Tag Archives: Nuclear weapon

55 Year Ago The Last U.S. Above-Ground Nuclear Test To Determine The Viability Of An Anti-ICBM Defense System

The Last U.S. Above Ground Nuclear Test Was Oddly Predictive of Current Missile Defense Programs.

July, 1968. Sunday Morning. 100,000 Feet Over the Midwestern United States.

This is a last, desperate attempt at survival.

It is codenamed “Satan”, and it is headed for Nebraska. Plummeting down over the continental United States the Soviet ICBM, designated R-36M, is a nightmare weapon. The world’s heaviest nuclear armed, multiple warhead doomsday weapon, “Satan” carries a planet-smashing fusillade of 10 nukes, each in the massive 500-kiloton range.

This morning Satan begins the unthinkable; an all-out nuclear slugfest between the Soviet Union and the United States. This one Soviet ICBM will destroy the Strategic Air Command headquarters at Offutt AFB, cripple a U.S. nuclear response and deliver the opening gut-punch of World War III.

There is only one hope now.

A MIM-14 Nike Hercules surface-to-air missile leaps vertically on a roiling cushion of smoke from a launch facility in the Midwestern U.S. The spear-shaped white missile shatters the sound barrier as it vaults upward piercing puffy early morning cumulus in a blue sky accelerating toward near-space. The crack of a sonic boom reaches the ground far below, its smoke trail drifting sideways on light breeze while the missile races upward toward its target.

As the Soviet Satan ICBM arcs downward in its plummet toward Armageddon the Nike Hercules makes last millisecond Hail-Mary corrections to kill it in the outer atmosphere. It doesn’t need to be very accurate. This Nike Hercules, the first, and last, line of defense against a nuclear attack from Russia, is carrying its own W31/M97 20-kiloton nuclear warhead.

The two missiles miss each other by a half-mile, but it’s close enough. A second, new sun in the northern hemisphere casts pivoting morning shadows across Nebraska cornfields as it blooms a blinding white detonation where the real sun will be hours from now at about high noon.

The Russian Satan is incinerated in the blinding nuclear flash of the Nike Hercules 20 miles above the ground. As the “red phone” between the White House and the Kremlin begins to buzz, WWIII is averted. Barely.

It never happened, thankfully. But the last atmospheric nuclear test conducted by the United States took place 55-years ago, on November 4, 1962.

A rare photo of one of the nuclear warheads tested on the Nike Hawk missile. (Photo: US Army)

The last detonation of a nuclear weapon in our atmosphere by the U.S. took place 860-miles southwest of Hawaii above a remote, Pacific Atoll called Johnston Island. This final American above-ground nuclear test was an experiment to determine the viability of an anti-ballistic missile defense system, a project that rings oddly relevant today amid the North Korean crisis and looming threat of Kim Jong-un.
In contrast to current, precision anti-ballistic missile defense systems that use kinetic energy and direct impact combined with ultra-accurate high speed guidance systems to intercept approaching ICBMs before they reach their targets in the U.S., the tests above the Pacific 55 years ago were like using a sledgehammer. A nuclear sledgehammer.

The final U.S. warhead detonated in the atmosphere was riding on top of a Nike Hercules missile. The last launch and detonation test on November 4, 1962 was codenamed “Tightrope”. It was just one of a series of tests that were collectively codenamed “Operation Fishbowl”.

The top-secret project created a remarkable film record of high altitude nuclear detonations. It began somewhat inauspiciously in June of 1962 with a failed test, then finally yielded results with the first successful detonation in the series in July. The project continued until November 4 of that year.

The first successful test in the series was launched on a Thor missile. It created significant electromagnetic pulse syndrome (EMP) and actually knocked out electronics including streetlights and telephones over 900 miles away in Hawaii. It also damaged some satellites in orbit near the detonation.

As the lethal game of nuclear brinkmanship between the U.S. and Russia reached its nearly tragic zenith, U.S. President John F. Kennedy signed the Partial Test Ban Treaty the following year on August 5, 1963. The agreement created a new set of international regulations that effectively halted the large-scale detonation of nuclear weapons in the atmosphere.

The high-altitude nuclear tests above the Pacific may have signaled the end to one nuclear era, but their attempt to field an effective anti-ICBM defense system rings remarkably relevant today, 55 years later.

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Fiction Story: A B-2 Spirit Stealth Bomber Is Downed During An Air Strike On A North Korean Nuclear Site

A “what if” story.

Disclaimer: this story contains some “poetic licenses” to make the fictional scenario more interesting.

03:19 Hr.s Local. 35,000 feet, B-2 Spirit Stealth Bomber “Spirit of Arizona”, 15 miles west of Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center, North Korea.

The B-2 Spirit stealth bomber is nearly invisible to radar. But not bullets.

Pulling off target after a massive precision strike on the North Korean nuclear weapons development facility at Yongbyon, North Korea, B-2 Spirit number 82-1067, the “Spirit of Arizona” was leaving the target area at medium altitude and high-speed. The aircraft was configured for minimum radar and signals observability with all lights retracted and emissions restricted. Spirit of Arizona was one of three B-2’s that leveled the nuclear research facility in a massive conventional bombing raid, the largest of the New Korean War so far. While it would take a few hours to collect bomb damage assessment data the satellite images would show the raid was a complete success, with the entire research facility, storage areas and the reactors themselves being completely devastated in a hail of precision-guided 2,000 lb bombs.

Now all the crew of Spirit of Arizona had to do was get themselves and their nearly invisible, completely defenseless, two billion dollar aircraft out of the most heavily defended airspace in the world and back to Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, in CONUS (Continental US).

03:22 Hr.s Local. 37,800 feet, North Korean MiG-29 Fulcrum, 28 miles southwest of Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center, North Korea.

Sojwa (Major) Kim Si Gwok had more hours in MiG-29 Fulcrums than every other North Korean fighter pilot except for two. He did have the most time flying the Fulcrum using night vision goggles, a particular distinction considering the North Korean Air Force did not have enough night vision goggles compatible with the MiG-29 for all the aircraft they owned. That distinction put Maj. Gwok on CAP (Combat Air Patrol) in his MiG-29 tonight over the critically strategic target of Yongbyon as part of the air defense for the facility. That the American stealth bombers had already gotten through to hit the nuclear facility was a major failure for the North Koreans.

Maj. Gwok knew Yongbyon had been hit within the last few minutes, likely by cruise missiles or American stealth bombers. Gwok couldn’t do much about the cruise missiles. He read about British Spitfire pilots in WWII who had defeated the first cruise missile, the German V-1, by flying next to them and flipping them over with their wingtip. That would be impossible with the low altitude American Tomahawks. But, if there were stealth bombers in the area that he may be able to shoot down, he was going to try to find them. As a lifelong combat pilot he felt he had a sense of what the enemy’s egress route from the target might be, the shortest distance to the coast.  So that was where he went looking for the “invisible” American stealth bombers.

In March 1999 the Yugoslavians used a combination of ground based observers and expert search radar operators to shoot down an F-117 stealth fighter. It was a lucky shot, a golden BB, and it proved stealth wasn’t invulnerable. Major Gwok knew this. He knew that, other than stealth, the American batwing bombers were defenseless. If he could see one, he could shoot it down.

03:28 Hr.s Local. 35,000 feet, B-2 Spirit Stealth Bomber “Spirit of Arizona”, 41 miles west of Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center, North Korea.

Mission Commander, Capt. Bill Myers of Pensacola, Florida and Aircraft Commander, Maj. Dave Evans of Boulder, Colorado were getting constant secure updates on the air defense environment through their secure datalinks onboard Spirit of Arizona as she ran toward the coast after hitting Yongbyon. The three strike aircraft followed different egress routes in the very unlikely event an enemy aircraft or air defense crew could somehow visually acquire one of the B-2’s at night. Since the B-2 was a fast, subsonic aircraft, was relatively quiet, painted black to blend with the night sky and operated at altitudes to avoid contrails the chances of an enemy fighter pilot visually acquiring them was almost zero. But not absolute zero. Myers and Evans knew the entire North Korean air defense network would be up looking for them with everything they had. Even with the most sophisticated combat aircraft in history they still had to get out of North Korean airspace without being seen.

A KC-135 Strantotanker from the 100th Air Refueling Wing refuels a B-2 Spirit from the 509th Bomb Wing in the late hours of Jan. 18, 2017, during a mission that targeted Islamic State training camps in Libya. The B-2’s low-observability provides it greater freedom of action at high altitudes, thus increasing its range and a better field of view for the aircraft’s sensors. Its unrefueled range is approximately 6,000 nautical miles (9,600 kilometers). (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Kate Thornton)

03:29 Hr.s Local. 37,700 feet, North Korean MiG-29 Fulcrum, 47 miles southeast of Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center, North Korea.

Gwok didn’t really see the American stealth bomber as much as he saw what appeared to be a slit in the night sky. Reflected light from humid air at lower altitudes cast a low, soft glow upward from the ground below. The sky had a gently silver tinge to its black emptiness except for a small sliver of dead black below and to the left of Gwok’s MiG. Not knowing the sensor capabilities of the American stealth bomber, if that is what he saw, Gwok turned gradually to align himself with what he thought was his potential target’s heading. He gently moved the stick forward and, as his MiG closed the distance to the sliver of black the descent also added airspeed. His approach was perfect, high and behind. If he was right, this looked too easy.

03:29 Hr.s Local. 34,000 feet, B-2 Spirit Stealth Bomber “Spirit of Arizona”, 51 miles west of Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center, North Korea.

Myers and Evans knew they were in deep trouble. AWACs told them over secure, stealthy datalink  communications that there was an enemy aircraft high and behind them. There was a remote chance it could visually acquire them. There was nothing they could do except recheck the low observable settings and the make sure the throttles were firewalled so they could get out of North Korean airspace as quickly and invisibly as possible. If it wasn’t already too late.

03:30 Hr.s Local. 37,700 feet, North Korean MiG-29 Fulcrum, 49 miles southeast of Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center, North Korea.

Gwok wasn’t quite sure it was an American stealth bomber at first. Through his visor, the night vision goggles and his canopy the image was ghosted and dark. A black slit in the otherwise pixellated sky. Then two bright rectangles of green bloomed in front of him; the exhaust heat from the B-2’s four engines. Even though they are channeled and louvered to prevent a large infra-red signature from below they still pump out a lot of heat as seen from above. That heat lit up Major Gwok’s night vision goggles. His fingers flew over his console to unsafe his GSh-30-1 cannon. The instant the safety selector was slewed to “FIRE” his gloved finger clamped down on the trigger at the front of his stick. The 30 millimeter cannon tore off a succession of white-hot shells in a bright line of arcing white dots perforating the night sky. They expanded out in a wide curve and faded. Gwok jinked hard right, largely from instinct but also to avoid overrunning his target or even colliding with it. He didn’t know if he scored a hit. He pulled hard back and right on his stick, describing a tight circle to come around and see if he could spot the black stealth bomber.

As Gwok finished his tight 360-degree turn and rolled wings level he saw something trailing flame through the night sky, cartwheeling straight down toward the earth like a black, burning boomerang.

03:30 Hr.s Local. 34,400 feet, B-2 Spirit Stealth Bomber “Spirit of Arizona”, 55 miles southeast of Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center, North Korea.

Alarms lit off inside the cockpit. The nose went down and Evans tried to add power and gently pull back but there was no perceivable control response. The aircraft began to shudder, then pivot oddly beneath them. It was falling apart. The G-load increased and the aircraft entered a spin like a boomerang. Evans got one hand between his legs and into the ejection handle as he said, out loud into his mask, “EJECT, EJECT, EJECT!”. Myers never heard him. He may have been fighting the losing battle to save the aircraft, he may have been wounded, he may have been dead. He never made it to the ejector seat handles.

The B-2 spun nearly 180 degrees in the air, nosed down and began to topple like a kite freed of its broken string. The top of the flying wing’s fuselage exploded in a spit of flame as Maj. Dave Evans’ ACES II ejection seat rocketed free. It flipped end over end at first, falling through 15,000 feet until it stabilized somewhat. At 10,000 feet the barometric altimeter automatically released Evans from the seat and his parachute began to deploy. The ejection, like all escapes from a crashing airplane, was violent. The severe vertigo was made worse by the darkness. Evans lost consciousness from the centrifugal force of the seat spinning after his egress from the crashing airplane but came back into a hazy state of alertness once his parachute canopy opened and he was scooting along under it at a steady speed with the prevailing winds. He didn’t know it, but the winds were carrying him toward the west coast of North Korea.

A disadvantage to being a stealthy aircraft is that, when the aircraft goes down, it is very difficult for rescuers to know where to look for the surviving crew, if there are any. Major Dave Evan’s ejector seat was equipped with a ProFIND SLB-2000-100 locator beacon. The beacon is a part of the pilot’s survival kit packed into the seat pan of the ACES II ejector seat. It actuates automatically when the pilot separates and dangles below him as a part of the survival kit package. At 9,500 feet above the ground Evan’s locator beacon began to transmit.

03:40 Hr.s Local. 45,000 feet AGL, U.S. Air Force E-3 Sentry AWACS Aircraft, 21 miles west of North Korean coast.

Airman 1st Class Stephanie “Stuffy Stef” Monroe, an airborne sensor operator oddly prone to allergies on board an E-3 Sentry off the coast of North Korea, saw something on her monitor she had only seen in training. The flashing icon indicated an incoming emergency locator beacon from a pilot’s survival kit. She keyed her microphone to the on-board mission commander. In less than one minute half of the crew of the E-3 were shifting their workloads to a new priority; rescue one of the most sensitive assets in the U.S. military- a stealth bomber pilot.

(TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, OKLA) Airmen from the 960th Airborne Air Control Squadron monitor the skies during the E-3 Sentry 30th anniversary flight Mar. 23. The E-3 first arrived at Tinker on Mar. 23, 1977, and Airmen have been conducting the same aerial surviellance mission for the past 30 years. (Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Stacy Fowler)

This story was originally posted at Tomdemerly.com.

Salva

U.S. WC-135 aircraft will sniff for radiation near North Korea to determine what today’s explosion was

The WC-135 is going to search for fallout from the alleged North Korean test.

A U.S. Air Force WC-135 will soon be in action near the Korean peninsula, searching for fallout from the alleged North Korea’s nuclear test.

According to the Washington Post, a U.S. defense official confirmed that the WC-135 Constant Phoenix atmospheric collections aircraft will be used to determine whether the provocative nuclear detonation claimed by Pyongyang was really a hydrogen blast.

As we reported on a previous article on this aircraft, the WC-135 is a derivative of the Boeing C-135 transport and support plane. Two of these aircraft are in service today out of the ten examples operated since 1963. The aircraft are flown by flight crews from the 45th Reconnaissance Squadron from Offutt Air Force Base while mission crews are staffed by Detachment 1 from the Air Force Technical Applications Center.

The WC-135, known as the “sniffer” or “weather bird” by its crews, can carry up to 33 personnel. However, crew compliments are kept to a minimum during mission flights in order to lessen levels of radioactive exposure.

Effluent gasses are gathered by two scoops on the sides of the fuselage, which in turn trap fallout particles on filters. The mission crews have the ability to analyze the fallout residue in real-time, helping to confirm the presence of nuclear fallout and possibly determine the characteristics of the warhead involved: that’s why the aircraft is important to confirm the type of explosion of today’s test.

As a former WC-135 aircrew member explained to us in a comment to a previous article on this aircraft: “airframes have two large supplemental charcoal filter packs, as well as HEPA/ULPA filters (we called them “lungs”) for their cabin air. When the instruments indicate contact with radioactive debris, the crew will also reduce cabin airflow to just maintain pressurization, and all personnel on board will go to 100% oxygen through their masks. They will stay on 100% O2 until activity readings drop back down into the safe levels. Everybody wears a dosimeter, and those records are monitored to prevent unsafe exposure.”

Along with monitoring nuke testing, the WC-135 is used to track radioactive activity as happened after the Chernobyl nuclear plant disaster in the Soviet Union in 1986 and Fukushima incident back in 2011.

After being deployed near North Korea in anticipation of Kim Jong Un rocket launches a WC-135 was spotted transiting the UK airspace in August 2013 raising speculations it was used in Syria thanks to the ability to detect chemical substances down wind from the attack area days, or weeks after they were dispersed.

Image credit: U.S. Air Force

 

Unique photographs show U.S. F-15E carrying B61 JTA mock nuclear bombs during tests at Nellis AFB

You don’t happen to see an aircraft carrying two dummy nuclear bombs.

As we reported in July 2015, the U.S. Air Force is conducting a series of test drops, in Nevada, of the latest LEP (Life-Extention Program) upgrade to the B61 line of nuclear weapons: the B61-12.

These tests involve F-15E Strike Eagles of the 422nd Test and Evaluation Squadron, as shown in the accompanying photos taken in the early morning hours of Oct. 20 by The Aviationist’s contributor Eric Bowen.

F-15E nuke take off
As you can see the F-15E carries two bright orange B61-12 Joint Test Assemblies (JTA) as it is leaving Nellis AFB: noteworthy, the two devices are not quite identical to one another both in overall color pattern, and more interestingly, the tips of each JTA appears to be different.

As Bowen reported in an email to The Aviationist, the Strike Eagle and its unarmed chase plane returned to Nellis AFB approximately 2 hours later with only 1 of the dummy bombs still on board.

F-15E nuke landing
The Life Extension Program or LEP, will replace the B61 -3, -4, -7, and -10 mods, with the -12 that, along with the B83, will become the only remaining gravity delivered nukes in the inventory.

The LEP increases the B61’s accuracy so much that it will have the same capability against hardened targets as the much more powerful weapons it is replacing.

Image credit: Eric Bowen

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[Photo] NATO Nuclear Exercise “Steadfast Noon 2014”

Here are some images of Steadfast Noon 2014, a NATO Nuclear exercise.

With news, AIP supplements, comments all over the Internet, and photographs published on aviation websites and spotters forums across Europe, it’s not a secret that, at the end of October, Ghedi airbase, in northern Italy, hosted Steadfast Noon 2014, a yearly exercise whose aim was to train NATO units employing “special weapons” (i.e. nuclear bombs).

Tornado IDS turn

Needless to say, such exercises are routinely conducted without the aircraft carrying any bomb, since their purpose is to train the crews to load and unload nukes and to assess the participating units’ ability to safely deal with this kind of ordnance.

Turkish AF F-16 landing

In other words, Steadfast Noon exercises and Strikeval (Strike Evaluation) inspections and certifications are extremely important to ensure nuclear weapons can be properly managed should the need arise.

F-16 AV

Among the various European air arms taking part in Steadfast Noon there was also the Polish Air Force, that deployed to Ghedi its F-16 Block 52+ jets from Lask air base, in western Poland, the same airbase where U.S. F-16 are being frequently rotated.

As highlighted by the Federation of American Scientists in an article by Hans M. Kristensen, the participation of the Polish F-16s is particularly interesting since they are not believed to be assigned a nuclear strike mission under NATO nuclear policy.

F-16 RNlAF

Anyway, in this post you can find some interesting photographs depicting the Steadfast Noon participants, from Poland, Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey, and United States, taken by photographer Fabrizio Berni.

F-16 BAF

Tornado GAF

Image credit: Fabrizio Berni