army they would be captured. All knew that the world would regard them as war criminals, and the decisions were not easy.

The dreadful destruction and the mass killings reported early in the campaign make the V-2 seem like a terrifyingly successful rocket, but was it really valuable as a weapon of war? Let us look at the figures. It has been estimated that 2,754 civilians were killed in Britain by the 1,402 V-2 attacks. A further people 6,523 were injured. These simple facts reveal that the V-2, as a weapon of war, was a costly failure. Each of these incredibly expensive and complex missiles killed about two people, and injured roughly six more, indeed it has been calculated that more casualties were caused by the manufacture of the V-2 than resulted from its use in war. The reality was that they were inefficient in terms of killing the enemy – but they had proved how successful they were as rockets. Von Braun had always wanted to build rockets, and had held in his heart the ultimate ambition of building a space rocket. The Nazis held onto the propaganda value of their successful launch series, even though remarkably few people were being killed by the V-2 attacks. The Nazis had been used by Von Braun to fund his private ambitions; Hitler’s doubts about the V-2 as an agent of warfare were right after all.

One of the first initiatives after the Allies invaded Peenemünde was to test the V-2 rockets before any were moved to other countries. In October 1945, the British Operation Backfire fired several V-2 rockets from northern Germany. There were many reports of what became known as ‘ghost rockets’, unaccountable sightings of missile trails in the skies above Scandinavia. These were from Operation Backfire: not only did the Nazis fire their monster rockets from Germany, so too did the British.

“Operation Hydra”

Early USA Nuclear Power

Mark 3 – “Fat Man” plutonium implosion weapon (used against Nagasaki), effectively the same as the “Gadget” device used in the Trinity (nuclear test) with minor design differences. (21 kilotons, 1945–1950)

Mark 4 – Post-war “Fat Man” redesign. Bomb designed with weapon characteristics as the foremost criteria. (1949–1953)

Mark 5 – Significantly smaller high efficiency nuclear bomb. (1–120 kilotons, 1952–1963)

Mark 6 – Improved version of Mk-4. (8–160 kilotons, 1951–1962)

Mark 7 – Multi-purpose tactical bomb. (8–61 kilotons, 1952–1967)

Mark 8 – Gun-assembly, HEU weapon designed for penetrating hardened targets. (25–30 kilotons, 1951–1957)

At the end of World War II, the defeated Axis nations and many of the victorious allied countries were devastated, their economies and industrial capabilities unable to support even a peacetime society. In terms of war-fighting capability, the USSR possessed a large and well-armed ground force that could easily have overrun Western Europe, or possibly even China. The USSR was unable to sustain such a force, however, because of catastrophic conditions in the homeland, nor did it have a long-range air or naval capability to support an aggressive national strategy.

The prevalent strategic view in the Truman phase of the air “atomic age” (1945-53) was that long-range bombers carrying nuclear weapons against enemy cities or military forces could defeat any nation or force hostile to the United States and its interests. In this environment, the US Air Force was established as a separate service, and the Army and Navy were reduced essentially to “token” forces. These small ground and naval services would be required in future conflicts primarily to provide certain occupation and logistic forces to support the primary weapon: the long-range bomber.

On June 25, 1950, ground and air forces of Communist North Korea crossed the border into South Korea in an all-out assault to gain control over the entire Korean peninsula. The perceived US strategy was articulated by one Air Force Officer who, when told that US ground troops were to be committed to the war, is said to have remarked: “The old man [General MacArthur] must be off his rocker. When the Fifth Air Force gets to work on them, there will not be a North Korean left in North Korea.”

Only after three full years of conventional warfare, involving mostly US air, ground, and naval weapons of World War II vintage, was the Korean War finally brought to a conclusion. US forces had achieved their goal of maintaining the independence of South Korea without the employment of “tactical” or “strategic” nuclear weapons. Both uses were considered: tactical, in the sense of direct support to ground operations (against troop concentrations, bridges, and so forth); and strategic, against mainly factories and assembly areas in North Korea and Manchuria. President Truman apparently gave consideration to the use of nuclear weapons against the Soviet Union in this period. A journal kept in his own handwriting has an entry dated January 27, 1952, contemplating a threat of an “all-out war” against the Soviet Union as well as China: “It means that Moscow, St. Petersburg [Leningrad], Vladivostok, Peking, Shanghai, Port Arthur, Dairen, Odessa, Stalingrad, and every manufacturing plant in China and the Soviet Union will be eliminated.”

After the Korean War ended in stalemate in mid-1953 the war in Indochina, between French forces and the Communist Vietminh, continued in a deadly struggle. A large French force was surrounded by the Vietminh at Dienbienphu, with the end of the Korean War freeing guns, munitions, and technical advisors for the fight against the French. By the spring of 1954 the situation at Dienbienphu was critical and the French asked for American air strikes, first conventional and then nuclear (under the code name Vulture). B-29s flying from the Philippines or carrier aircraft could have carried out the strikes. Although President Eisenhower, the Secretary of State, and four of the five members of the U. S. Joint Chiefs of Staff favored direct intervention, British opposition and French reluctance to accept American direction led to an end of Operation Vulture. Dienbienphu fell to the Communists on May 7, 1954. It was a severe military defeat for the French and-more importantly-led to a political end of the conflict.

At the time the same nuclear weapons would have been used against tactical targets (Korea and Indochina) and strategic targets (the Soviet Union and China). Although American scientists during this period were developing relatively small nuclear weapons, at the time of Truman’s journal entry the atomic bombs available were few in number and large in size. The Mk 3 and Mk 4 weapons then in the inventory were more than ten feet long, five feet in diameter, and weighed over five tons. Under normal circumstances, the bombs were not assembled; to put them together required a crew of trained technicians and almost a day.

As the Cold War increased in intensity, President Truman ordered an increase in nuclear weapons production. The American arsenal grew from perhaps seven bombs-or, more accurately, the components for seven- in mid-1947, to about 25 a year later, and to some 50 in mid-1949. Indications are that by mid-1950 production had provided an arsenal of at least 300, with approximately another hundred being added each year during the Korean War, and even more after that-possibly even totalling as many as 2,000 by mid-1955. Under the Truman Administration there occurred not only an increase in numbers, but a diversification of types: the Mk 5, which weighed only 3,000 pounds, had retractable fins, and was the first nuclear weapon that could be carried externally on an aircraft; the Mk 6 (8,500 pounds), which was the first to be mass produced; the small, 1,600-pound Mk 7 that could be used as a missile warhead as well as a bomb; and the Mk 8 (3,300 pounds), which was intended to penetrate hardened structures. All four weapons were produced from 1951-52 onward. Thus, after an initial period of possessing virtually no useable nuclear capability, by the early 1950s the United States was becoming a true nuclear power.

Subsequently, the Eisenhower-Dulles Administration (1953-61) enunciated the strategy that became known as “massive retaliation.” According to this doctrine, aggression against the United States or its allies would be deterred with the threat of massive retaliatory nuclear strikes; if deterrence should fail, the US would prevail against the Soviet Union in a general war. The doctrine, however, also called for conventional forces to deter or contain localized aggression without resorting to nuclear weapons. While the mix and balance of conventional forces and nuclear weapons were not specified in the major policy documents, the Army and Navy both sought to modernize and maintain large conventional forces. This, in turn, further reinforced proponents of nuclear weapons as a means of controlling defense spending through the use of a relatively small Air Force and Navy nuclear attack forces. In this period, the ability of the Soviet Union to attack the United States with nuclear weapons consisted of a few long-range Soviet nuclear bombers that would have to survive both the long flight to the United States (no bases in the Western hemisphere being available) and the expanding US warning and air defense system. Also, in the 1950s an active US civil defense program was in existence.

Ship to Shore Connector

August 2014 the US Navy awarded the contract to build the first production Ship-to-Shore Connector (SSC). The LCAC 101 is the first of 72 operational craft to be delivered from August 2017, with a targeted initial operational capability in 2020. The test and training craft is expected to start construction by November 2014.

The Ship to Shore Connector (SSC) is the functional replacement for the existing fleet of Landing Craft, Air Cushioned (LCAC) vehicles, which are nearing the end of their service life. The SSC is an air-cushioned landing craft intended to transport personnel, weapon systems, equipment, and cargo from amphibious vessels to shore. The vessel can rapidly move assault forces to conduct amphibious operations and operate over the high water mark to include movements over ice, mud, and swamps.

Mission: Transports vehicles, heavy equipment, and supplies through varied environmental conditions from amphibious ships to shore. Enhances the Navy and Marine Corps capability to execute a broad spectrum of missions from humanitarian assistance and disaster response to multidimensional amphibious assault.

Prime Contractor: Textron Incorporated; New Orleans, LA

End of August, 2014 the Naval Sea Systems Command awarded a contract modification for the construction of the US Navy’s first production-standard ship-to-shore connector (SSC). Landing Craft Air Cushion (LCAC – pronounce L-cac)101 is the second craft in the SSC class. It was designed as an evolutionary replacement of currently ageing fleet of LCACs, for which a service life extension programme is underway.

The industrial team led by Textron which includes aluminium manufacturer Alcoa Defense and command, control, computers, communications and navigation specialist L-3 Communications, is today working on the detailed design and construction of the SSC test and training craft (LCAC 100), which is to be delivered in February 2017. The 101 is the first of 72, with an initial operational capability targeted for 2020. Although it externally resembles the current type, the new craft includes enhancements driven by design service life extended to 30 years sans service life extension programme, increased payload capacities thanks to two, instead of four but new more powerful, Rolls-RoyceMT7turbine engines(the type is derivative of the Osprey tiltrotor aircraft), reduced flight crew and workload, increased reliability and maintainability.

The SSC will be able to carry a load of 74 tonnes – say an Abrams – in Sea State 3 at a speed of more than 40 knots to a shore some from 25 nm away. The US Navy is also planning to begin the procurement of a new Surface Connector (X) Replacement – SC(X)R – in Fiscal Year 2018, to replace the ageing Landing Craft Utility (LCU) 1610 fleet. A so-called Analysis of Alternative completed in the first half of 2014 favoured a low-risk evolution of the LCU design to replace the current 32 1610s on a one-to-one basis. Nevertheless the US Navy and Marine Corps are studying concepts to bridge the ship-to-shore connector gap in the coming years.


The Ship to Shore Connector (SSC) is the evolutionary replacement for the existing fleet of Landing Craft, Air Cushion (LCAC) vehicles, which are nearing the end of their service life. The SSC is an air cushion vehicle whose mission is to land surface assault elements in support of Operational Maneuver from the Sea (OMFTS), at over-the-horizon distances, while operating from amphibious ships and mobile landing platforms. SSC provides increased performance to handle current and future missions, as well as improvements which will increase craft availability and reduce total ownership cost.

The SSC program will significantly enhance the Navy and Marine Corps team’s capability to execute a broad spectrum of missions well into the 21st century, from humanitarian assistance and disaster response to multidimensional amphibious assault. LCACs/SSCs are used primarily to haul vehicles, heavy equipment, and supplies through varied environmental conditions from amphibious ships to over the beach.

Additionally, an enclosed personnel transport module can be loaded aboard that can hold up to 180 passengers or 54 casualty personnel. LCACs have proven to be very useful in supporting non-hostile amphibious operations and were vital in delivering life-saving equipment, food, water, and medical supplies in humanitarian relief efforts throughout the world. It is anticipated that SSC will be called upon to perform in a similar manner.

The SSC program is the first major naval acquisition program in more than 15 years to be designed “in-house” by the Navy rather than by private industry. The Navy design team progressed through an evolutionary design process, beginning with a set-based design process, where craft level requirements were functionally decomposed into discrete system level functional requirements documents (FRDs). The FRDs formed the functional basis for selecting trade spaces, and to start Preliminary Design. Preliminary Design was followed by a Contract Design period, which developed the Allocated Baseline and formed the basis for the SSC contract solicitation.

The Navy-led contract design, released to industry in a full and open competition, allowed for mid-tier builders without air cushioned vehicle experience to compete for the detail design and construction contract. This approach uses the government’s expertise in air cushioned vehicles and provides industry the flexibility to make component selections and complete design details for optimal producibility and low acquisition costs.

The Detail, Design and Construction (DD&C) contract was awarded to Textron, Inc., New Orleans, LA., whose major subcontractors are L-3 Communications of Camden, NJ, GE Dowty of Great Britain, Rolls-Royce Naval Marine of Indianapolis, IN, Innovative Power Solutions of Eatontown, Meritor, Inc of Troy, MI, and Umoe Mandal of Norway. Other subcontractors include Marvin Land Systems of Inglewood, CA, Donaldson Company, Inc. of Minneapolis, MN, Exlar Corporation of Chanhassen, MA, Advanced Composite Products & Technology of Huntington Beach, CA, Supreme Integrated Technology of Harahan, LA, and Technology Dynamics, Inc. of Bergenfield, New Jersey.

The SSC Program of Record is for a total of 73 craft (one Test and Training and 72 operational craft). Deliveries will begin in fiscal year 2019 with initial operational capability projected for fiscal year 2020.

Full scale version concept artUHAC

During the Advanced Warfighting Experiment in conjunction with the Rimpac C 2014 multinational exercise lead by US Forces, the US Marine Corps tested the half scale prototype of the UHAC currently under development.

During the Advanced Warfighting Experiment in conjunction with the Rimpac 2014 multinational exercise led by the US Forces, the Marine Corps tested the half-scale prototype of the Ultra Heavy-lift Amphibious Connector(UHAC). Funded by the Office of Naval Research and built by Navatek, a full-scale craft is expected to carry three times the payload of an LCAC and beat 10-foot high sea walls.

So, what is the full-scale version of this vehicle capable of? Well it can power across water with a payload of 2000 tons at a speed of 20 knots i.e. 37 kilometers per hour. It can even drive up on to the shore and over obstructions which can be as high as 10 feet!

After successfully achieving the goals of a half-scale prototype, the US Marines are all set to boast triple the carrying capacity of the Landing Craft Air Cushion (LCAC) vehicles that are currently used to transport from ship-to-shore for the US Navy by providing a payload of 190 tons. As far as the dimensions are concerned, the vehicle is 8 meters wide, 13 meters long, and 5 meters high.

The vehicle is a modification of the Captive Air Amphibious Transport (CAAT) concept. The UHAC is capable of moving on sea as well as land. It is fitted with captured-air foam cells that provide buoyancy which in turn act as paddles in water whereas it acts as track-driven pads on land. What makes the ‘A’ in UHAC is the ability of the system to apply minimal ground pressure footprint.

Navatek Ltd, a hydrodynamic research and naval architecture company in Honolulu, created the project, and as for the its sponsorship and execution is concerned, the Office of Naval Research (ONR) was responsible. Rim of the Pacific aka RIMPAC is currently the world’s largest international maritime warfare exercise which runs from June to July after every two years. The US invite military forces from the Pacific Rim to come to the Hawaiian Islands to participate.


On May 26, 2003, Private First Class Jeremiah D. Smith, a twenty-five-year-old soldier from Missouri, was driving in an Army vehicle outside Baghdad when the convoy he was traveling in came upon a canvas bag lying in the road. It was Memorial Day, which meant that back in the United States this was a day to remember the millions of American soldiers who died while serving in the armed forces. Private Smith had been a proud member of the U.S. Army for a little over a year.

Three and a half weeks earlier, on May 1, 2003, President George W. Bush had stood on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln and announced that major combat operations in Iraq were over. “In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed,” he declared. The invasion, which began on March 21, had been swift. Baghdad fell on April 9. Standing on the deck of the aircraft carrier in a dark suit and a red tie (he’d more memorably arrived on board wearing a flight suit), the president exuded confidence. A banner behind him, designed by the White House art department, read “Mission Accomplished.” At one point during his speech, the president gave the thumbs-up.

Now it was Memorial Day, and Private Smith was heading into dangerous territory. His convoy was escorting heavy equipment out of Baghdad, traveling west. Smith was a gunner and was sitting on the passenger side of the Humvee. As the vehicle approached the canvas bag lying in the road, not far from the Baghdad International Airport, the driver had no way of knowing it contained an improvised explosive device, or IED, and he simply drove over it. As the vehicle passed over the bag, the device exploded, killing Private Smith. In his death, Smith became the first American to be killed by an IED in the Iraq war.

The blast could be heard for miles. Twenty-two-year-old Specialist Jeremy Ridgley was one of the first people to come upon the inferno. “I was a gunner in the Eighteenth Military Police Brigade,” recalled Ridgley in a 2014 interview. “We were driving about five hundred yards behind, in a totally separate convoy. The explosion was extremely loud. We’d been informed that people were dropping things off overpasses, so every time we went under one, we sped up and came out in a different lane. Someone threw something at our vehicle, then I heard the explosion. I swung my gun around. It all happened so fast.” The explosion Ridgley heard was the IED detonating as Private Smith’s vehicle drove over it.

Ahead of him, Ridgley saw the burning Humvee in the road. Two bloodied soldiers emerged from the thick black smoke and staggered toward his vehicle, dazed. “One of the guys was trying to push something up his arm,” recalls Ridgley, “like he was trying to fix his sleeve. When he got closer I saw it was skin. Skin was just falling off of his arm.” A second bloodied soldier followed behind. “He asked me if he had something on his face,” Ridgley recalls. “Most of his face was missing. It was horrible. He was horribly, horribly burned.”

Ridgley’s team leader, Sergeant Phillip Whitehouse, ran toward the burning vehicle. Whitehouse discovered Private First Class Jeremiah Smith unconscious, trapped inside. “He pulled Smith out. That’s when the vehicle started to cook off,” Ridgley remembers. “All the ammo inside started to catch on fire. There were massive explosions going off all around. I caught some shrapnel. A little burn near my sleeve. I was sitting on the gun platform thinking, I need to call in a report.”

Ridgley called for a Medevac and remembers looking around. “There were these Iraqi kids playing soccer in a field,” Ridgley recalls, “and I told the Medevac the helicopter could land there. Everything seemed like slow motion.” Ridgley had never seen mortally wounded people before, and he was having trouble focusing. “The Medevac arrived and the soldiers were loaded onboard. From the time I called it in until the time the helicopter took off was about twenty minutes,” recalls Ridgley. “But it sure seemed like it lasted all day,” he says. “Time stood still.” Later, Jeremy Ridgley learned that Private First Class Jeremiah Smith had died.

On May 28, the Department of Defense identified Private Smith as having been killed in Iraq while supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom. The Pentagon attributed Smith’s death to “unexploded ordnance,” as if what had killed him had been old or forgotten munitions left lying in the road. Two weeks later, in an article in the New York Times titled “After the War,” a Defense Department official conceded that the unexploded ordnance that killed Smith might have been left there deliberately.

An IED is made up of five components: the explosive, a container, a fuse, a switch, and a power source, usually a battery. It does not require any kind of advanced technology. With certain skills, an IED is relatively easy to make. The primary component of the IED is the explosive material, and after the invasion, Iraq was overflowing with explosives.

“There’s more ammunition in Iraq than any place I’ve ever been in my life, and it’s not securable,” General John Abizaid, commander of the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), told the Senate Appropriations Committee in September 2003. “I wish I could tell you we had it all under control, but we don’t.”

The month after Private Smith was killed by an IED, the casualty toll from IED attacks began to climb. In June there were twenty-two incidents. By August the number of soldiers killed by IEDs in Iraq was greater than the number of fatalities by direct fire, including from guns and rocket-propelled grenades. By late 2003, monthly IED fatalities were double that of deaths by other weapons. In a press conference, General Abizaid stated that American troops were now fighting “a classical guerrilla-style campaign” in Iraq. This kind of language had not been used by the Defense Department since the Vietnam War.

“A new phenomenon [was] at work on the battlefield,” says retired Australian brigadier general Andrew Smith, who also has a Ph.D. in political studies. “IEDs caught coalition forces off guard. ‘Surprise’ is not a word you want to hear on the battlefield.” Smith was one of the first NATO officers to lead a counter-IED working group for Combined Joint Task Force 7, in Baghdad. Later, in 2009, Brigadier General Smith oversaw the work of 350 NATO officials at CENTCOM, all dealing with countering IEDs. “The sheer volume of unsecured weapons in Iraq was staggering,” Smith says, “a whole lot of explosives left over from Saddam.” In 2003, there were an estimated 1 million tons of unsecured explosives secreted around the country in civilian hands. These were former stockpiles once controlled by Saddam Hussein’s security forces, individuals who quickly abandoned their guard posts after the invasion. A videotape shot by a U.S. Army helicopter crew in 2003 shows the kind of explosive material that was up for grabs across Iraq. In the footage, an old aircraft hangar is visible, stripped of its roof and its siding. From the overhead perspective, row after row of unguarded bombs can be seen. One of the men in the helicopter says, “It looks like there’s hundreds of warheads or bombs” in there.

The IEDs kept getting more destructive. Three months after Private First Class Jeremiah Smith was killed, a truck bomb was driven into the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad, killing twenty-two people, including the UN special envoy to Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello. The Pentagon added a new IED classification to the growing roster. This was called the VBIED, or vehicle-borne improvised explosive device, soon to be joined by the PBIED, a person-borne improvised explosive device, or suicide bomber. When Al Qaeda in Iraq claimed responsibility for the IEDs, the resounding psychological effects were profound. Before the invasion, there had been no Al Qaeda in Iraq.

DARPA’s long-term goals were now subordinated to this immediate need inundating the Pentagon. Initial counter-IED efforts involved Counter Radio-Controlled Electronic Warfare (CREW) systems, or jamming devices, that were installed on the dashboards of Army vehicles and cost roughly $80,000 each. The triggering mechanism on most IEDs consisted of simple wireless electronics, including components found in cell phones, cordless telephones, wireless doorbells, and key fobs. Early jammers were designed to interrupt the radio signals insurgents relied on to detonate their IEDs. First dozens, then hundreds of classified jamming systems made their way to coalition forces in Iraq, with code names like Jukebox, Warlock, Chameleon, and Duke. At the same time, DARPA worked on a next generation of jammers, developing technology that could one day locate IEDs by sensing chemical vapors from the relative safety of a fast-moving vehicle. The program, called Recognize IED and Report, or RIEDAR, would work from a distance of up to two miles away. The ideal device would be able to search 2,700 square meters per second, could be small and portable, and able to alert within one second of detection. But these were future plans, and the Pentagon needed ways to counter the IED threat now. By February 2004, IED attacks had escalated to one hundred per week. The five hundred jammers already in Iraq were doing only a little good. In June, General Abizaid sent a memo to Secretary Rumsfeld and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Richard Meyers, sounding an alarm. The Pentagon needed what Abizaid called a “Manhattan-like project” to address the IED problem.

In Washington, Congress put DARPA in the hot seat when, in the spring of 2004, in a research study report for Congress, the concept of network-centric warfare was taken to task. Congress asked whether the Department of Defense had “given adequate attention to possible unintended outcomes resulting from over-reliance on high technology,” with the clear suggestion being that it had not. The unintended consequence that had Congress most concerned was the IED, presently killing so many American soldiers in Iraq. In its report, Congress wondered if, while the Pentagon had been pursuing “networked communications technology,” the terrorists were gaining the upper hand by using “asymmetric countermeasures.” Congress listed five other areas of concern: “(1) suicide bombings; (2) hostile forces intermingling with civilians used as shields; (3) irregular fighters and close-range snipers that swarm to attack, and then disperse quickly; (4) use of bombs to spread ‘dirty’ radioactive material; or (5) chemical or biological weapons.”

To the press, Arthur Cebrowski claimed that he had been misunderstood. The so-called godfather of network-centric warfare complained that Congress was misinterpreting his words. “Warfare is all about human behavior,” said Cebrowski, which contradicted hundreds of pages of documents and memos he had sent to Secretary Rumsfeld. “It’s a common error to think that transformation has a technology focus. It’s one of many elements,” Cebrowski said. Even the Defense Department’s own Defense Acquisition University, a training and certification establishment for military personnel and defense contractors, was confused by the paradox and sent a reporter from its magazine Defense AT&L to Cebrowski’s office to clarify. How could the father of network-centric warfare be talking about human behavior, the reporter asked. “Network-centric warfare is first of all about human behavior, as opposed to information technology,” Cebrowski said. “Recall that while ‘a network’ is a noun, ‘to network’ is a verb, and what we are focusing on is human behavior in the networked environment.”

It seemed as if Cebrowski was stretching to make sense, or at least resorting to semantics to avoid embarrassing the secretary of defense. Nowhere in Secretary Rumsfeld’s thirty-nine-page monograph for the president, a summation of Cebrowski’s vision titled “Transformation Planning Guidance,” was human behavior mentioned or even alluded to. While Cebrowski did television interviews addressing congressional concerns, the Office of Force Transformation added four new slides to its “Transforming Defense” PowerPoint presentation. One of the two new slides now addressed “Social Intelligence as a key to winning the peace,” and the other addressed “Social Domain Cultural Awareness” as a way to give warfighters a “cognitive advantage.”

On PBS NewsHour, Cebrowski defended network-centric warfare and again reminded the audience that the United States had, he believed, achieved operational dominance in Iraq, completing major combat operations in just twenty-one days. “That speed of advance was absolutely unheard of,” Cebrowski said. But now, “we’re reminded that warfare is more than combat, and combat’s more than shooting.” It was about “how do people behave?” To win the war in Iraq, Cebrowski said, the military needed to recognize that “warfare is all about human behavior.” And that was what network-centric warfare was about: “the behavior of humans in the networked environment… how do people behave when they become networked?”

If Cebrowski could not convincingly speak of human behavior, he found a partner in someone who could. Retired major general Robert H. Scales was a highly decorated Vietnam War veteran and recipient of the Silver Star. As the country sought a solution to the nightmare unfolding in Iraq, Scales proposed what he called a “culture-centric” solution. “War is a thinking man’s game,” Scales wrote in Proceedings magazine, the monthly magazine of the United States Naval Institute. “Wars are won as much by creating alliances, leveraging nonmilitary advantages, reading intentions, building trust, converting opinions, and managing perceptions—all tasks that demand an exceptional ability to understand people, their culture, and their motivation.” As if reaching back in time to the roundtable discussions held by JFK’s Special Group and Robert McNamara’s Pentagon, Scales was talking about motivation and morale.

In 2004, amid the ever-growing IED crisis, Scales proposed to Cebrowski that the Pentagon needed a social science program to get inside how the enemy thought. The United States needed to know what made the enemy tick. Cebrowski agreed. “Knowledge of one’s enemy and his culture and society may be more important than knowledge of his order of battle,” Cebrowski wrote in Military Review, a bi-monthly Army journal. The Office of Force Transformation now publicly endorsed “social intelligence” as a new warfighting concept, the idea that in-depth knowledge of local customs in Iraq and elsewhere would allow the Pentagon to better determine who was friend and who was foe in a given war theater. “Combat troops are becoming intelligence operatives to support stabilization and counterinsurgency operations in Iraq,” Cebrowski’s office told Defense News in April 2004. It was hearts and minds all over again, reemerging in Iraq.

With chaos unfolding across Iraq, all the agencies and military services attached to the Pentagon were scrambling to find solutions. At DARPA, the former deputy director of the Total Information Awareness program, Bob Popp, got an idea. “I was the deputy director of an office that no longer existed,” said Popp in a 2014 interview. The Information Awareness Office had been shut down, and Poindexter’s Total Information Awareness program was no more, at least as far as the public was concerned. “Some of the TIA programs had been canceled, some were transitioned to the intelligence community,” says Popp with an insider’s knowledge available to few, most notably because, he says, “the transitioning aspects were part of my job.” Popp was now serving as special assistant to DARPA director Tony Tether. “Tony and I met once a month,” recalls Popp. “He said, ‘Put together another program,’ and I did.”

Working with DARPA’s Strategic Technology Office, Popp examined data on what he felt was the most important element of TIA, namely, “information on the bad guys.” After thinking through a number of ideas, Popp focused on one. “I started thinking, why do certain areas harbor bad guys?” He sought counsel within his community of Defense Department experts, including strategists, economists, engineers, and field commanders. Popp was surprised by the variety of answers he received, and how incongruous the opinions were. “They were not all right and they were not all wrong,” Popp recalls. But as far as harboring bad guys was concerned, Popp wanted to know who was harboring them, and why. He wanted to know what social scientists thought of the growing insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan. “I looked around DARPA and realized there was not a single social scientist to be found,” Popp says, so he began talking to “old-timers” about his idea of bringing social scientists on board. “Most of them were cautious. They said, ‘Oh, I don’t know. You should listen to the commanders in Afghanistan and Iraq.’” Then someone suggested to Bob Popp that he talk to an anthropologist named Montgomery McFate.

When Bob Popp first spoke with McFate in 2004, she was thirty-eight years old and worked as a fellow at the Office of Naval Research. Before that, McFate worked for RAND, where she wrote an analysis of totalitarianism in North Korean society. A profile in the San Francisco Examiner describes her as “a punk rock wild child of dyed-in-the-wool hippies… close-cropped hair and a voice buttery… a double-doc Ivy Leaguer with a penchant for big hats and American Spirit cigarettes and a nose that still bears the tiny dent of a piercing 25 years closed.” If her personal background seemed to separate her from the conservative organizations she worked for, her ideas made her part of the defense establishment.

McFate says that in addition to being approached by DARPA’s Bob Popp for help in social science work, she also received a call from a science advisor to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Hriar S. Cabayan, who was calling from the war theater. “We’re having a really hard time out here,” McFate remembers Cabayan saying. “We have no idea how this society works…. Could you help us?”

In 2004 the insurgency in Iraq was growing at an alarming rate. Criticism of the Pentagon was reaching new heights, most notably as stories of dubious WMD intelligence gained traction in Congress and around the world. For the Department of Defense, it was a tall order to locate anthropologists willing to work for the Pentagon. Academic studies showed that politically, the vast majority were left-leaning, with twenty registered Democrats to every one registered Republican. Not only was McFate rare for an anthropologist, but also she was enthusiastic about the war effort. Like many Americans, she had been propelled into action by 9/11. In 2004, Montgomery McFate decided to make it her “evangelical mission” to get the Pentagon to understand the culture it was dealing with in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In November 2004, DARPA co-sponsored a conference on counterinsurgency, or COIN, with the Office of Naval Research. For the first time since the Vietnam War, DARPA sought the advice of behavioral scientists to try to put an end to what General Abizaid called a “guerrilla-style” war. The DARPA conference, called the Adversary Cultural Knowledge and National Security Conference, was organized by Montgomery McFate and took place at the Sheraton Hotel in Crystal City, Virginia. The key speaker was retired major general Robert Scales. From the podium, the decorated Vietnam War veteran told his audience what he believed was the key element in the current conflict: winning hearts and minds. Scales was famous for his role in the battle of Dong Ap Bia, known as the Battle of Hamburger Hill because the casualty rate was so high, roughly 70 percent, that it made the soldiers who were there think of it as a meat grinder.

An entire generation of Vietnam War officers like himself had retired or were in the process of retiring, Scales told his audience. He and his colleagues were men who had engaged in battle before the age of “network-centric warfare.” Vietnam-era officers had been replaced by technology enthusiasts, Scales said, many of whom “went so far as to claim that technology would remove the fog of war entirely from the battlefield.” These were the same individuals who said that one day soon, ground forces would be unnecessary. That the Air Force, the Navy, and perhaps a future space force would be fighting wars from above, seated in command centers far away from the battlefield. Scales said it was time to reject this idea. Guerrilla warfare was back, he warned. Just like in Vietnam. Technology did not win against insurgents, Scales said. People did.

“The nature of war is changing,” Scales wrote that same fall in Proceedings magazine. “Fanatics and fundamentalists in the Middle East have adapted and adopted a method of war that seeks to offset U.S. technical superiority with a countervailing method that uses guile, subterfuge and terror mixed with patience and a willingness to die.” Scales warned that this new kind of warfare would allow the weaker force, the insurgents in Afghanistan and Iraq, to take on the stronger force, the United States, and win. Since the Israeli War of Independence, Scales wrote, “Islamic armies are 0 and 7 when fighting Western style and 5 and 0 when fighting unconventionally against Israel, the United States, and the Soviet Union.”

The Pentagon moved forward with DARPA’s idea to bring anthropologists into the Iraq war, and McFate garnered exclusive permission to interview Marines coming home from Iraq. In July 2005 she authored a paper in Joint Force Quarterly, a magazine funded by the Department of Defense, titled “The Military Utility of Understanding Adversary Culture.” In it she stated clearly her opinion about what had gone wrong in Iraq. “When the U.S. cut off the hydra’s Ba’thist head, power reverted to its most basic and stable form—the tribe,” wrote McFate. “Once the Sunni Ba’thists lost their prestigious jobs, were humiliated in the conflict, and got frozen out through de-Ba’thification, the tribal network became the backbone of the insurgency.” As an anthropologist, McFate believed that “the tribal insurgency is a direct result of our misunderstanding the Iraqi culture.”

Soldiers in the field had information, McFate said, but it was the wrong information. “Soldiers and Marines were unable to establish one-to-one relationships with Iraqis, which are key to both intelligence collection and winning hearts and minds.” McFate issued a stern warning to her Pentagon colleagues: “Failure to understand culture would endanger troops and civilians at a tactical level. Although it may not seem like a priority when bullets are flying, cultural ignorance can kill.”

McFate was hired to perform a data analysis of eighty-eight tribes and sub-tribes from a particular province in Iraq, and the behavioral science program she was proposing began to have legs. At DARPA, Bob Popp was enthusiastic. “It was not a panacea,” he says, “but we needed nation rebuilding. The social science community had tremendous insights into [the] serious problems going on [there], and a sector of DoD was ready to make serious investments into social sciences,” he says of DARPA’s efforts.

Arthur Cebrowski died of cancer the following year. The Office of Force Transformation did not last long without him and within a year after his death closed down, but the social intelligence programs forged ahead. Montgomery McFate found a new advocate in General David Petraeus, commander of the Multi-National Security Transition Command, Iraq, who shared her vision about the importance of winning hearts and minds. Petraeus began talking about “stability operations” and using the phrase “culture-centric warfare” when talking to the press. He said that understanding people was likely to become more important in future battles than “shock and awe and network-centric warfare.”

The DARPA program originally conceived broadly by Bob Popp to bring social scientists and anthropologists into the war effort was fielded to the U.S. Army. Montgomery McFate became the lead social scientist in charge of this new program, now called the Human Terrain System. But what did that mean? The program’s stated mission was to “counter the threat of the improvised explosive device,” which seemed strangely at odds with a hearts and minds campaign. Historically, the battle for hearts and minds focused on people who were not yet committed to the enemy’s ideology. The Army’s mission statement made the Human Terrain System sound as if its social scientists were going to be persuading terrorists not to strap on the suicide vest or bury the roadside bomb after all. The first year’s budget was $31 million, and by 2014, the Pentagon would spend half a billion dollars on the program. Unlike in ARPA’s Motivation and Morale program during the Vietnam War, the social scientists who were part of the Human Terrain System program during the war on terror would deploy into the war zone for tours of six to nine months, embedded with combat brigades and dressed in full battle gear. Many would carry guns. So many elements of the program were incongruous, it was easy to wonder what the intent actually was.

“I do not want to get anybody killed,” McFate told the New Yorker. “I see there could be misuse. But I just can’t stand to sit back and watch these mistakes happen over and over as people get killed, and do nothing.” Major General Robert Scales, the keynote speaker at the DARPA counterinsurgency conference organized by McFate, wrote papers and testified before Congress in support of this new hearts and minds effort in Iraq and Afghanistan. In the Armed Forces Journal Scales wrote, “Understanding and empathy will be important weapons of war.” Then he made a bold declaration. “World War I was a chemists’ war,” Scales said. “World War II was a physicists’ war,” and the war on terror was “the social scientists’ war.”

The program quickly gathered momentum. The Human Terrain System was a countermeasure against IEDs, and counterinsurgency was back in U.S. Army nomenclature. In December 2006 the Army released its first counterinsurgency manual in more than twenty years, Counterinsurgency, Field Manual, No. 3-24. Lieutenant General David Petraeus oversaw the manual’s publication. Montgomery McFate wrote one of the chapters. “What is Counterinsurgency?” the manual asks its readers. “If you have not studied counterinsurgency theory, here it is in a nutshell: Counterinsurgency is a competition with the insurgent for the right to win the hearts, minds, and acquiescence of the population.” As it had done in Vietnam, the COIN manual stressed nation-building and cultural understanding as key tactics in winning a guerrilla war.

It was as if the Vietnam War had produced amnesia instead of experience. On its official website, the U.S. Army erroneously identified the new Human Terrain System program as being “the first time that social science research, analysis, and advising has been done systematically, on a large scale, and at the operational level” in a war.

D-40 Cannonball

The unusual, if not the downright crackpot, appeared in the early days of the anti-tank missile age. This era stretched throughout the 1950s, with the level of wild optimism running fairly evenly all the way. It is perhaps worth noting that the first French missiles began to be generally available to the buying public in the late 1950s and from then on the rush of inventions took a more sober line as actual experience was gained with proper hardware. But with no real experience behind them, some designers were carried away by strange ideas. In 1952 the US Army Chief of Ordnance put a good deal of money into a device called Cannonball, also known as the D-40, with the intention of getting about twenty-five missiles and some associated ground equipment with which to evaluate the project.

He was backing a long-odds outsider because the D-40 had the strangest background of any anti-tank missile, for it had started life in the Navy as a submarine-launched, anti-ship weapon system. One would expect something out of the ordinary from such a beginning, and one would have been quite right. D-40 was a true ball, about 24inch diameter. There were two varieties, a 300lb test model controlled by radio and a 150lb tactical version controlled by wire. The whole idea is best summed up in the words of an official document of 1955.

The D-40 is a subsonic, short range guided rocket utilizing manually operated radio or wire command guidance along a line-of-sight course. The missile may be either ground or ship launched and is propelled to the target by a solid fuel rocket exhausting through a radial jet. The missile is spherical to eliminate aerodynamic effects from the control system. Stabilization in roll, pitch and yaw, is effected by properly placed jets exhausting tangentially in response to signals from three reference gyros operating in conjunction with relays and solenoids. Guidance is achieved by applying correcting signals to shift the contact locations on the gyros, thereby changing the average orientation of the main jet and the flight of the missile.

Which puts it all into one neat package.

To expand a little on the rather bald official description, I should mention that there was one main propulsive jet and three pairs of stabilising jets. In flight the ball did not roll and it remained in the air by virtue of the fact that the main jet pointed downwards at an angle of 45° so that half of the jet’s thrust supported the weight and half pushed it along. The stabilising jets maintained the delicate balancing act. It flew at 280mph to a range of 3,000yd over land, but only 1,000yd over water, taking, it should be noted, a rather leisurely 18.5 seconds to do the land journey and considerably less for the over-water flight. Guidance was by means of a joystick in the operator’s hand and he sighted the target through a powerful optical system. The real merit of Cannonball lay in its warhead which was either a 5olb shaped charge or a 65lb squash head. Either was more than enough to destroy any tank that it hit. The warhead and the guidance electronics were carried in a cylinder running right through the middle of the ball, rather like the core of an apple, with an impact fuze set in the outer shell. The rocket motors were carried in the outer part of the apple, surrounding the core, and the jets were in a circle round the equator. The launch platform was a simple two-armed bracket which held the ball horizontally until it shot itself off. The Navy was concerned to have some sort of autoloader for underwater firings.

At least fifty of these unusual missiles were fired between 1953 and 1956, all in conditions of great secrecy. They did what was expected of them and the whole programme looked most promising, but costs had risen three or four times above the original estimate, and the Army was having doubts about handling the beast in the field, so it was reluctantly dropped.

Applied Physics Lab D-40 Cannonball