More than one way to deliver a nuke
BBC has a wonderful animated graphic explaining how the US missile defense system is supposed to work. It is an inspiring exercise in optimism.
First the missile (which is assumed to be ballistic) is nailed on radar the moment it clears the cloud cover. This tracking is aided by space-based radar, ‘early-warning’ radar, and x-band radar, plus infrared signatures of launch. The type, speed, and size of the missile is known before it finishes clearing the cloud cover.
Radars send their information to the battle command center, which calculates the best point of interception based on trajectory, range, and speed of both missile and interceptor. The system intelligently ignores decoys launched by the missile.
“Flight path is plotted and information is sent to the ground-based interceptor” which are readied for launch. Multiple interceptors may be needed if the first ones miss. The ‘kill vehicle’ is steered into collision with the missile. Iconic orbital explosion graphics ensue and the day is saved. But questions remain:
- Is the missile even visible to radar?
- Does it fly in a predictably ballistic path, or does it steer somewhat randomly, perhaps using flight algorithms from starlings or other small birds?
- How many missiles does the enemy have?
- What if those decoys were not decoys, but in fact MIRVs?
- What if it’s a stealth cruise missile launched from a ship and moving fifty feet above the water?
- Will these interceptors work better than their prototypes?
- Will the weapon be delivered by ballistic missile, or by Federal Express marked “Diesel parts”?
That last part is important. We have all kinds of nifty new technologies to x-ray shipping containers. This happens after it is already in-harbor. How difficult would it be to set up the nuke to simply go off when it is hit with x-rays? Or when the crate is opened for inspection.