Guam and the Rising Storm

Guam wanders in and out of the news feeds with the regularity of a failing Christmas tree

Satellite image of the Guam. IKONOS Quickbird satellite image

Satellite image of the Guam. IKONOS Quickbird satellite image

light.  Because I was there and because people I still care greatly about are there, I grab any posting about Guam tossed out from the world’s media like a lifeline.  I like Guam.  From its natural beauty and its people to its place in the historic context of humans and their wars, Guam is compelling.  I doubt that the Russian jets that periodically circle the island figuratively mooning the U.S. military[1] are there for snapshots of the magnificent and imposing cliffs.  And I don’t think that the Chinese siting of ICBMs placing Guam in the crosshairs is accidental.[2]

Once again, I feel the effect of impotent anger surging through the twists and turns in my brain awakening my desire to protect my country and the rainbow of people who I love.  The anger I sense is not directed toward Russia or China; countries do what countries do.  The anger is directed to the U.S. central government whose policy decisions a decade or more ago have come to fruition, cost a bloody fortune, and weakened the U.S.’s ability to protect itself, and I was part of the process.

Hafa adai is Chamorro for ‘hello’ and the first words I heard as I stepped into the terminal at Guam International in Agana, Guam in late 1997.  As one of the forward troops for a business development team, I was on the island to explore local partnering potentials for a Base Operating Support (BOS) contract that was expected to be awarded sometime around the turn of the new century. The 1997 study submitted to Congress to consolidate base operations and transfer about 2,300 military and civilian jobs to a private contractor was the result of a commercial activities study to compare costs between government and private sector providers.

The size of the potential contract definitely had the big boys’ attention.  The retired generals, astronauts, and high-ranking former government officials who inhabit the upper echelons of defense contractors’ ivory towers were working their political contacts in Washington, D.C. We foot soldiers were exploring the local possibilities. There is a great deal of money involved in the acquisition of one of the big BOS contracts and, once everybody teams up for the kill, the doors of each contractor’s business development team are incarcerated; the doors are retrofitted with cipher locks and redecorated as war rooms. Business development at this level is fun and exciting and the foreign policy decisions driving the acquisition are not even on the radar. Continue reading

The Rise of the Minuteman

The year of 1962 found me sitting in a house in Great Falls, Montana; a teenager mulling

 Montana’s Rocky Mountain Front Range, Great Falls, MT

Montana’s Rocky Mountain Front Range, Great Falls, MT

over the transfer into yet another school and wondering if I could get credit for that Washington state history course I’d taken. Probably not. I would have to take a course on Montana’s history. That January in 1962, while the Cuban Missile crisis storm was rising, I was busy hating Great Falls’ sub-zero temperatures pushed farther down the Fahrenheit scale by a wild wind that blew in directly from the Artic. Great Falls was wheat lands country and there was nothing between the Artic and Great Falls; it was all flat. My family traveled a great deal. We had lived in Chile for a number of years and through most of the northern tier of states from Washington to Minnesota. We weren’t rich. Upon his return from WWII’s Pacific theater, my Dad gave up his dreams of college and settled into the business of making a living for his family by working construction as an electrical superintendent. We were in Great Falls because he had a job supporting the construction of the Minuteman missile sites.

My sister’s poodle is responsible for my first exposure to the Cold War (1947-1991) infrastructure. When the poodle had puppies, my dachshund was not supportive of the

Minuteman ICBM

Minuteman ICBM

poodle or the puppies and that got us both unceremoniously ejected from the house and into my father’s workplace. We would rise at 4:00 am, grab a bite to eat, make lunches, and head to the local general aviation airport where we boarded a plane and took off into the Montana farmland around Great Falls. The sites we visited were each in a slightly different stage of construction and all were being readied to accept the Minuteman ICBMs that were being manufactured elsewhere. I discovered that each silo was three stories deep and, in the event of a launch, a huge concrete slab that covered it would be blown clear. One of the sites we visited was a control site. The big cables I saw at the smaller sites ran to a series of manned control centers deep underground.  It was all very impressive other than it was out in the middle of nowhere. Later I learned so much more.

The rise of the 1960s Minuteman ICBMs was the logical outcome of three major technological developments in the 1950s. The advances combined with the realization that, while many countries wanted to be protected from the former Soviet Union, few were lining up to have a nuclear arsenal on their soil. Inertial guidance system developments provided for increased ICBM accuracy.  The former Soviet Union and the rest of the allies split the science baby at the end of the WWII hostilities. The WWII Nazi V-2 rocket guidance technology was a spoil of war. Werner Von Braun, a leader in the Nazi rocket program, and about 500 of his top rocket scientists, along with plans and test vehicles joined the U.S. science community. The other major inertial guidance system players were Caltech and NASA JPL. The inertial guidance system enabled a missile to hit its target and the first piece of the three piece puzzle was in place.

The second piece of the puzzle was the development of Edward Teller’s concept of thermonuclear weapons which gave much more bang for the nuclear buck. Ivy Mike,

Ivy Mike

Ivy Mike

detonated on Eniwetok Atoll in late 1952, was the first test of the concept. The view of the Operation Ivy’s beautiful turquoise blue, crystal clear water in the craters contrasting with the dark blue Pacific waters were the first thing I saw when I flew into Eniwetok  in the early 1990s. Thermonuclear weapons are staged weapons. A little fission device is detonated to add heat, compress and trigger the second stage hydrogen fusion device. This tactic provides for much more explosive power, or yield.

The final piece of the Minuteman puzzle was the development of powerful booster engines for multistage rockets, greatly increasing their size and range. Three missile workhorses were developed. The Titan and Atlas missiles had to be fueled just before launch, which

Atlas-5 rocket equipped with an RD-180 engine

Atlas-5 rocket equipped with an RD-180 engine

made them inconvenient for ICBM use and they went on to become stars in the NASA space programs. The Minuteman I and II, which went into the field in 1962, used solid fuels stored within the missile that could lift up to three warheads, each with the destructive power of a megaton or greater. At this point the U.S. could deliver big bombs with good accuracy anywhere in the northern hemisphere, or the world for that matter, in less time than it takes for a nice hot bath.

As the technology was advancing at breakneck speed, the political arena caught fire. In Smart Rocks, Brilliant Pebbles, and all that Political Jazz, we discussed Eisenhower’s fight to defend the country from bombers dropping bombs on the countryside and his aha moment when it was realized that the threat would come from the direction of missiles. Lack of much solid intelligence from the former Soviet Union left the door wide open to build disaster scenarios on what THEY might be doing. The lobby for missile manufacturers and other defense contractors went into overdrive and the Air force hammered the fear home.

As the 1960 election approached, Eisenhower’s adherence to tight fiscal policies came under attack.  Eisenhower was a proponent of little debt as was illustrated in his funding strategy for the Interstate Highway system, discussed in Ribbons: The Interstate Highway System. During the elections the ‘missile gap’ allegations between the Soviets and the U.S. reached fever pitch and the cause for the ‘gap’ was laid directly at the feet of the Eisenhower administration’s fiscal policies. In November 1958, Senator John F. Kennedy (D-Massachusetts), the future presidential candidate, initiated the ‘missile gap’ charge when he claimed that the Eisenhower administration placed fiscal policy ahead of national security. As a result, he said, the nation faced “a peril more deadly than any wartime danger we have ever known.”[1]

Eisenhower wasn’t worried about a ‘missile gap’. The veil of secrecy prevented President Eisenhower from disclosing the U-2 photographic evidence that confirmed the lack of a ‘gap’. The secrecy code sword cuts both ways and the well-earned lack of trust in the government allows fear games and manipulation. Shortly after the 1960 presidential election ‘missile gap’ discussions were muted. They flared again in February 1961 when Secretary of Defense McNamara stated that there was no missile gap during a press briefing. The next big surge of fear mongering arrived when the Cuban Missile Crisis erupted in April 1962. As a teenager, I will attest to the fact I was terrified along with millions of others.

Patriotic farmers from across America’s breadbasket gave up two or more acres of their land to the federal government for the deployment of 1,000 ICBMs to protect us from the Soviet menace. Thousands worked on the construction, thousands were employed to manufacture the missiles and their parts, and thousands more worked to support the installations. Many have tried but failed to tally the total cost of our ICBM defense but it runs to the trillions of dollars.

Did it work? Many say yes. We didn’t have a nuclear war, did we? Others say no and we placed millions of innocent civilians in harm’s way.  I am a proponent of military strength as a deterrent.  I also respectfully disagree that there is such a thing as ‘innocent civilians’ during a war. Historical cycles tend to support those positions. Weak countries are overrun and citizens, by virtue of their status, are responsible for their governments’ actions. How we got strong is another matter. Rather than a discussion with the American people coupled with disclosure of evidence, the federal government opts for lies, secrecy and manipulation.

Personally, I resented the fear I felt as a kid. I was manipulated and that makes me feel stupid. As soon as I gained a broader world view from within and without the U.S., I began to question, read, and apply the principles of skepticism to everything that emanates from the federal government and its minions. Whenever the government wants something-oil, resources, and so on-they drop a big rock in the population bathtub and, just before everyone drowns, they provide ‘the answer’. Predictably, the tactic is becoming more and more acute, the dropped rock is getting bigger and the bathtub more crowded. Now, the bathtub population is being assaulted with a mind-numbing economic strategy. Individuals within the bathtub population can hardly breathe, let alone think. The next rock dropped in the tub will drown many, I think.

The teenager I was in 1961 was definitely going to be a medical doctor. Instead, I became an engineer and the decades rocketed by at close to the speed of light. The twine of my life was bound around the core of the Cold War (1947-1991) and, although I am sliding into home all used up, I had a great ride. Ideas are the most powerful force in the universe so just keep thinking.

Smart Rocks, Brilliant Pebbles and All That Political Jazz

Most people think President Reagan’s administration hatched the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) idea, which is lovingly referred to as Star Wars defense. In a nutshell, the Reagan administration figured that well over 100,000 nuclear weapons in the U.S. and Russian

X-ray laser bakes solid plasma from aluminum foil

X-ray laser bakes solid plasma from aluminum foil

inventories were adequate and we ought to spend some time and money figuring out how to protect the country from them. The effort to develop a mostly non-nuclear global, or at least the whole of the continental U.S., shield was the SDI toolbox. Some of the tools included ground based interceptors, which were basic missile interceptors, Directed Energy Weapons (DEW) like railguns, X-Ray and Chemical LASERS, and kinetic energy weapons like Brilliant Pebbles, which came from the earlier Smart Rocks.

Beginning with Eisenhower, every administration has dabbled in the development of Star

Shown in this 1958 photograph are four of the twelve missiles of D Battery, 9th AAA Missile Battalion, Angel Island. The missiles were stored underground, and were raised only for maintenance or firing. the site was razed when the missiles were removed from the island in 1962.

Shown in this 1958 photograph are four of the twelve missiles of D Battery, 9th AAA Missile Battalion, Angel Island. The missiles were stored underground, and were raised only for maintenance or firing. the site was razed when the missiles were removed from the island in 1962.

Wars defense technology. And the opposing side, whoever they are at the time, screams bloody murder about the programs.  The scientists, engineers, and technicians who support the various categories of Star Wars technology just kept on working as the program names and proportionate funding changed. Eisenhower, for example, was spending about $30 billion a year on missile technology like the Nike, which was designed to take down airplanes delivering nuclear bombs.

Although the Soviets certainly could use airplanes, they were never huge ‘deliver-the-bomb-by-airplane’ proponents and, in 1957, the Soviet Union demonstrated its intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) prowess. Oops! Time for plan B.

Project Defender was born to beat the ICBM threat. Billions of dollars were redirected and thousands of scientists and technical staff were on the hunt for advanced anti-ICBM technology. I am a beneficiary of that effort. My dad worked for years making a living for our family constructing Minuteman missile sites in Montana. The nation had turned on a dime.

President Kennedy’s administration experienced similar shock therapy in 1961 when the old

Semipalatinsk Polygon — the Soviet nuclear testing site in the northeast of Kazakhstan

Semipalatinsk Polygon — the Soviet nuclear testing site in the northeast of Kazakhstan

Soviet Union broke a moratorium on atmospheric nuclear testing by detonating fifty nuclear weapons in the atmosphere between January and April. Oops!

Rewinding to 1958, we find a world increasingly aware of the dangers of nuclear fallout and great pressure was applied to end atmospheric testing. In the George Washington University’s National Security Archives, The Making of the Limited Test Ban Treaty, 1958-1963 edited by William Burr and Hector L. Montford;  “The Soviets, who had been calling for a test ban since the mid-1950s, took a major initiative in early 1958 when they called for an American-British-Soviet test moratorium.”[1] This push put the ball firmly in the Kennedy administration’s court. President Kennedy worked tirelessly across the aisles of congress to achieve the 1958 atmospheric nuclear testing moratorium that the Soviets had proposed. Kennedy was attacked by everyone from the scientific and military right to the progressive left, he suffered great political pain and suffering but, to his great credit, he made the moratorium work.

During the moratorium, U.S.nuclear capability declined. The infrastructure fell into disrepair

RB-57D flying toward an Operation Dominic mushroom cloud. (Response to Soviet tests)

RB-57D flying toward an Operation Dominic mushroom cloud. (Response to Soviet tests)

and scientific and technical staff took their skill sets and left for other jobs on the ‘outside’. When the soviets let loose with their ‘in-your-face’ fifty test series in 1961, President Kennedy looked to the nuclear science guys left at the Los Alamos, Lawrence Livermore, and Sandia National laboratories and directed that we show ‘em OUR nuclear stuff. Well….we couldn’t do it. In the four months it took the Soviet Union to successfully unleash fifty atmospheric nukes, the U.S. could barely figure out what was needed to restart the program. In fact, it would be about two years before we could respond and by then we were off to other nuclear treaty negotiations. Negotiations notwithstanding the U.S. responded with Operation Dominic a series of 36 Nuclear Tests.

Project Defender, the 1958 response to President Eisenhower’s ‘oops’, included one of my personal favorites, the Ballistic Missile Boost Intercepts (BaMBI or Bambi) project. It was one of the first kinetic energy designs and has a lovely timeline that illustrates the continuity of programs funded under different administrations on both sides of the aisle. Remember, when the politicians howl like a pack of coyotes, the scientists and technicians keep on trucking. Missile interceptors are akin to someone shooting a gun then another marksman shoots the bullet out of the air; they are land based. Kinetic energy designs, on the other hand, take advantage of the energy stored in a system due to acceleration and use it to destroy a missile on the rise; they are space based.

bpi_conoThis paragraph provides a brief refresher on kinetic energy. One cannot see kinetic energy (or any other type of energy) but one can see the effects of energy so any example given will always illustrate the effects of the energy rather than looking directly at the energy. Kinetic energy derives from motion; orbital motion as in galaxies, stars, planets, satellites, or space stations; linear motion planes, trains, and automobiles; random linear motion illustrated by molecular vibrations, parabolic motion throwing a basketball or shooting a bullet, rotational motion as in wheels in motion, gyroscopes, or rolling balls. It is from measuring the effects of energy that we know that kinetic energy is one half of the mass times the square of velocity. Theoretically, if a relatively small rock can be lifted into space and get itself in front of a missile just going into space, the kinetic energy of that little rock will blow the missile into bits. The computer simulations performed during Project Defender indicated that “…a nose cone traveling at ICBM velocities in collision with one pound of material releases the energy equivalent of 6 pounds of TNT. In a word, the kinetic energy at that velocity exceeds the chemical energy available at that mass.” [2] Okay, now all we needed were smart rocks that would get in front of missiles lifting off the planet.

The Bambi project is straight out of the best of Greek mythology. There would be hundreds of battle stations orbiting the earth, each with special sensors to read the plasma plumes emitted by enemy missiles. It is heady stuff for a Star Trek fan. The weapons from the battle stations would simply smash into the rising enemy missile. Just in case it missed, the weapon would simultaneously release a 60-foot rotating wire net with deadly steel rocklets woven into it.  The Atlas and Titan missiles provided a test bed for parts of this plan. As a 16-year old kid, I worked a veritype machine making wire identification tags for the Atlas Booster rockets being tested on stands at Edwards Air force Base out of Lancaster, CA. As we would wait for the X-15 to land on the dry lake bed at Edwards, I dreamed of all the wonderful things I would do as a space cadet.

Through successive administrations, wire nets led to smart rocks led to smaller and even

Brilliant Pebbles as originally envisioned

Brilliant Pebbles as originally envisioned

smarter brilliant pebbles. I worked at the Nevada Test Site (NTS) when Brilliant Pebbles was brought back there for further indoctrination and rehabilitation. Local gossip had it that when they tested the little guys in space Brilliant Pebbles performed magnificently. Once deployed, those brilliant chips off the old smart rock took note of the speed and other attributes of the deploying space vehicle and tried really, really hard to kill it. Oops, those were the ‘good’ guys.

It was most fortunate that they were able to scoop them all back up and bring them back to earth, and to the NTS. A brilliant pebble was tethered to a tower and its fuzzy logic was reprogrammed to make it socially more acceptable so that it only got in front of and destroyed the bad guys’ rockets. Rumor was that it next developed a mind of its own and refused to sacrifice itself. Not good when committing suicide is its primary function. The will of the brilliant pebbles’ creator won, however, and Brilliant Pebbles was ready for duty, once again. By then President Clinton’s administration denied funding to the project, preferring instead to focus on land based interceptors and regional, rather than global protection The Brilliant Pebbles effort either finally died or went very deep.

Interceptor test in Kwajalein Atoll

Interceptor test in Kwajalein Atoll

Ground based interceptors have enjoyed some excellent successes in tests in the Pacific Missile Range. The technology has advanced smartly and it is clear that ‘our’ bullets can shoot ‘their’ bullets out of the air. Given the reload time for missile launches, I hope we have a lot of them and they can hit their targets the first time, every time.

The political jazz and its patter continue. In the peculiar subject area of defense weapons development, each president and administration in turn has been raked over the coals by the party out of office. Senator Obama was a fierce critic of defense program spending.  Back in Reagan’s day, Senator John Kerry was adamant that Star Wars was a ‘cancer’.  President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry are singing a different tune at the moment. Perhaps they are even grateful to the H.W

All that political jazz

All that political jazz

Bush and Clinton administrations for the regional missile defenses they’ve suddenly discovered and deployed. They are playing that Cold War (1947-1991) favorite Fear Rumble by the Brinksmanship Jazz quartet-US. et. al. versus N. Korea, China and Russia. It is a game and it is played by all administrations. The game is dangerous and somewhere, somehow, now or in the future, some idiot is going to make a misstep and we’ll all be fighting for survival.

Through and over everything, I still like smart rocks, brilliant pebbles and all that jazz.



[1] The Making of the Limited Test Ban Treaty, 1958-1963; William Burr and Hector L. Montford, editors; http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB94/

[2]Harold N. Beveridge, “Defender Introduction,” in Ballistic Missile Defense Program of the Advanced Research Projects Agency, A Review of Project Defender for the Director of Defense Research and Engineering, 25-29 July 1960, Volume I, p. 17 (hereafter Project Defender, 1960, Vol. I).