Table of Contents  Last Chapter  Next Chapter  Home Page
 Chapter 10

Striking First

It was an intelligence day at JCS, which meant that Naval Intelligence, Army Intelligence, and Air Intelligence had all sent their senior people to meet with the four Joint Chiefs. Only the marines had no intelligence.

Although there was quite a mob crammed into the smallish room, Mrs. Suggs thought that there was hardly a genuine intelligence officer among them. The services shared a dislike of professionally trained intelligence analysts, believing that only line officers could understand the needs of their respective services. They therefore tended to "convert" infantrymen, submariners, and pilots into intelligence officers, simply by having them take a copule of courses and appointing them to positions that had the right names.

The subject on this day was the long-range strike force of the Soviet air force, the VVS. It was built around two giant bombers, not quite as big as SAC's B-36s and B-52s, but still weighing about 350,000 pounds in loaded condition. The Myasishchev Mya-4 was a swept-wing ship about 150 feet long with four jets in the wing roots. It had a maximum speed of 560 mph, a range of some 6800 miles, and a defensive armament of ten 23mm cannon. It could carry 22000 pounds of bombs, which accommodated two or more nukes. The other big bomber, the Tupolev Tu-20, was about the same size, but had four turbo-props instead of pure jets. It was a little slower, and had lighter defensive armament, but it could carry a somewhat heavier bomb load a thousand miles farther. The air force briefing officer pointed out,

"Both types have the range to get to us, bomb, and maybe get back. That would depend on aerial refuelling by tankers over the Gulf of Alaska or off Newfoundland. Each individual aircraft would have the capability of dropping at least a megaton, probably much more, on each of several cities or other soft targets."

There were plans to put inter-continental ballistic missiles, when they were developed, into hardened silos. However, for some time to come, all American targets would be soft.

The consensus of the intelligence officers was that the VVS strike force would amount to about four hundred aircraft at the end of the year. They would thus be capable of destroying about a thousand targets, and, since there were only just over two hundred prime targets on a first strike, the theoretical overkill would be in the range of five to one or so. The CNO, Admiral Burke, addressed the briefing officer,

"Suppose we have four hundred aircraft coming over the DEW line at us tomorrow. That is, with good weather and short nights. How many of them can we knock down before they get to us?"

"Once they violate Canadian air space in a massive way, we'll have some four hours to shoot them down before they get to key targets. What happens in those four hours depends on a lot of things, but here's what we've got to put up against them."

The hottest American fighters were the F-100 Super Sabre and the F-102 Delta Dagger. They were both supersonic for short stretches, cruised in the high sub-sonic range, and could be re-fuelled in the air. They were armed with cannon and short range air-to-air missiles, and there were about eight hundred of each.

It was an open question how many of these fighters should be assigned to the squadrons in Europe, and how many should be given to the North American Air Defense Command. While this was, in theory, an air force decision, it was so obviously tied into grand strategy that Admiral Radford, at the least, could legitimately concern himself with it.

The facts having been laid out, the politics began. It was the axiom of all military intelligence officers that the threat must be exaggerated and the resources to meet it minimized. One could thus claim the need for more resources before the battle, and also claim a greater victory afterwards. That was one reason that the "purely analytical" intelligence officer was universally distrusted. He might not understand the necessities of shifting the data and the evidence, preferably without even being conscious of what he was doing.

Since the odds could be made as much as four to one, it looked, at first sight, like a potential turkey shoot. If, say, sixteen hundred supersonic fighters fell on an unescorted formation of four hundred sub-sonic bombers, the fighters would shoot down bombers quickly with light loss to themselves. As a navy man put it,

"People say that, whatever you do, some attackers will slip through. But this would be like the attack of the American torpedo bombers at Midway. Once half are shot down, the fighters gang up on the rest. So there's no way any can get through."

The conclusion, never quite stated, was that the air force already had the resources to deal with the problem, and that they needn't ask for any more at the navy's expense. The reply came from General Twining himself.

"That's under ideal conditions. If they attack at night in bad weather, as they surely will, our top-line fighters will be ineffective. We'll be forced back on our very limited fleet of all-weather radar fighters. They're obsolescent and they'll have only a moderate speed advantage over the attacking bombers. They certainly can't be relied on to defend the country."

Other cases were then discussed. Any time from March to September, a VVS strike force could be intercepted, still in daylight, in the region of the North Pole by fighters staged through Thule in northern Greenland. But that would mean an interception over international waters, and that would be a political decision. Before any attempt was made to resolve that question, it turned out that even the army wanted a finger in the pie. It had its Redstone missile, and General Maxwell Taylor suggested that, in the last resort, it could be used with a nuclear tip in an anti-aircraft role. As he said

"A nuclear air-blast at forty thousand feet ought to blow any formation that slips through the cordon out of the sky."

That introduced a good many new imponderables into the discussion, which may have been General Taylor's intention.

As the discussion repeatedly broke down and swirled, Mrs. Suggs, able to take it all down with half her mind while using the other half to think, knew that something was missing. It had been her experience that, whatever went on in JCS meetings, the Great Missing Voice, that of General Curtis LeMay, would, sooner or later, be heard. She didn't think that the general would himself appear and announce, say, an attack at 0500 hours. Rather, his point of view would be expressed by someone else. General LeMay might well not be mentioned by name, but that wouldn't fool anyone. Whatever might be said, it would have the practical net effect of ending the meeting.

Mrs. Suggs' expectation was fulfilled, not by General Twining, but by Admiral Radford. He said,

"As an aviator, I understand the difficulties in co- ordinating an attack by a large number of fighters of different characteristics on a bomber stream that might be spread considerably, both horizontally and vertically. And, of course, it would be much harder at night or in bad weather."

The admiral paused, as if to see if anyone doubted him. No one did. Everyone could imagine the process of staging fighters to the northern bases and making arrangements for refuelling. It was only too easy to imagine things going disastrously wrong on a winter night in the middle of an Arctic snow storm. The admiral continued,

"We'll have a chance only if we know exactly when the strike is coming, and we'll be in a secure position only if we can force them to attack in daylight."

The disagreements and controversies seemed suddenly to have disappeared. Nothing that had been said disputed that conclusion. Admiral Radford then smiled and said,

"I suppose we shouldn't discuss this matter any further."

As the meeting broke up, Mrs. Suggs wondered if any of the intelligence officers were too dull to get it. There was only one way to know when the VVS strike was coming, and to make it come in daylight. That was to attack the Soviet Union at dawn with all of SAC. The American fighters would then be waiting, in good visibility at a comfortable altitude, for the return strike (if it got off the ground at all). But this was too public a place to discuss what had been quaintly termed "a Pearl Harbor in reverse."

Tom Williams couldn't keep away from Complab for very long, and, when he returned the next afternoon, he began by consulting Sid. When asked what was happening, she replied only

"Our minister once told me that he thought all the heresies and the religious splits in history have grown out of dislike between individuals. Rather than just cursing each other, they'll find some issue on which they can take opposite sides. Sometimes, it seems as if they're virtually willing to cooperate to find the best, deepest, and longest-lasting such issue."

Tom hadn't guessed that Sid had conversations with ministers, but, when he asked what that had to do with Complab, she would reply only,

"You'll see in the meeting today. Sam's taking it personally that Goldstein insulted Jacky."

That was all Tom could get out of Sid.

The meeting was a joint one between Complab and Goldstein's group, presided over by General Edwards. It had been scheduled long before the ruckus, and its overt purpose was to discuss the present state of the Red v. Blue model.

There were really many models within the model. One dealt with the situation as it was expected to be at the end of the year. Others attempted to predict what would happen in a nuclear exchange five years, ten years, and fifteen years into the future. Particularly in the case of the more distant projections, there were alternative sets of assumptions that could be chosen. The differences between the models sometimes amounted simply to the substitution of different parameters, but, more often, there were basic structural differences which required the substitution of whole blocks of machine code.

The model had been run hundreds of times in its different variations, and the meeting opened with a discussion between two statisticians on the significance of the results. Tom was weak in statistics and understood relatively little. One disputant claimed that, in the most likely scenarios, enough Red bombers would get through to utterly destroy most Blue cities. The only open questions seemed to be how many times Washington would be 'killed' and whether cities like Peoria, Illinois would be hit. Before the other man could reply, Sam Harris broke rather abruptly into the discussion to state what amounted to Complab's position.

"Our view is that, if Blue is attacked, it will retain a small defense capability, but be devastated to such a degree that there'll be no economy worth mentioning, and no organization with which to resist famine and plague."

No one had ever heard Sam talk that way before. As a general thing, he had been happy to have Complab run programs without making any attempt to interpret the results. But he was now staking out new ground, and seemed to be saying that computer people, at least computer people like those at Complab, had a special aptitude for conducting simulations and interpreting the results. It wasn't, he implied, something that was to be left entirely to Goldstein and his ilk.

It was thought to be Goldstein's position, and the position of his group, that Blue could come through a Red first strike with enough left to retaliate decisively and end up as the only super-power. Tom suddenly realized what Sid had been talking about. If Complab wanted to fight with Goldstein and his group, it had to take the opposite position. And, of course, the various results of the simulation could be interpreted in different ways. They could, in fact, be made out to support almost any position. Tom caught Sid's eye at that moment, and she made a little face at him.

Goldstein, in response, looked as if he sensed a trap. He said only,

"We haven't written our report yet. When we do, I'm sure it won't be as simple as that."

He used the word 'simple' rather than 'simple-minded,' but no one who knew him could doubt what he meant.

Bruce spoke next. He referred to some results RAND had arrived at concerning radioactivity, the upshot being that it was worse than most people thought. Bruce was thus on the same side as Sam, but Tom was sure that his motivation was quite different. One element in it was surely that Bruce didn't want millions of people to be killed. If the DRI conclusion was that Blue couldn't survive, then Blue politicians, so advised, might be less likely to do things that would provoke Red. But, even with that end in mind, it was unlikely that Bruce would fake results, or knowingly interpret them falsely.

Then, all of a sudden, Bruce referred to a point Jacky had made concerning the program itself. It was a fairly technical point, and quite a brilliant one, obviously beyond Jacky's capabilities. Tom supposed that, after it had occurred to Bruce, he had opened a discussion with Jacky in which he clouded the issue of whose point it was. Bruce might even have managed to convince himself of Jacky's partial authorship. Anyhow, the upshot was that there might be a serious under-estimation of Blue damage. That, of course, could throw all the results off.

Most of those present probably didn't understand what Bruce was talking about, and things got rather confused for a bit. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, someone said brightly,

"Hey, we outta take a look at those payoff values if we assume a Blue first strike."

The payoff value was a very simple algorithm, the number of Blue dead subtracted from the number of Red dead. After a moment, Goldstein replied,

"We do have a version of the model in which there's a Blue first strike. But it's still under development."

No one seemed to have much else to say. General Edwards thanked everyone for attending, and for their valuable contributions to the discussion. But he was a rather wise old bird, and he didn't seem to be under any illusions about the growing bad feeling.

Tom managed to time things so that no one actually saw him leave the building with Goldstein. Ellie had to work late, so they went to a place in Bethesda rather than Chevy Chase. When they were settled down with their drinks. Goldstein said,

"I don't want to give all my arguments publicly until I have a lot more evidence, but old Sam, dumb as he is, almost stumbled on something. It's not the number of people killed that matters, but the degree of organization that survives. That includes economic organization, but also political organization, without which trade and industry is impossible."

"Well, if Washington gets wiped out, as it surely will, that takes care of the government. If all the major cities go, that accounts for most of the industrial base and totally disrupts the transportation network."

"You're forgetting some of our major assets. One is that, unlike most countries, our state governments are large and competent. In a Red first strike, Detroit goes, but probably not Lansing, Michigan. Michigan has a dozen cities with respectable productive capabilities, and the roads and railroads are mostly untouched. So is, say, two thirds of the population. Your university at Ann Arbor may well come through, with all its faculty and resources, and so will most of the others. The state government is capable of governing and re-routing things around Detroit. The farmers won't stop farming, and the truck drivers will soon discover which routes are passable."

"The prevailing winds at Ann Arbor are from the west, so I suppose most of the radioactivity from Detroit will be blown away from us into Ontario. But it still won't be much fun to be a graduate student there under those circumstances."

"Not much fun, probably, but you'll carry on. So will upwards of a hundred million other Americans. It's only the stretch from Boston to Washington that'd be totally devastated. That's what I get from the model so far. We'll be left after the exchange with more than enough military power to lay down the law to the rest of the world. In fact, we'd have relatively more power than we do now."

"But it won't do you much good to be a citizen of the top nation if you're wiped out in Washington."

"Well, that's assuming a Red first strike. In the case of a Blue first strike, we Washingtonians ought to do quite nicely."

Tom wondered why he hadn't earlier realized that Goldstein believed that he could save his own life only by getting Blue to strike first.

Table of Contents  Last Chapter  Next Chapter  Home Page