Lost in the sauce in the past few days resulting in the excitement and afterglow of the recent NASA/SpaceX mission to the International Space Station was an interesting bit of space news.
Well, space/naval news, anyway: the first successful smackdown of a (simulated) ICBM at extreme altitude by a destroyer-launched SM-3.
As noted in a DOD presser:
The U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA), and U.S. Navy sailors aboard the USS John Finn (DDG-113), an Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) System-equipped destroyer, intercepted and destroyed a threat-representative Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) target with a Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) Block IIA missile during a flight test demonstration in the broad ocean area northeast of Hawaii, Nov. 16.
This event, designated Flight Test Aegis Weapon System-44 (FTM-44), was the sixth flight test of an Aegis BMD-equipped vessel using the SM-3 Block IIA guided missile. FTM-44 satisfies a Congressional mandate to evaluate the feasibility of the SM-3 Block IIA missile’s capability to defeat an ICBM threat before the end of 2020.
“This first-of-its-kind test shows that our nation has a viable option for a new layer of defense against long-range threats,” said Bryan Rosselli, vice president of Strategic Missile Defense at Raytheon Missiles & Defense.
The LGM-30G Minuteman III, the first deployed ICBM with multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles (MIRV), is the land leg of the storied U.S. nuclear triad. The platform is also 50 years old this year, first fielded in 1970– akin to the era of the Apollo moon missions.
Keep in mind there are currently 45 underground launch control centers manned by USAF missile officers ready to deliver these terrifying birds anywhere worldwide within 30 minutes.
With the ability to carry up to three W62 or W78 warheads on Mk12 delivery vehicles, the 450 remaining Minutemen missiles have been downgraded to accept recycled W87 warheads from the MX missile program. However, with a circular error of probability of fewer than 800 feet after a 6,000+nm trip, that is, like horseshoes, close enough.
The Air Force plans to keep the Minuteman around until 2030ish, at which point the planned Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent will be online.
With that, let us gather around Brig. Gen. Jimmy Stewart and hear about the Air Force Missile Mission and consider visiting one of the decommissioned early ICBM sites currently open as museums.
A Minot-marked 5th BW B-52H and vintage Belgian Air Force F-16As last Friday, as part of the Buff’s 30-nations-in-one-day tour.
Even while about half of the USAF’s meager Stratofortress pool was greatly disrupted by the temporary relocation of B-52s from Barksdale AFB in Louisiana to escape Hurricane Laura, a flight of six B-52Hs– forward-deployed 5th Bomb Wing Bomber Task Force (BTF) ships operating from RAF Fairford after flying cross-continental from Minot on 22 August — overflew every single one of the 30 NATO member states last Friday while being escorted in turn by a rotating force of 80 fighters belonging to 19 European air forces and Canada.
Most importantly, they did it all in a single day.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said:
“Today’s training event demonstrates the United States’ powerful commitment to NATO, and Allied solidarity in action. As US bombers overfly all 30 NATO Allies in a single day, they are being accompanied by fighter jets from across the Alliance, boosting our ability to respond together to any challenge. Training events like this help ensure that we fulfill our core mission: to deter aggression, prevent conflict, and preserve peace.”
Of course, the Russians also buzzed the B-52s as they operated over the Black Sea, popping by with Su-27s. The below Russian Ministry of Defense video shows that briefly, ending with a clip of a different series of intercepts buzzing a Danish Challenger, a Swedish Gulf Stream, and an RC-135 over international air space in the Baltic.
Here is the B-52 intercept from the view of the U.S. side of things, showing the Russian antics.
While a number of battleships met their end at the hand of atomics at Bikini Atoll, likely the only dreadnoughts to carry nuclear weapons for tactical use were the Iowa class.
Those fast battleships “may have” toted such devices in two forms.
Between 1956 and 1962, the Navy had a limited stockpile of about 50 MK-23/W23 “Katie” nuclear shells for the Iowas‘ 16-inch guns, each with a yield of some 15-20 kilotons, with most ships of the class equipped to carry as many as 10 of these mushroom makers. Of note, Hiroshima’s Little Boy was a 15kt bomb.
USS Iowa, USS New Jersey, and USS Wisconsin had an alteration made to Turret II magazine to incorporate a secure storage area for these projectiles (the Nuclear projectile). USS Missouri was not so altered as she had been placed in reserve in 1955. This secure storage area could contain ten nuclear shells plus nine Mark 24 practice shells.
These nuclear projectiles were all withdrawn from service by October 1962 with none ever having been fired from a gun. One projectile was expended as part of Operation Plowshare (the peaceful use of nuclear explosive devices) and the rest were deactivated. USS Wisconsin did fire one of the practice shells during a test in 1957. It is not clear whether or not any of the battleships ever actually carried a nuclear device onboard, as the US Navy routinely refuses to confirm or deny which ships carry nuclear weapons.
At least one inert Mark 23 shell body still exists at the National Atomic Museum in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Then in the 1980s came TLAM-Ns, the so-called nuclear Tomahawk cruise missile with its W80 150 kiloton warhead. First fielded in selected fleet units, only about 300 made were produced and the Obama administration dismantled them in 2010.
Below is a great video done by the curator of the USS New Jersey (BB-62) Museum, where he shows off the (possibly) TLAM-N related areas of the ship, including the panels, Marine guard post, and ABLs.
Via Sandia National Laboratories:
“Dropped from above 25,000 feet, the mock B61-12 nuclear gravity bomb was in the air for approximately 55 seconds before hitting and embedding in the lakebed, splashing a 40- to 50-foot puff of desert dust from the designated impact area at Sandia National Laboratories’ Tonopah Test Range in Nevada.”
The platform for the tactical nuke? The common F-15E.