Worse than Ivan the Terrible
The “balance of error” for a missile boat’s captain
Prompting this post is a recent report that Russian Akula-class hunter-killer submarines are stalking British Vanguard-class submarines carrying Trident nuclear missiles. It’s the sort of thing that happened routinely during the Cold War. Thomas Harding, defence editor of the Daily Telegraph, quotes a senior Royal Navy source as saying: “The Russians have been playing games with us, the Americans and French in the North Atlantic. We have put a lot of resources into protecting Trident because we cannot afford by any stretch to let the Russians learn the acoustic profile of one of our bombers as that would compromise the deterrent.”
Bombers, by the way, is Navy slang for missile-carrying boats.
The special problems of controlling them figured in one of the predictions of possible routes to nuclear war explored in 1979 by Peter Batty and me in our BBC-TV programme “Nuclear Nightmares”.
In the accompanying book of the same title I wrote:
… the submarine as the weapon of the last resort remains an important concept and an awkward problem in command and control because, by definition, the submarine ought logically to be able to launch its missiles without receipt of explicit orders.