THE LAST DAYS OF NORAD
WAR AND THE PEACE—3
Maclean's Ottawa editor
PETER C. NEWMAN finds that “Total war not only is still possible, but actually is becoming increasingly probable,' and that the Soviets may already have the weapon that makes our elaborate defense system an anachronism
Geograp, has made Canada, not the U. S. or the U. S. S. R., the front line of World War III. Yet most Canadians have managed to convince themselves that the uncomfortable but bearable East-West stalemate of the past fifteen years can be maintained. Both of the cold war's protagonists, according to this theory, have grown so decisively powerful, and the consequences of nuclear war have become so grotesque, that neither side would dare risk a shooting showdown.
After a recent tour of Canadian and American defense establishments and conversations in Ottawa, Washington and Colorado Springs with the frankly worried men responsible for the defense of this continent. I’ve come to the conclusion that this type of wishful reasoning bears little relevance to the facts of the current military situation. Total war not only is still possible, but actually is becoming increasingly probable.
The East-West armaments stalemate that has existed since 1945 still exists, but it's about to be broken. The new factor disturbing the world's military equilibrium — and disturbing it decisively — is the fact that Russia may be very near to mastering the antimissile missile, while the West seems almost to have given up hope of ever being able to field such a weapon.
Integrated into a nation's defense network, the antimissile missile represents a military breakthrough that could tip the balance of terror which has so far staved off a nuclear war. The nation which first possesses this weapon will be free to attack its enemies without fear of serious retaliation. Russia's acquisition of the system would cancel out the equality which now exists between communist and Western offensive missile capabilities.
The possibility that Russia may already have an antimissile missile first emerged during a speech by Soviet Defense Minister Rodion Malinovsky to the twenty-second congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in Moscow last fall. "The problem of destroying rockets in flight has been successfully solved," he flatly declared to the prolonged applause of his audience.
Western scientists are sceptical about such boasts, but they’ve satis-
fied themselves that last year's Russian rocket shots in the Pacific at least included preliminary tests to prove out laboratory work on a weapon of this type. The Americans are planning to test their own prototype Nike-Zeus—-the only antimissile missile project currently in the works— this summer. But U. S. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara has all but decided against producing the weapon, because of its many technical bugs. “No amount of money." he admitted recently, "can make possible an absolute defense of this country against the intercontinental ballistic missile."
The problem of designing an effective missile killer is the toughest yet handed to military scientists. The exact size of the warheads on Russian missiles isn't known, but American intelligence estimates the biggest of them is no larger than an office desk. That’s the dimension of the projectile — rushing out of space toward its target at a speed of twenty thousand miles per hour — that the antimissile weapon must attempt to destroy. To be of any use. the defensive system must stop nearly all incoming missiles. It must be able to distinguish between decoys, meteorites, space junk, and the real thing — all inside the five minutes of the missile’s parabolic descent.
The Americans are becoming so desperate in their search for a way to kill enemy missiles that they're looking into the possibility of skipping the stage of the antimissile missile, and concentrating instead on a counterweapon against it—a sort of antimissile antimissile. One idea that was actually considered in the Pentagon involves detonating several 100-megaton hydrogen bombs above the U. S. just before a Russian attack. This would envelop the nation in a wall of flame which might melt missiles trying to penetrate it.
Some USAF strategists class the antimissile missile as being so close to an ultimate weapon that they’ve been advocating an attack on Russia before communist scientists can perfect the weapon. Despite increasing pressures for such a "preventive war.” the idea of hitting Russia first appears to be gaining few American adherents, outside the country's rightist political movements and that minority of Air Force generals belonging to what one Washington
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After the H-bomb? Try hitting the enemy with an entire planet
wag calls the “I-won’t-hit-first-unless-youdo" school.
At the same time, efforts to achieve some kind of retaliatory power invulnerable to enemy attack have driven the military thinkers in some bizarre directions. One group of American researchers has broached the possibility of basing nuclear missiles on the moon. 1 hey would be safe there, because an earthly weapon launched at them .would take some forty-eight hours to reach the lunar installation, giving the moon-based operators plenty of time to dispatch their weapons against the attacker. Because of the moon's lighter gravitational pull, the earthbound weapons would destroy the aggressor, long before his shoot wipes out the moon-based cannoneers. That’s only a mildly fantastic idea compared with the suggestion recently made to the American Astronautical Society by Dandridge C'ole of General Electric's space vehicle development department. His plan is to explode a cluster of hydrogen bombs behind one of the asteroids orbiting between the earth and Mars, then .guide this lost planet into the Russian subcontinent. It would hit with the force of several million big H-bombs. The few stunned Russians who might survive, thinking it had all been a natural catastrophe, presumably wouldn't release any retaliatory bombs against us.
If this kind of lunacy sounds improbable, consider the bomber-satellites already on military drawing boards. American and Russian scientists have discovered that a satellite 22,300 miles up travels at the same speed as the earth spins on its axis. This means that the satellite in effect remains suspended Over any lixed position on the earth’s surface. It's technically feasible to have, say, two dozen H-bombs, mounted on satellites, hovering permanently over an enemy's twenty-four main population centres. Although one American satellite is currently suspended in just such an orbit, the space station as a weapon remains at least three years away.
Space projects are making most of the headlines, but the changing characteristics of existing weapon systems are equally dramatic. The H-bombs, now' rated as effective weapons for any future world war, are no longer merely killers of cities; they’re destroyers of nations. The biggest of them — the sixty-megaton mammoth tested by the Russians last fall — had a destructive force equivalent to a Hiroshima-sized explosion repeated over a different city every day for seven years.
If that’s a startling statistic, consider the speed of the intercontinental ballistic missiles already mounted on Russian and American launching pads. If one of these brutes were fired at Montreal from southwestern Russia, it would hit exactly thirty
minutes later. In terms of time-zone differences, this means it would actually arrive over Dominion Square just six and a half hours earlier than it left the launching platform.
Despite weapons of such outrageous potential, the West is prepared to fight a nuclear war. Our strategy is based, as it has been for the last decade, on the theory of deterrence, which guarantees that an aggressor's attack will trigger off an immediate and devastating counterattack.
The main burglar alarm to provide the warning necessary to make this policy work is the North American Air Defense Command — the most expensive force in military history ever committed solely to a defense function. All the wizardry anti ingenuity of modern electronics have gone into the marvel of science that constitutes NORAD’s air warning net. About two hundred thousand people (approximately fifteen thousand of them Canadians) are involved in manning the detection and defense system which covers nearly eleven million square miles of air space. Its territory stretches from the polar ice cap to the Mexican border and well out to sea off the Atlantic and Pacific sea coasts.
The most tangible evidence of the high priority still being given NORAD in western military planning is the fact that $66 million is currently being spent to turn NORAD’s Combat Operations Centre in Colorado Springs into the free world’s most impregnable defense installation. The centre, from which the defense of North America would be directed, is moving from its present windowless brick building into the bowels of nearby Cheyenne Mountain, where the equivalent of a three-story building is being scooped out of rock to bury the operation under some 1,400 feet of granite. NORAD officials claim that only a direct hit by an H-bomb would seriously reduce the new centre’s effectiveness.
NORAD’s most significant scientific success has been its Ballistic Missile Early Warning System (BMEWS) which can spot an ICBM rising over the horizon three thousand miles away in an eighth of a second. The first of these radar installations. 600 miles north of the Arctic Circle at Thule. Greenland, came into operation on October 1, I960. Another has since started up at Clear, Alaska, and a third is being built at Fylingdales Moor, in Yorkshire, England. Among them, these radar antennas—each the size of a football field tipped on its side—will detect missiles launched from the Eurasian land mass. They operate by releasing twin fans of radar energy at different elevations. The lowerlevel fan can detect an object the moment it rises above the horizon, while the upper fan gives details for the calculation of the missile’s trajectory. An electronic computer instantly flashes this calculation to NORAD headquarters at Colorado Springs, giving the missile’s probable destination and time of impact. NORAD then passes on the warning to Strategic Air Command headquarters at Omaha. Nebraska. From there the retaliatory planes can be ordered into the air to avoid being knocked out on the ground. The BMEWS system will he able to provide about fifteen minutes of warning. The time from radar intercept of an ICBM to display of this information in NORAD headquarters is measured in seconds, enabling the SAC force to get airborne before missiles would reach North American targets.
In due course, the BMEWS system will be complemented by the Missile Defense Alarm System (MIDAS) which will consist of satellites circling the earth carrying instruments so sensitive that they'll be able to detect the heat radiation from the exhausts of fired ballistic missiles, thus doubling NORAD’s warning period.
NORAD also recently began operating a Space Detection and Tracking System to catalogue the projectiles being shot into space, so that any newcomers can immediately he reported to the NORAD Operations Centre. This system is based on a chain of high-altitude radar units which keep track of the satellites; they’re so sensitive that they can follow the path of an object the size of a grapefruit, twentyfwe thousand miles up, and predict when it’ll drop out of orbit. As well as the two Russian and thirty-four U. S. satellites currently circling the earth, more than one hundred and twenty pieces of space junk (mostly pieces of booster rockets) are floating in orbit. Within the next three years,
the number of pieces of junk in orbit will be in the thousands, creating considerable difficulties for a radar set trying to pick out new objects that might be incoming enemy missiles.
Despite these and other efforts to transfer NORAD into the space age, most of the Command’s facilities are designed to meet the threat of the manned bomber. The nearly four hundred radar stations of the DEW Line, mid-Canada Line, and the gap-filling units spread over this continent, ceaselessly scan the skies for enemy aircraft. Every commercial plane that approaches North America or flics over certain zones comes under NORAD scrutiny, and in some areas, if the plane is as little as ten miles off its previously filed flight plan, a NORAD fighter may be scrambled to identify it visually.
These fighters are part of NORAD's defense wall of 2,200 interceptors (including five squadrons of the RCAE’s recently acquired Voodoos) whose mission it is to attack incoming Sovj^J^bombers. They're complemented by a family of relatively short-range Nike missile installations which now ring most of the major cities in the U. S. An integrated and essential part of this defense system are seven Bomarc bases, including the two Canadian ones at North Bay, Ont., and La Macaza, Que., which have stirred up the sharpest defense controversy in Canada since the conscription crisis of the Second World War.
If you promise not to quote them, the
most likely to occur over Canada. It can be expected that the Russians will have armed their nuclear bombs with "dead-man fuses” — gadgets that automatically detonate the bombs at preset altitudes — whether or not the bomber's flight crew is still alive. A Russian attack intercepted by Bomarcs armed only with high explosives would rain the fused nuclear weapons (in the bomb bays of the downed enemy aircraft) on Canada, spreading clouds of fallout as they burst.
But Bomarcs carrying atomic warheads would be able to "cook" the incoming bombers and their nuclear loads without setting off the bombs. Instead of the massive devastation caused by the fused bombs, the territory below (he air battle would only be subjected to the relatively minor nuclear explosion of the Bomarc warhead. (In one test, five USAF officers stood directly under a Bomarc-size weapon, detonated at 15.000 feet, without suffering am ill effects.)
Although most of NORAD's planning remains tied to a bomber war which appears increasingly unlikely. NORAD officers insist that defense against bombers can't be considered obsolete as long as enemy bombers exist. It's a decided asset for the Russians to maintain their bombers as a "threat-in-being" (much like Hitler's battleships in World War II) to keep a great portion of the North American military capability occupied in guarding against them, instead of being deployed into more productive military occupations. The Russians have a fleet of about one thousand intercontinental bombers capable of raining nuclear weapons on North America with a destructive energy equivalent to hundreds of millions of tons of TNT. At last summer's Tushino air display near Moscow, two new types of bombers (nicknamed the Beauty and the Bounder by U. S. intelligence) were demonstrated for the first time. The Americans admit they have no aircraft in their stable to match them. (All of the present operational USAF bombers are based on 1954 designs.)
Condition “big noise”
Despite such differences in capability, most intelligence estimates agree that the air fleet of the Strategic Air Command outnumbers the Russian bomber flotilla by at least a third. One eighth of the SAC bomber force is maintained constantly in the air (many of them over Canada) to give the West a relatively impregnable retaliatory force, even if every other military installation we have is caught by a surprise attack. Fach plane stays aloft for a full day (with the aid of refueling from tanker planes), remaining within striking range of its pre-assigned Russian target for twentyone hours. Other SAC aircraft are maintained on what's called a "ground alert." which means they sit cocked on special runways, set to be airborne in less than fifteen minutes.
SAC generals at the Pentagon are currently battling the U. S. defense department for permission to add one final aircraft to their arsenal. This is the B-70 Valkyrie, a sort of manned missile which could travel at thirty-three miles per minute with bomb bays large enough to carry four of the Polaris missiles, originally designed for submarines. The 250-ton monster's six jet engines would kick out twice the thrust of the Redstone rocket that shot astronaut Alan Shepard into space. Although three prototypes of the B-70 are being built. U. S. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara has said that it appears "neither necessary nor desirable" to commit the $10 billion which would be required to put the weapon into production.
The B-7 0 anù other new weapons being tested may strengthen the U. S. offensive
arsenal, but the pace of war has been accelerated beyond the potential of mere machines. To make certain that vital decisions are not based on electronic gadgets alone. NORAD recently set up a major intelligence scrutiny operation to complement its radar warnings. NORAD intelligence officers comb U. S. and Canadian intelligence reports for signs of stepped-up communist preparedness. Waging war has become such a massive undertaking that NORAD intelligence experts believe its final preparations couldn't escape their observation. Some twenty major indicators are tabulated daily including such obvious symptoms as large-scale movements of fuel and political disputes in the communist satellites. NORAD intelligence officers even plot reports on Nikita Khrushchov's health, because they’re convinced he would be more liable to take military risks during a period of physical decline.
Incidentally, there's a fascinating difference of opinion about whether or not the prime target of a nuclear strike should be the'enemy's political leaders. One school of thought argues that governments, not people, wage war and that if politicians realize they'll he the first to sulfer the consequences of their decision, they'll be more reluctant to order an attack. Opponents of this theory maintain that neither side should try to destroy the other’s capital and government, since some kind of authority must survive to negotiate peace or surrender.
The extent to which the NORAD mechanism allows Canada to have a significant voice in making military decisions has become a matter of heated debate both in the U. S. and Canada. "The speed at which the defense system must react simply isn't compatible with time-consuming consultation." one high - ranking NORAD official admits. “Besides, you can't effectively defend a continent and still treat its political components as independent entities."
If NORAD ever goes on a war footing, there are provisions for consultation with Ottawa, but it's more a procedure of checks and concurrences than a question of give and take. The operative phrase that would be flashed to the Canadian Prime Minister from the NORAD commander goes something like this: “Unless you inform me otherwise. I am declaring condition nil. NOISI” (the NORAD code word for a wartime alert). Our prime minister would then have the opportunity to concur in the decision. What would happen if he refused remains an open question.
Canadian influence in NORAD is exercised most effectively by the fact that its deputy commander-in-chief is Air Marshal Roy Slemon. the tough, neatly mustached veteran of Arctic flying who went to the job after four and a half years as chief of the air staff in Ottawa. The only officer still on active duty who was a member of the RCAF when it was formed in 1924. Slemon is one of the ablest military men this country has ever produced. During the frequent absences from Colorado Springs of Laurence Kuter. (he four-star USAF general who commands NORAD. Slemon takes charge of the whole system. An officer who has worked with Slemon claims that Canadian-American differences of opinion don't rouse nearly the trouble caused by interservice rivalry among NORAD’s U. S. forces.
NORAD will no doubt continue to be embroiled in public and private squabbles. But however much Canadians may disagree with the structure of the organization. it's difficult to argue with its basic purpose, as expressed in the unofficial NORAD motto: "We must build the best air defense that seems possible, nuit ht work — not fail to build it might not.”