"Dead Hand"

Not my usual firearm post but something weapon related. Dead Hand is a nuclear control system used by the Russians as a deterrence. The system detects a combination of radioactive, seismologic, pressure and light variations to determine if a nuclear strike on Russian soil has occurred. This means that even if all of Russia’s chain of command were killed in a nuclear strike, Dead Hand would respond by launching most if not all of the Russians nuclear ICBM’s at preprogrammed targets.

Dead Hand is supposedly only activated during a potential crisis, possibly to avoid accidental launches if a Russian nuke were to explode by accident. Dead Hand is said to still be in use and receiving modern system upgrades. However, the exact nature of Dead Hand is not known. There is debate whether it is a fully autonomous system or if it does require at least 1 surviving person to issue the final launch command once all parameters have been met.


Nuclear Auroras

Pretty, huh? That’s an aurora. But it’s not like any other aurora you’ve seen.

That one was caused by a nuclear weapon detonated in space. In 1962, the U.S. military detonated several nukes about 250 miles above the Pacific in order to, well … see what would happen. The project, called Starfish Prime (which sounds like a comic book villain), disrupted the Van Allen radiation belt that surrounds Earth and sent a wave of charged particles toward Earth.

Charged particles interacting with the atmosphere are exactly what cause auroras. Only they’re not usually visible as far south as Hawaii … unless you use a nuke to make them.

 If you’d like a more peaceful look at auroras, check out this episode of It’s Okay To Be Smart on YouTube: The Auroras

A secret document, published in declassified form for the first time by the Guardian today, reveals that the US Air Force came dramatically close to detonating an atom bomb over North Carolina that would have been 260 times more powerful than the device that devastated Hiroshima.

The document, obtained by the investigative journalist Eric Schlosser under the Freedom of Information Act, gives the first conclusive evidence that the US was narrowly spared a disaster of monumental proportions when two Mark 39 hydrogen bombs were accidentally dropped over Goldsboro, North Carolina on 23 January 1961. The bombs fell to earth after a B-52 bomber broke up in mid-air, and one of the devices behaved precisely as a nuclear weapon was designed to behave in warfare: its parachute opened, its trigger mechanisms engaged, and only one low-voltage switch prevented untold carnage.

Each bomb carried a payload of 4 megatons – the equivalent of 4 million tons of TNT explosive. Had the device detonated, lethal fallout could have been deposited over Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia and as far north as New York city – putting millions of lives at risk.

Though there has been persistent speculation about how narrow the Goldsboro escape was, the US government has repeatedly publicly denied that its nuclear arsenal has ever put Americans’ lives in jeopardy through safety flaws. But in the newly-published document, a senior engineer in the Sandia national laboratories responsible for the mechanical safety of nuclear weapons concludes that “one simple, dynamo-technology, low voltage switch stood between the United States and a major catastrophe”.

Writing eight years after the accident, Parker F Jones found that the bombs that dropped over North Carolina, just three days after John F Kennedy made his inaugural address as president, were inadequate in their safety controls and that the final switch that prevented disaster could easily have been shorted by an electrical jolt, leading to a nuclear burst. “It would have been bad news – in spades,” he wrote.

Jones dryly entitled his secret report “Goldsboro Revisited or: How I learned to Mistrust the H-Bomb” – a quip on Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 satirical film about nuclear holocaust, Dr Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.

The accident happened when a B-52 bomber got into trouble, having embarked from Seymour Johnson Air Force base in Goldsboro for a routine flight along the East Coast. As it went into a tailspin, the hydrogen bombs it was carrying became separated. One fell into a field near Faro, North Carolina, its parachute draped in the branches of a tree; the other plummeted into a meadow off Big Daddy’s Road.

Jones found that of the four safety mechanisms in the Faro bomb, designed to prevent unintended detonation, three failed to operate properly. When the bomb hit the ground, a firing signal was sent to the nuclear core of the device, and it was only that final, highly vulnerable switch that averted calamity. “The MK 39 Mod 2 bomb did not possess adequate safety for the airborne alert role in the B-52,” Jones concludes.

The document was uncovered by Schlosser as part of his research into his new book on the nuclear arms race, Command and Control. Using freedom of information, he discovered that at least 700 “significant” accidents and incidents involving 1,250 nuclear weapons were recorded between 1950 and 1968 alone.

"The US government has consistently tried to withhold information from the American people in order to prevent questions being asked about our nuclear weapons policy," he said. "We were told there was no possibility of these weapons accidentally detonating, yet here’s one that very nearly did."

(by Ed Pilkington)

Today in history: August 6, 1945 – The U.S. drops a nuclear bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, the first use of nuclear weapons in war. Three days later the U.S. also uses nuclear bombs on Nagasaki, Japan.

Within the first two to four months of the bombings, the effects killed 90,000–166,000 people in Hiroshima and 60,000–80,000 in Nagasaki, with roughly half of the deaths in each city occurring on the first day. The Hiroshima health department estimated that, of the people who died on the day of the explosion, 60% died from flash or flame burns, 30% from falling debris and 10% from other causes. During the following months, large numbers died from the effect of burns, radiation sickness, and other injuries, compounded by illness. In both cities, most of the dead were civilians.

Image: Atomic bomb mushroom clouds over Hiroshima (left) and Nagasaki (right)

Via Freedom Road Socialist Organization (Fight Back!)


This is Terrifying: Why Isn’t Anyone Worried?

More from POGO on the serious failures in our nuclear weapons command.

Marshallese children swim and play amongst a junk heap on the shore of tiny Ebeye island, one of the most densely populated places on earth. Some 11-12,000 people are packed onto the 80 acre island. (Photo by Richard Ross)

The Militarized Pacific: An Anniversary Without End

By Jon Letman

March 1, the 60th anniversary of the Castle Bravo test - a nuclear detonation over a thousand times more powerful than the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima - has come and gone. Predictably, major decadal events, like a 15-megaton explosion over a Micronesian atoll, garner fleeting attention, but it’s all the days between the anniversaries that tell the real story of those who live with the impacts.

For the people of the Marshall Islands, where Enewetak, Bikini and neighboring atolls were irradiated and rendered uninhabitable by 67 nuclear tests between 1946 and 1958, the brief anniversary recognition only underscores what little attention the Marshallese and, in a broader sense, millions of peoples of the Asia-Pacific are given by the US government and public.

The Marshallese, like people across the Pacific, live with impacts of plans devised at the United States Pacific Command (USPACOM) headquarters in Hawaii. After the Pentagon, PACOM is one of the world’s most far-reaching military command centers. With a self-proclaimed “Area of Responsibility” that absorbs half the world’s population and covers roughly half the planet from the Arctic to the Antarctic, across the Indian Ocean and from Central Asia to the Central Pacific, it gives new meaning to the word “vast.”

Generally, the US public gives little, if any, thought to the impact their military has on entire societies, economies and the natural environments that sustain them - as they pursue “American interests” and “national security” under America’s self-dubbed first Pacific president.

Many Americans are aware of the US military presence in Hawaii, Okinawa, Guam and throughout Japan and South Korea. Those old enough may recall the now-closed naval base at Subic Bay in the Philippines and might have noticed President Obama’s 2011 announcement of an Asia-Pacific pivot. Part of the pivot includes the deployment of up to 2,500 Marines, along with B52 bombers, FA18s, C17 transport aircraft and other military hardware, to Northern Australia and a naval base in Western Australia.

However, places like the US-backed naval base being built on South Korea’s Jeju island and the enormous military testing and training ranges in the Northern Mariana Islands (larger than much of the western United States) receive almost no attention. Names like Pagan, Rongelap and Kwajalein are scarcely known in the country that uses these islands for its own military testing.

Nowhere are the costs of a militarized Pacific better illustrated than in the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI). The tiny Micronesian nation, located between Hawaii and Guam, has just 53,000 people. The Marshallese are a young population - the median age is just over 19 years old - yet the country is burdened with some of the highest cancer rates in the Pacific following 12 years of US nuclear tests in what was called “the Pacific Proving Grounds.”

Dr. Neal Palafox of the John Burns School of Medicine at the University of Hawaii has been working in the RMI on and off since the 1980s. Palafox says health impacts are not limited to elevated cancer rates (especially cervical, breast and liver) and birth defects, but include heart disease, diabetes, stroke, hepatitis, obesity and substance abuse that stem from the dramatic changes the country has undergone since the 1950s.

"The rapidness at which [Marshall Islanders] had to enter Westernization is a large part of the cause of the non-communicable diseases which are lifestyle and diet [related]," Palafox says, adding that increased levels and types of cancers in the Marshall Islands, based on National Cancer Institute (NCI) research and firsthand accounts by Marshallese, are the result of nuclear testing.

In a series of eight papers published in the journal Health Physics, the NCI found average thyroid radiation doses in the southern Marshall Islands ranged from 12 to 34 megarays (mGy), in the mid-latitudes from 67 to 160 mGy and in the northern inhabited atolls (closest to the nuclear tests) from 760 to 7,600 mGy. In the mainland United States, the report notes, exposure to natural radiation in the environment is 1 mGy.

The militarization that continued after World War II led to sweeping societal changes for the Marshallese as the combination of forced evacuations and relocations due to nuclear testing and the lure of jobs at the military base on Kwajalein Atoll led to rapid urbanization.

Today three-quarters of the country’s people live on just two tiny islands - the capital Majuro and Ebeye Island, part of Kwajalein Atoll, home to the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site (RTS), one of the premier missile testing facilities in the Pacific. Founded in the 1960s, RTS supports the US Space Surveillance Network, the Missile Defense Agency and AEGIS Ballistic Missile Defense testing which contributes to the land-based missile systems the US is preparing to deploy in Poland and Romania.

read more:

Nuclear Glass

"When the bomb was detonated, it left a crater of radioactive glass in the desert that was 10 feet deep and 1100 feet wide. About 240 people on the project directly watching the blast reported the early morning dawn being lit up brighter than full daylight for one to two seconds and felt a wave of heat roll over them that was “as hot as an oven”, even at a distance of 10 miles away. The shock wave took 40 seconds to propagate to the observers and was felt up to 100 miles away. The enormous mushroom cloud was 7.5 miles high. It was at this point that Bainbridge remarked to Oppenheimer, “Now we are all sons of bitches.” Oppenheimer later spoke his famous line, “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds”, a quote from the Bhagavad Gita.

That’s the hypocenter of the blast. Once the public found out about the bomb and where it was detonated (sometime during the late 40′s), they began traveling to the site and collecting the glass as souvenirs for themselves and to sell to tourists and collectors. This area was still lightly radioactive, and the government didn’t like the fact that people were carting off lots of the stuff or sniffing around their test sites. In 1953, the government bulldozed the site, burying any glass that was left and fenced off the area. A law was passed making it illegal to collect samples from the area. The only exception was that it was legal to buy and sell the glass that had already been collected and was already on the market. People began calling the collectible glass “Trinitite”.”

Original Story

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Because of the way the continents on Earth are laid out, almost all populated land mass is within range of ICBM missiles such as these. The remaining areas can easily be covered by submarine launched missiles (which have extremely long range, so simply having one sub in the Pacific and one in the Atlantic pretty much gives worldwide coverage).

For a missile aimed to its maximum possible range (pretty close to half-way around the Earth) it will take fairly close to half an hour.

Shorter ranges will take much less. The missiles travel at nearly orbital speed, around Mach 23-25, for most of their trip.


War is one of the most vicious and ugly parts of modern-day man… but goddamn it’s hard not to be absolutely taken with the idea that the United States could literally eradicate any point on the entirety of earth in the time of your average sitcom.

The military machine created by this country, if nothing else, is technologically astounding.

Hell, a modern American aircraft carrier is absolutely boggling. The average Nimitz carrier is 4.5 acres of hyperpower, packing two redundant nuclear reactors, 85 aircraft, a ship’s crew of 3,200 and an air wing of 2,480 - all working together to launch up to four aircraft a minute.

single carrier group (carrier, aircraft, and screening subs and destroyers) can fight -and win- half a war.

If we devoted a fraction of the complexity and coordination and energy that we use to fight wars into domestic initiatives, no nation on Earth could touch us.

Could you imagine what Amtrak or NASA could do with the defense budget?