Can We Detect a Nuclear Attack?

A new study sponsored by the American Physical Society has concluded that the United States' systems to intercept intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) cannot be trusted to counter even a limited nuclear attack and are unlikely to achieve reliability in the next 15 years. In the midst of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the specter of nuclear war looms in the public mind in a way never seen since the Cold War. In fact, while the international community is slapping Russia with a series of restrictions and sanctions, it is difficult not to jump into the worst nuclear scenario, particularly given that Russia has the largest arsenal of nuclear weapons in the world. What is more alarming is that Russian President Vladimir Putin recently put Russia's deterrent forces, including nuclear weapons, on high alert.

Many experts agree that this level of threat is unprecedented in the post-Cold War era. But given how far computers, drones and laser technologies have come since the Cold War era, one might think that advanced technology could deter a nuclear weapons threat. In fact, in 1983, President Ronald Reagan announced the start of a program mockingly called Star Wars by critics, by which the United States could protect itself from strategic ballistic nuclear weapons in space. Engineers have been grappling with this question for decades.

However, strangely enough, and despite monumental advances in physics, computer science and A. I., over the past four decades, the engineering problem of missile interception has not yet been resolved. But Wells pointed out that such a thing is certainly physically possible. There is no theorem that says 'you can't achieve missile defense', he added.

The United States has an ICBM defense missile system called Land-based Mid-Course Defense (GMD). A recent study sponsored by the American Physical Society concluded that GMD cannot be trusted to counter even a limited nuclear attack. The study focused specifically on North Korean ICBMs and determined that it is unlikely that the defense systems in place will be reliable enough to ensure that the mission will be a success in the next 15 years. Experts tell Salon that despite technological advances, as Wells noted, there are a few reasons why this is such a difficult problem to solve, scientifically speaking.

The main reason is that it is simply extremely difficult to intercept something so small (about a meter long) that it moves so fast (15,000 miles per hour) in such a short time. Not to mention that part of the trajectory of these warheads occurs in space. Grego said that ICBMs are, by design, difficult to intercept. The warheads, of which there are multiple and which emerge from the missile cone, are relatively small, making it difficult to attack.

Some of these warheads could be decoys and contain nothing. Similarly, the ICBM's journey takes you through the vacuum of space where, as Grego says, there is no air resistance or very little air resistance, so a light lure doesn't slow down compared to a heavy warhead. This makes it difficult to decipher which is the real warhead and which one or which are false. Grego explained that this is known as the problem of discrimination.

But what about trying to intercept the ICBM during the impulse phase, before the warhead and decoys deploy? That window is extremely short and therefore incredibly difficult to figure out how to intercept, Grego said. In order to intercept the missile during this phase, the defender would have to be very close to the launch site to arrive on time. Wells added that there is concern that interception during the impulse phase could detonate the warhead in friendly territory. Experts say it's not impossible to create a robust and reliable ICBM stop system but it's certainly very challenging.

Hundreds of satellites and spacecraft monitor Russia's nuclear forces from above but so far they haven't seen much to worry about. At the end of February when President Vladimir V. Putin declared that his country's nuclear weapons were entering “special combat readiness” US surveillance team went on high alert. Hundreds of imaging satellites as well as other private and federal spacecraft began looking for signs of increased activity among Russia's bombers missiles submarines and storage bunkers which contain thousands of nuclear warheads.

But US atomic guardians have reason to keep looking experts said Moscow has long practiced using relatively small nuclear explosions to compensate for losses in the field And some military experts are concerned about what Mr Putin could do after setbacks in Ukraine restore his reputation for nervous cruelty If Russia prepared for an atomic war it would normally disperse its bombers to reduce their vulnerability to enemy attacks said Hans M Kristensen Director of Nuclear Information Project at Federation of American Scientists a private research organization in Washington But right now he said “none of that is obvious” Since 1962 when one of first US espionage satellites failed to detect shipment of missiles and 158 nuclear warheads Moscow had sent Cuba surveillance powers US in orbit have skyrocketed Today hundreds public and private imaging satellites are continuously exploring planet assess crops map cities manage forests and increasingly reveal secret actions nuclear states Russia's arsenal exceeds size nuclear arsenals all other nations creating challenge analysts fully assess their situation US private companies such Maxar Capella Space Planet Labs have provided analysts with hundreds close-up images Russian atomic forces Planet Labs alone has....

Leave Message

All fileds with * are required