Category: rockets

Wild speculation rides again!

Here’s a translation of the Israeli Defence Forces’ new strategic concept, from the Belfer Centre at Kennedy School of Government. From the section on “Characteristics of the Operating Environment”:

Increased threat of fire on the home front (volume, pace, accuracy,
size of the payload, survivability) and an attempt to create a strategic threat against national weak spots and the national economy. This is in addition to an ongoing endeavor by the enemy to assure the survival of its firepower through decentralization, camouflage, protection and the use of the civilian environment to provide it with a bargaining chip and “victory photographs.”

This July 2014 TYR Flashback refers.

Watch an actual Hamas rocket launch, with #combatgazebo

So an Indian TV crew managed to film a Hamas rocket team doing their thing.

First of all, wow. That’s the use of the gazebo in urban warfare, right there. More seriously, I reckon the launch site is in dead ground from two or three sides, covered from view by the buildings and trees, unless you were directly overhead. Obviously the fourth side is the direction in which they are going to fire.

Second, the camera pans very fast over the launch site after the gazebo is removed, but you’ll notice that the rocket seems to be camouflaged even after that, right up to the instant of launch. This might be a constraint on range, as the launch is at a low angle (watch the smoke). This frame shows something sticking up under a bush dragged into place as concealment, but it’s steeper than the launch. Whatever it is, it’s about 2m long.

Third, the bloke at 02.39 probably doesn’t have to run very often, and isn’t going hungry in a society under siege either. I think this is a data point for the ideas that production and deployment are closely integrated that Hamas has successfully mobilised Gaza’s craftsmen.

Fourth, the camouflage was worth doing because the set-up was finished by 0630 local time, and the launch is (per TV) at 0750. And clearly, the notion of “launching pads” is silly. Anywhere with an open view to the north and some cover will do.

Fifth, the package editing doesn’t let us know how long the set-up took, but the gazebo – the COMBAT GAZEBO! – was put up overnight.

Wild speculation on a highly controversial subject

I started planning this post asking why Palestinian rockets seemed to be steadily increasing in range, but not improving in accuracy. Although nobody publishes circular-error probable figures for these things, various indicators suggested that they were still essentially random weapons. For example, there were no or few reports of them hitting valuable infrastructure or politically symbolic targets. We’ve covered this in the past here and here.

However, things have changed with the continued disruption of Ben-Gurion International Airport, and this post will now discuss to what extent this is a big strategic change, how we would know, and what that implies. As of this morning, although some airlines resumed operating, flights were being cancelled again, aircraft were going-around, and others holding for extended periods of time. As the FR24 coverage shows, very few flights are moving, although the official NOTAM information to pilots (uses a POST, search for LLBG) doesn’t mention it.

So, rockets. Why do they fire them? Unlike artillery, a rocket’s propulsion is applied in the rocket itself, so there is no need to make a barrel that is long enough for the propellant’s energy to be transferred to the projectile, of thick enough steel to contain it, and stiff enough to be pointed accurately, while being mounted in such a way as to be pointed in any direction and to stay that way despite the recoil. That sounds difficult and it is. Rockets don’t need any of that stuff, being as William Congreve said, “the soule of artillery without the body”. So we have a light, hence mobile, cheap, hence common, and simple, hence available way to hurl explosive at one’s enemies no matter how high the wall they put up around you. Because everything is less constrained, absent an active guidance system, they trade off accuracy for this.

You could imagine that this is the physical expression of a sort of generalised venting of rage – randomly tossing ineffective bangs over the wall. But you’d be wrong both in the sense that it trivialises the rocketry’s effect on Israelis, and that it denies Palestinians’ agency and competence.

It’s too easy to point to the fact that they very, very rarely kill anyone and argue that in fact they are a bit puny and the Israelis should just man up and show some stiff upper lip rather than calling in artillery on the nearest school for the disabled. I have myself given in to the temptation before. The point isn’t destruction so much as suppression, the effect created by the fact of being under fire. And what they want to suppress is essentially the Israeli economy.

Remember that GDP is a flow concept – loaves out of a bakery, cars off a production line – not a stock concept like Scrooge McDuck’s treasure. Israeli GDP in 2013 was $286.8bn at purchasing power parity. We can usefully think of this as $32.6 million GDP per hour. While an air warning RED is in force, it is a good guess that economic activity is basically zero. Not quite, of course, the electricity is on, the phone network is up, and the government sector is more than busy. But as a rule, if you’re in an air raid shelter you’re not at work or doing much else than worrying. The Iron Dome close-in weapons system is a major commitment of complicated technology, a diversion of social resources, so the cost of air defence has to be offset against that. And the warning system, which MIT’s Ted Postol credits with protecting the population much more than Iron Dome, does so at the cost of putting more people under warning for longer.

So, you can see why they would go for range first. During this wave of conflict, the percentage of Israeli territory under warning has been as high as 75%, or $24.6m of foregone GDP per hour. A tiny commitment of additional materials per rocket provides a much bigger effect. Also, range requires “bigger” but not “better”, at least until the structural integrity constraints of the rocket are reached. A rocket is a container of propellant, so increasing its volume doesn’t require a proportionately greater quantity of materials. Another important reason to go bigger first is that it makes it possible to launch from anywhere in the Gaza Strip.

Increasing its accuracy, though, requires the rocket maker to incorporate new skills from the civilian labour market. Electronics would be an obvious one, but let’s not run before we can walk. “Accuracy” is a more macho way of saying “quality control”. There’s even a classic book about this in the context of US nuclear missiles, and the far-reaching effects it had on the politics of the workplace.

We’ve been talking about suppression, and this may sound like the opposite of accuracy. But if you want to suppress the economy, it’s obvious that some bits of it are much more important than others, which requires accuracy. Also, as the rockets have to get past the Iron Dome system, it’s important both that the ones that do get past aren’t wasted, and that they can be concentrated in order to flood one particular radar or fire unit’s sector.

In the Gazan context, the question might be “how much of the work needs a real craftsman, and how much can be done by an underemployed 19-year old who may also be the one to fire it?”, followed by “which of those two is more likely to vote Hamas?” Siege is a fundamentally economic form of warfare; the Israelis are besieging Gaza, and the Gazans are trying to impose a counter-siege (John Kerry wasn’t entirely wrong). As always, it requires the political mobilisation of the skilled on both sides.

The Israelis reckon that the production is organised in craft workshops, about 70 of them, with about 250 employees, i.e about four employees per business. If you assume that each shop is run by a craftsman, this is quite a skill-dense process. That said, this 2009 Der Spiegel piece by a reporter who actually witnessed rocket manufacturing seems to suggest a more informal process, more closely linked to the launch team, although it also identifies that an apprenticeship career path exists or existed. Now that’s interesting!

So, is this airport disruption going to go on? Well, here’s some actual data from that fount of truth, the IDF Official Spokesperson’s twitter feed:

You can argue whether the Spokes’ is trying to play up how effective Iron Dome is, trying to play up how bad the rocketing is, or what, but focus on the blue bits. They’re important. Those represent the Israelis’ count of rockets that didn’t go off properly, dropped short, blew up, went off somewhere weird etc. That’s a direct observation of Palestinian industrial quality control, and it seems to have improved quite a bit since last time. Which fits entirely with them pitching onto the airfield at Ben-Gurion.

If you were a optimist you might say “Yay! Here comes mutual deterrence, and with it, peace! It’s the war to end wars…hmm, could be a good slogan that?” You could even point to the fact that Israel and Hezbollah aren’t fighting much since Hezbollah got the range of the Haifa container terminal and the Israeli air force showed they were just as thug as ever. But I suspect you’d be wrong.

Here’s the point on the Israeli side. Palestinian rocket range and the vote for the Israeli extreme-right are strongly correlated; each ward to come under threat reports an increase of between 2 and 6 percentage points in the extreme-right vote (being the 95% confidence intervals). Here’s the point on the Palestinian side, in the Onion‘s inimitable style.

“When I think about it, I guess I’d go so far as to say that I don’t completely enjoy how this is being done entirely without my consent. And I’m not crazy about the fact that Hamas is actually okay with me dying as long as it fuels both resentment toward Israel and support for the party. If I’m being honest, I don’t like that part at all. But then, sometimes I put myself in Hamas’ shoes, and I guess I sort of appreciate where they’re coming from, so it’s tough. Of course, my kids hate it—they’ve actually told me that a couple of times. Oh, well, I guess I’ll give it a couple more weeks and see how I feel about it then.”

At press time, sources confirmed an inbound missile was about to solidify thousands of Palestinians’ opinions on the tactic..

But as I say, the fact of better quality control is itself evidence of successful mobilisation into parts of society other parties don’t reach. The ideological content required to mobilise the people needed, on both sides, is only weakly associated with the technology that requires the mobilisation, but once it is used, it will have its own political consequences.

Billions for rockets, not one cent for ground-based checkout

So, Boris Chertok‘s Rockets and People. This is a really amazing book, if you can find the time for it, as it weighs in at four volumes of 800 pages each and the NASA PDFs are a bit wank on the Kindle.

Chertok started out as an electrician at basically the first ever Soviet aircraft factory, which became their equivalent of Farnborough, and ended up building the control systems for essentially all OKB-1 and its successor organisations’ spacecraft. That’s a nugget, but it expands to several really interesting themes.

First up, thinking of Erik Lund, there’s the problem of control. Chertok got involved trying to fix bomb-release circuits and various radio systems in the 1930s, and became a controls/cybernetics engineer without really knowing it because the specialisation didn’t exist yet and everyone was making it up as they went, as well as cribbing shamelessly off the MIT Radar Handbook and the people from the Admiralty Shipyard, Leningrad, who did naval fire-control and were shamelessly cribbing off the Brits, to say nothing of cribbing hugely off the Germans.

Starting from there, they went on to do things like infrared horizon sensing, strapdown gyroscopes, flywheel control actuators, and eventually, digital computers. There was a Soviet school of thought about control theory that disagreed with everyone else, but seems to have been superseded by the ideas from MIT, and Chertok (who was a winner in this) implies that this was actually Lysenko-esque quackery that got as far as it did because he and so many of his colleagues were Jewish.

Another big, and Lund-inflected, theme was the social status of the engineer. Chertok came up from the shopfloor and later got a degree from night school, but it was during his career that the engineer was eventually defined as being a university-educated professional rather than a craftsman who qualified via an apprenticeship.

This had interesting consequences – the rocket-engine designer Isavey, a classic working-class autodidact, tried very hard to avoid getting his Doctor of Technical Sciences because he didn’t believe in engineering as an academic discipline rather than a trade. That said, later on he refused to be put forward for election to the Academy of Sciences for fear of the shame of being blackballed, which sounds like he was a raging case of impostor syndrome.

Similarly, the clashing personalities and styles of men like Korolev and Glushko had a lot to do with class in a society that denied it existed.

Something related was the role of the workers on the line. Again and again and again, OKB-1 ended up struggling to work out whether this or that subsystem needed to be fundamentally redesigned or whether in fact it had been defective from the factory gate. Terrible quality control dogged everything they did. In fact, you could make a case that quality control contributed much more to Apollo than computers ever did.

Because the Soviet space programme originated in the State Commission for Armaments’ artillery procurement system, the factories that produced rocket subassemblies were usually ones from the artillery or automotive industries and they struggled with the aerospace imperatives of precision, lightness above all, fanatical quality, and rapid turn-around of change requirements.

Chertok notes that they required production drawings so detailed as to permit them to run the line without ever consulting the development engineers, something which was simply impossible given the rate at which the technology was changing.

By contrast to the deskilled, high Taylorite plants OKB-1 had to use, when Vladimir Chelomey’s OKB-52 from the aviation industry got involved, they raced ahead because they were able to use the very aircraft plant where Chertok served his apprenticeship, with its depth of skills and familiarity with the problems. Chertok was astonished, when he was finally able to get a close look at the competition’s rocket, by the quality of the fit and finish compared to that on the Semyorka, R-9, and N-1.

It was also very hard to get budget for test equipment and infrastructure, while the funding for huge rockets was never a question. As a result, it wasn’t until the Energiya project that OKB-1 launched a rocket of which every subsystem had been fully checked out and every engine fired on the static test stand. This caused a lot of huge and expensive explosions, which we hear a lot about because far from the least of Chertok’s contributions was as a crash investigator. By comparison, each engine on the Saturn V was testfired once by the manufacturer, once at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville as a single engine, and once more at Huntsville as a whole stage.

The Soviets also took a long, long time to invent Mission Control. Up until the mid-60s, after a space launch checked in with the first tracking station, the engineering team would disperse to the four winds, some going back to the Baikonur vehicle-assembly building, some to OKB-1 outside Moscow, some to their parent organisations, and some to the Evpatoriya radar and communications site. Inevitably, they all tried to take charge.

Interestingly, Yuri Gagarin was an early and powerful advocate of creating a mission control – up to the end of his life he acted as the capsule communicator, the voice of Mission Control, on the famous radio callsign Zarya, but for a long time there was no control centre behind the voice. Gradually, a nucleus of control emerged, usually based at Evpatoriya and including Gagarin and the indefatigable Chertok, but it wasn’t until the Apollo-Soyuz project in the mid-70s that it got its own building, staff, or budget and even then it was mostly authorised to impress the Americans.

Going with the title, this is a book about rockets and also people. Chertok at least paints himself as the token human being in the Soviet space programme, a reasonable man who managed not to fall out catastrophically with the giant planetary egos that cursed it. There are a lot of fascinating characters. He sketches Korolev and Glushko and their historic falling out, during which both of them implied to others that the other had informed while they were in the gulag together.

Chertok remarks that at times, he almost envied Korolev his stint in Siberia because if he himself had been a zek, he might have been able to understand him. There’s a lot of interesting stuff about being a Polish Jew in late Stalinism without being shot. Korolev, years later, told him that while he was trying to protect Chertok he took a phone call from a very important but unnamed politician who promised him that Chertok would come to no harm. Korolev took the secret to the grave.

He was also part of a mission to occupied Germany in which he failed to kidnap Wernher von Braun but did recover a huge range of scientific plunder including a whole team of German rocket scientists.

Hence we meet Frau Gröttrop, wife of Dr. Helmut, who turns up, sacks and replaces all the servants, misappropriates a stable of horses and when challenged swaps them for a couple of jeeps, and organises the debriefing of her husband’s colleagues as her own salon. Another German woman was recruited to manage the files, and when the group was transferred back to the USSR, insisted on coming along to look for her husband, last heard of posted as a prisoner of war. Chertok, Korolev et al tried to talk her out of this quixotic exploit, but eventually she went and distinguished herself by being an overt Nazi among the German expatriates. The decision was taken to find the husband, if he were still alive. There is only one problem: he has been talent spotted as a promising Communist, which is presumably why he’s alive. Eventually the decision is taken just to ship both of them to East Germany as quickly as possible.

There are some interesting discretions, too. By 1970, Chertok had surgery on the site of an old bullet wound in his leg, but oddly he never mentions how he came to get shot, despite never having served in the army. He was involved in a joint project with the British and the Polish resistance to recover V2 parts from the German test range in Poland, but he doesn’t say if he went into the field as well as taking part in the evaluation back in Khimki, which might resolve the mystery.


Here’s something interesting. Andrew Krepinevich is quoted by the AOL News (!) blog criticising various aspects of US strategy, which is what he does. But this quote popped out of the background for me:

“The American military is losing some critical sources of advantage that it’s enjoyed over the last twenty years. One is the near monopoly we’ve had in precision guided weaponry,” he said. Not only are China and Iran investing in precision, he said, but even the terrorists who struck the US consulate in Benghazi may have used precision-guided mortar rounds…

May they really? If so, I think that’s the first confirmed use of guided indirect fire weapons against a US or “western” target, certainly by a nonstate actor, and a moment of some historic significance. Also, it’s Libya, which is currently leaking weapons in all directions. So if someone either has a supply of these rounds, or else an operation producing them, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they appear elsewhere soon.

That would include Syria and also Palestine, which makes it time to unfreeze this post out of the carbonite. Bill Clinton had a damn good point there.

GPS receivers available in commerce are restricted, via the CoCom export control machinery, to functioning below 60,000 feet altitude and at less than 1,000 knots ground speed. This is precisely intended to stop people building their own ballistic missile guidance systems, and greatly annoys amateur high altitude balloonists.

In practice, as JGC points out, some manufacturers implement this as an AND and some as an OR, but overall it functions as a restriction on the range of such a device. 1,000 knots is 514m/s. Assuming a 45 degree launch, that would give a maximum altitude of 22,000 feet, well within the restriction, and a range of 27km/16.7 miles with a time of flight of 74 seconds. For example, one of the Fajr-5s the Iranians claim they supplied to Hamas, or taught Hamas how to make would be out of court on both counts. Of course, it’s more likely that guidance would operate after the rocket burned out.

2006 again, and a brief history of recent wrong

Adam Elkus has a piece out entitled The Hezbollah Myth and Asymmetric Warfare, in which he criticises what he sees as a tendency to over-rate the power of guerrillas in the light of the 2006 war. Having read it, I think the real question here is about expectations and goals. Hezbollah didn’t defeat the Israelis and hold a victory parade in Tel Aviv, but then nobody least of all them expected or aimed for that. The outcome of 2006 can only be understood in the light of a realistic assessment of the conflict parties’ capabilities, interests, and priorities. A score draw is a much better result for Stoke City against Manchester United than it is for Manchester United against Barcelona.

For Hezbollah, the first and overriding goal was surely survival – as it is for everyone, it’s even the title of the IISS Journal – followed closely by survival as a force in Lebanese politics, survival of their capability to maintain their self-declared insecurity zone in northern Israel, and finally, inflicting casualties and costs on the Israelis in order to create a deterrent effect. In that light, the result of 2006 was surely just as good from their point of view as they made out – they came away still in the field, still firing rockets, and with their status in Lebanese politics enhanced.

For Israel, well, perhaps one day they’ll work out what their strategic aims were.

Elkus argues that the tactical situation at the point when the UN ceasefire went into effect was favourable for Israel, and that had the war gone on they might have done better. This is possible. However, it’s also very common for wars to end like this. The Israelis’ campaign in 1967 was designed, once they got the upper hand, to get to the Canal and onto the Golan before the UN blew the whistle – one of Ariel Sharon’s frequent blind-eye manoeuvres in 1973 was also intended to complete the encirclement of the Egyptian 3rd Army before the UN ceasefire went into effect. The Indian plan for the 1971 war was explicitly intended to take Dhaka before a ceasefire was imposed. More recently, the Russian operation in Georgia was subject to a similar deadline. International intervention is part of the environment, and only fools wouldn’t take it into account as a planning assumption.

An interesting sidelight on this, also from Elkus, came up in a parallel blog debate about “network-centric warfare” – he pointed to this gung-ho but good piece about the action in northern Iraq in which John Simpson was blown up. What struck me about it, however, was more that it was an example of this kind of thing – which should certainly make you think about 2006, especially in the light of this.

Tangentially, Sean Lawson’s essay on the history of “network centric warfare” is well worth reading, especially for the way so many US officials in 2001-2006 seem to have been competing to see who could validate all the most extreme stereotypes of themselves the fastest, and more broadly on the way a basically sensible idea can become a sort of gateway drug to really insane strategic fantasies.

Cebrowski talked of a “booming export market for…security” and warned those who would resist, “If you are fighting globalization, if you reject the rules, if you reject connectivity, you are probably going to be of interest to the United States Department of Defense” (Cebrowski, 2003c).

Measured against the sort of capabilities the NCW thinkers knew they had, and the kind of goals they dreamed on the basis of them, what possible results wouldn’t look like failure? Compared with the enormous arrogance of this vision – they really did want everyone who thinks the CIA wants them dead, dead – what resistance wouldn’t look like success?

French bloggers, Scud missiles, etc

There’s a new strategy blog about, this time a French one. They have an interesting discussion about the suggestion/rumour/story that Hezbollah might be trying to acquire Scud missiles. They’re dubious about it, although open to the suggestion that the organisation might be developing its own inter-service politics, with the big rocket people perhaps constituting the “air force”. Relatedly, this pair of Tom Ricks posts is stuffed with interesting links about the 2006 war. In the light of those, you might almost think that any effort to acquire something like a Scud, with its huge transporter-erector-launcher truck, would be more of a deception or disinformation tactic than anything else.

there are, however, rockets in this post

Via Airminded, find your local V2 rocket strike. London, Antwerp, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Riyadh, and Tehran have what in common? That’s right, it’s the list of cities that have been subjected to attack from space.

Then, why not go here and look up how big a hole it made? Someone’s photographed and flickr’d a whole set of London County Council damage assessment maps.

My local strike is now a small, never-used park on one side of the street and a pretty grim council estate on the other. But damage in this corner of London was limited compared to further down the Holloway Road. Oddly, there seems to be a correlation between the degree of damage and the London Profiler crime rate; the area south of Torrington Way, which has a sky-high crime rate, was pretty much flattened. (Sadly, the LCC maps aren’t geotagged, so making up a KML overlay would be annoyingly difficult.)

Question – is it that these areas were rebuilt as council housing and filled with the poor, or that the architecture caused the crime? After all, they were hardly peachy suburbia before being destroyed. Strange, though, to think that Wernher von Braun partly decided where tonight’s post-pub kebab stabbing is likely to happen.

mentalities, bunker, and otherwise

This BBC Radio 4 documentary about the British nuclear deterrent and the people who operate it is absolutely cracking. Not surprisingly, the man behind it is none other than Professor Peter Hennessy (can we call him Henn-dawg yet?).

One of the things that stands out is the amount of desperate psychological coping going on. The forms vary; the RAF V-Force crews of the 1960s, who were not only expected to carry in the warheads themselves but also very likely to ditch the aircraft somewhere beyond, also had to taxy the Vulcans out for every mission past the school playground. Their wives were more than familiar with the desperate QRA launch scenarios; it seems remarkable that anyone could put up with that.

One day at RAF Cottesmore, the public-address speakers, which were wired directly to the Bomber Controller telebrief feed from High Wycombe, went click just as a group of families visited, and everyone ran like hell to the flight line without even waiting for the voice from headquarters, still less saying a word. We’re talking about 1950s telecoms and electronics here – it must have gone click ten times a day.

A different style from this barely contained hysteria was reserved, indeed still is, for the top civil service and since 1969, the Royal Navy submariners; here, they deal with a much slower and more considered form of killing and dying. It’s a neurotic rather than a hysterical scenario: what can I tell them? what will they think? am I doing the right thing?

Was, for example, Denis Healey doing the right thing, in the High Wycombe bunker during 1960s transition to war exercises as one of the Prime Minister’s deputies for retaliation, when he repeatedly pretended to give the authorisation to scramble the V-force – although in fact, he had decided that should it come to that he wasn’t going to launch? (Keighley Man Saves The World.)

Interestingly, James Callaghan, despite the conventional wisdom, was very clear that he would certainly have pressed the button – or rather, his half of the button. One thing that seems to be clearer in the memory of the top officers Hennessy interviews than has been in the past is the duality of civilian and military control – as no civilian can give a military order, the PM or the deputy can only authorise, not order, the launch. (You thought our constitution was weird? Wait ’til you see our nuclear command authority.)

There is a logical AND gate – rather as NATO shared weapons are subject to the dual-key arrangement between NATO and the host-nation, and Soviet ones were to split control between the military (for the aircraft or missile) and the Communist Party/secret police (for the warhead fusing), UK nukes are subject to a dual-key arrangement between the civilian and military authorities. Another of Hennessy’s interviewees, Lord Guthrie, the Chief of Defence Staff who read Tony Blair in on the nuclear files, made clear that he thought this was very much a real constraint on both parties.

An odd feature of the whole thing was the repeated suggestion that, had the UK been devastated by Soviet missiles and the deterrent not been used, the remaining subs or aircraft might have been turned over to Australia. This would have been a challenging redeployment for the V-Force, to say the least, although they did exercise Far Eastern deployments. Of course, the submarines would have had no such difficulty. In this weird way, the last remnants of imperial feeling were to be saved from the ashes, and the deterrent’s true role – to maintain credible independence from the United States – would be maintained under a slightly different flag.

Ah, the Americans. They have a sort of shadow presence in the whole thing. One thing that the broadcast makes clear is that yes, there is a UK national firing chain as well as the NATO SACLANT one. They visit the cell in the Navy’s bunker at Northwood which handles the link between the Government and the extremely-low frequency transmitters – two crypto officers independently authenticate the message from the Cabinet Office and retransmit it via multiple redundant routes. They each need codebooks from two safes, neither of which can be opened at once, and which are permanently monitored by armed Marine Commandos. We hear a simulated authentication; interestingly, the crosstalk suggests that there is a specific distinction between a NATO and a UK national signal.

But each submarine, as she collects her load-out of rockets from King’s Bay, Georgia, also picks up an American shakedown crew for the test launch down the Eastern rocket range from a spot off Cape Canaveral, and the actual handle the submarine Weapons Engineering Officer pulls is the butt end of a Colt .45.

In all, however, it was a story of people in an insane situation working hard at staying sane.

After the show, I looked up some news and saw this. Jamie Kenny deals with it here, but the facts are worth repeating. Some random just rang up Mr 10% and claimed to be the Indian foreign ministry, and threatened war. Pakistan responded by increasing air force readiness; fighters were placed on combat air patrols. We don’t know what happened with the Pakistani nuclear weapons, which are delivered by aircraft; did the F-16s load up and move to the runway’s end?

Pakistan apparently believes it really was the Indians; the Indians claim it was some maniac with a telephone. The Pakistanis also say it came from a phone number at the Indian foreign ministry. This is fairly meaningless – not many bulk SIP carriers, and not that many old fashioned telcos, check or filter the Caller Line Identification strings, and software like the Asterisk free IP-PBX will let you send whatever CLI you like. After all, the head of the Islamic Students’ Movement of India is supposedly a geek.

The answer to this is of course the one the MI6 station chief in Moscow in 1962 used when the secret signal he gave Oleg Penkovsky for use in the event he learned of a nuclear attack came down the phone: do nothing. The crisis was on its way down; Penkovsky had been missing for days, and was presumably in the hands of the MVD. Therefore Frank Roberts decided to ignore the signal. Few feedback loops of such criticality can’t do with some more damping.