Friday, April 10, 2020

You know, there hasn't been many developments of genius that terrify me in the context of world history.

The US Air Force saw no pressing need for a solid fuel ICBM. Development of the SM-65 Atlas and SM-68 Titan ICBMs was progressing, and "storable" liquids were being developed that would allow missiles to be left in a ready-to-shoot form for extended periods. Hall saw solid fuels not only as a way to improve launch times or safety, but part of a radical plan to greatly reduce the cost of ICBMs so that thousands could be built. He was aware that new computerized assembly lines would allow continual production, and that similar equipment would allow a small team to oversee operations for dozens or hundreds of missiles. A solid fuel design would be simpler to build, and easier to maintain.[11](p153)
Hall's ultimate plan was to build a number of integrated missiles "farms" that included factories, missile silos, transport and recycling. Each farm would support between 1,000 and 1,500 missiles being produced in a continuous low rate cycle. Systems in a missile would detect failures, at which point it would be removed and recycled, while a newly built missile would take its place.[11](p153) The missile design was based purely on lowest possible cost, reducing its size and complexity because "the basis of the weapon's merit was its low cost per completed mission; all other factors – accuracy, vulnerability, and reliability – were secondary."[11](p154)
Hall's plan did not go unopposed, especially by the more established names in the ICBM field. Ramo-Wooldridge pressed for a system with higher accuracy, but Hall countered that the missile's role was to attack Soviet cities, and that "a force which provides numerical superiority over the enemy will provide a much stronger deterrent than a numerically inferior force of greater accuracy."[11](p154) Hall was known for his "friction with others" and in 1958 Schriever removed him from the Minuteman project and sent him to the UK to oversee deployment of the Thor IRBM.[11](p152) On his return to the US in 1959, Hall retired from the Air Force, but received his second Legion of Merit in 1960 for his work on solid fuels.[12]
Although he was removed from the Minuteman project, Hall's work on cost reduction had already produced a new design of 71 inches (1.8 m) diameter, much smaller than the Atlas and Titan at 120 inches (3.0 m), which meant smaller and cheaper silos. Hall's goal of dramatic cost reduction was a success, although many of the other concepts of his missile farm were abandoned.[11](p154) 

Now that is fucking terrifying as far as concepts go.

The older Titan IIs themselves were pretty frakkin' terrifying when you consider the ~9 megaton payloads. We had dozens of Titan IIs kept on constant alert during the cold war, and they were pretty dangerous beasts just being kept ready.

Now a farm concept? Holy fuck is that terrifying. Perhaps with conventionally armed missile, such a complex might be a nifty defense structure. But in the context of our strategic missile programs? That kind of arsenal would almost be Sky Net scary. In retrospect, I think it seems even more terrifying a concept today than it must have been in the '50s and '60s. Fancy electronics, and shit have come a long way in the past sixty'ish years--making such automata even easier to imagine.

If I have trouble sleeping, I"m blaming Wikipedia's article on the LGM-30 Minuteman, and the late Edward Hall.

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