Archive for April 2009

Demolishing the ‘vacuous’ argument for the RRW

April 28, 2009

Jeffrey Lewis and Kingston Reif do a neat and clean job. The last line is priceless and is not exactly BAS-like

Firstly, vacuum tubes are not used in the physics package of a single nuclear weapon design. Vacuum tubes are used only in the radar-fuse, which tells the firing system when the bomb is at the correct altitude for detonation, in some modifications (mods) of one warhead design, the B61 gravity bomb. In total, the B61 bombs that have vacuum tubes in their radar-fuses account for only about one in ten operationally deployed warheads. (Vacuum tubes are used in the radars of three B61 mods: 3, 4, and 7. Mods 10 and 11 have newer radars that use solid-state electronics.) The fuses in these weapons are old, but perfectly functional. To reiterate, vacuum tubes are not in use in any other warhead design, including the W76 warhead, a portion of which would be replaced by the first RRW warhead, the WR1, if it ever were funded and developed.

Secondly, the Energy Department has routinely replaced radars without nuclear testing or redesigning the physics package. In fact, during the 1990s, Sandia National Laboratories scientists developed the MC4033 common radar, which uses solid-state electronics, for planned refurbishments of the B61 and B83 gravity bombs. All B83 bombs now use the common radar, though similar plans to fit a new radar on all B61s have been repeatedly deferred.

Most recently, in 2006, Sandia planned to replace the remaining B61 vacuum tube radars as part of ALT 364/365/366. The National Nuclear Security Administration, which overseas the nuclear weapons complex, canceled these latest ALTs, which would have resulted in the removal of the last vacuum tubes from the U.S. nuclear stockpile, because the U.S. Air Force preferred replacement to life extension. Due to this absurd twist, one could say that vacuum tubes remain in the U.S. nuclear arsenal in part because of the RRW, contrary to Chilton’s insistence that the RRW is needed to get rid of them.

The bottom line is that vacuum tubes are used only sparingly in the U.S. nuclear arsenal and can be replaced on short notice if the need arises, independent of whether Congress funds the RRW Program. Of the many reasons that Defense and Energy officials have put forth to justify the RRW Program, the need to replace vacuum tubes is the worst and has no place in the debate about the RRW or modernizing the nuclear stockpile. General Chilton can stick that prop in his, um, pocket.

Alex Abella’s Soldiers of Reason

April 3, 2009

Due to some unavoidable and important engagements as a graduate student, blogging has been relatively slow recently but I will return with more posts soon. Meanwhile I just wanted to make a brief book recommendation for Alex Abella’s engaging “Soldiers of Reason: The RAND Corporation and the Rise of the American Empire”, a history of RAND. Abella focuses on the usual suspects; Brodie, Kahn, Wohlstetter etc. and he particularly shines in describing their personalities and mindsets. I have not finished the book yet but it is definitely worth a read; fast paced and informative. The one gripe I have is that Abella seems to overemphasize RAND’s influence (a fact exemplified by the name) and sometimes attaches names like Donald Rumsfeld and Chalabi to it who only had a rather tangential connection with the organization. He also seems to be rather obsessed with Albert Wohlstetter who is the central character in the book. Nonetheless, Wohlstetter’s policy recommendations were certainly quite influential and the book would be worth reading just for its portrait of this one man.