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Thread: What is THAAD and why all the bruhaha?

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    Official Thread Jacker Senior Contributor gunnut's Avatar
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    What is THAAD and why all the bruhaha?

    I know it's "terminal high altitude area defense" and used to be "theater high altitude area defense." Why is China so nervous about its deployment in South Korea? Doesn't the thing have something like a 50% success rate?
    "Only Nixon can go to China." -- Old Vulcan proverb.

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    Quote Originally Posted by gunnut View Post
    I know it's "terminal high altitude area defense" and used to be "theater high altitude area defense." Why is China so nervous about its deployment in South Korea? Doesn't the thing have something like a 50% success rate?
    Not an expert opinion but i think PRC and Russia are pretty eager to see these h/w (and others) in close proximity
    Pyongyang' rhetoric is probably helping their intelligence

    On the other hand, they also need to complain.

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    Senior Contributor DOR's Avatar
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    It isn't so much the ability to intercept missiles that China doesn't like as it is the radar. THAAD has a series of linked radar stations that penetrate deeply into China's territory, and they think it is being used to spy on them.

    Which it probably is.
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    Senior Contributor SteveDaPirate's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by gunnut View Post
    I know it's "terminal high altitude area defense" and used to be "theater high altitude area defense." Why is China so nervous about its deployment in South Korea? Doesn't the thing have something like a 50% success rate?
    THAAD had a rough go of things early in it's development in the mid 90s but actually has a perfect test record since 1999. (excluding a couple that were aborted due to issues with the target missiles)

    China is upset about the THAAD deployment in South Korea, but not because of the interceptors it can fire. China's concern is the AN/TPY-2 X-band radar and it's location for two reasons.

    • The first is that it completes the triangulation of high powered radars tracking Chinese warheads along with installations in Japan and Alaska. This provides earlier warning and greatly enhanced resolution to the GMD interceptors placed in Alaska and California.

    • The second issue the Chinese take with the location of the new AN/TPY-2 is that it is ideally located to get a view up the skirt of their ICBMs as they deploy their warheads. By looking at the warheads from the back it becomes much easier to differentiate between the real warheads and any decoys or penetration aids.


    This is a real thorn in China's side because it seriously jeopardizes the credibility of their nuclear deterrent. Due to the low number of warheads China possesses, the ability to penetrate US ABM defenses is critical to maintaining an effective arsenal. China had also recently been investing heavily into developing MIRVs to increase the number of penetration aids they could deploy on each missile, but the THAAD deployment in South Korea essentially nullifies that investment.

    So... Thanks Obama!
    Last edited by SteveDaPirate; 20 Sep 17, at 17:13.

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    I thought I'm the one with memory issues.

    Nuclear Warfare 102

    So lets look at a typical targeting problem in an average sort of strike. We are going to give the capital of Outer Loonyistan a really thorough seeing-to. Now we don't just explode a bomb in the center of the city and say bye-bye. Believe it or not that won't do any real good. Initiate a 1 megaton device over the center of London and 95 percent of the cities assets and 80 percent of the population will survive (this means that, proportionally speaking, Londoners will be better off after a nuclear attack than they were before it took place. This was the basis of at least one Get Rich Quick scheme proposed in The Business).

    So we start by selecting a specific targeting strategy. Now we have to estimate the weight of attack Asylumville is likely to come under if that strategy is adopted. To do this we first work out how high Asylumville stands with regard to other potential target areas for that particular strategy. This is usually done by a careful assessment of what targets are in that area as opposed to similar target areas in other parts of the country and assuming the available warheads are distributed according to the target density in that area. Then we assess how many warheads are likely to be inbound and crank that into the priorities we've established to see how many are likely to be fired at Asylumville. It'll be a lot fewer than you think. This means is that we have to look very carefully at the city, its geography and the distribution of its assets in order to work out how to take it down.

    To do this we need some maps. We need a standard topographical map, demographic maps and asset/resource maps. Take the targeting strategy and the likely target set associated with it and plot them on that map. Now think out how hard that target set is going to be to destroy. The problems now become apparent. Some targets are best attacked by surface bursts, others by high airbursts. Some, very hard targets need almost direct hits to destroy them; others are so small (and so hard) that hitting them is very difficult.The sort of things we might look at hitting, depending how we do things, are communication facilities, railway marshalling yards, factories, oil refineries, government offices, military bases For example, if the target strategy is anti-communications,amongst the primary targets will be airfields and railway marshalling yards.They are notoriously difficult to destroy, the attacker needs big warheads and needs to ground burst them so the target is physically scoured from the ground. There is a lot of thought needed here; you'll find there are far more potential targets than real warheads so you'll have to allocate the warheads one way, then try to work out the effects. To give you some idea of how that list grows, there are something like 50,000 priority nuclear targets in Russia. Some of them are weird and tucked right out of the way (one of the most critical non-military targets in the USA is where you would least expect it). Now many of that 50,000 target list will be virtually on top of eachother. One initiation will get several of them. That pulls the list down immensely, probably to around 3,000 - 5,000 targets.

    OK back to working over Asylumville, the capital of Outer Loonyistan. If its like most other capitals, it'll probably merit a total of between five and ten devices to take out all the things we want to. One of the key tools used here is a thing called a pie-cutter. Its a circular hand-held computer. You set the verniers on it to the specifics of the weapon used (altitude of burst, yield etc) and it gives you a series of rings that show the various lethal effects of the bomb to certain distances. Put it down on the planned impact point and you'll get what the bomb will do. You won't get a pie cutter (they are classified equipment) but you can make your own from publically available data using tracing paper and compasses. . We end up with a map of the city after being worked over. Normally, at this point somebody says. Dammit we didn't get [insert some key assets] and we start again. The first shot at targeting will be stunningly disappointing so you play games with warhead types and yields and with burst locations until you get as many of target set as you can. Take that marshalling yard; sounds easy doesn't it? Believe me railway marshalling yards are a whirling son of a bitch to take down. They are virtually invulnerable to airbursts; we have to groundburst a blast directly on the yard. 800 yards outside and you might as well not have bothered. The problem is those yards are not that big. So now we have a problem called CEP. This stands for Circle of Equal Probability (NOT Circular Error Probable which is a totally meaningless term invented by those of the intrepid birdmen). This is a measure of the accuracy of the missile and is the radius of the circle that will contain half the missiles aimed at the center of the circle. That means that half the inbounds will fall outside that circle. Now we have a second concept; the radius of total destruction, the radius within which everything is destroyed. Its astonishingly small; for a 100 kt groundburst its about 800 yards (now see where the marshalling yard came from).. Now if the RTD exceeds the CEP we're probably OK, if it doesn't (and in most cases it doesn't) we've got problems.

    What all this ends up with is we have to fire multiple warheads at single targets in order to be sure of getting them. This is a complex calculation since the optimum number of warheads for Asylumville will depend on the attack pattern and priorities. But we'll eventually end up with number that represents the best compromise between destructive effects and warhead use. To estimate the effects on the area as a whole, take the demographic map, plot the event points, altitudes and yields on that map and apply the pie-cutter set for overpressure. The overpressure needed to destroy various types of building are public record (US houses are very very soft and vulnerable) so you know roughly what will be destroyed up to a given distance. Note that the blast circles will overlap in some places. Blast also isn't logical; ground irregularities will funnel it is some directions so that an area close in may be unscathed while others much further away will be flattened.

    Now we have to get them there. Missiles are not terribly reliable and a lot can go wrong. A Rectal Extraction figure suggests that only about 60 percent of them will work when the blue touchpaper is ignited. So we have to add extra warheads to allow for the duds. To give a feel for the sort of numbers that we're talking about, the British calculated that they needed 32 warheads to give Moscow a terminal dose of instant sunrise. In other words, the British nuclear deterrent took down Moscow and that was it.

    Key point here on the efficiency of defenses. In the 1950s, the UK V-bomber fleet was assigned to hit over 200 targets in the Western USSR. As the 50's turned into the 60's the ability of the V-bombers to penetrate Soviet airspace came under increasing doubt. The UK shifted to Polaris - one submarine at sea, 16 missiles, three warheads per. Total of 48 targets assigned. But the USSR started to install an anti-missile system that was reasonably capable against the early Polaris-type missiles. So the UK modified Polaris in a thing called Chevaline. this took one warhead from each missile and replaced the load with decoys - then targeted all 16 missiles onto Moscow. ONE target. In effect, the Soviet defenses had reduced the UK attack plan from 200 targets to one. In other words, it was 99.5 percent effective without firing a single shot (bad news for Moscow but great news for the other 199 cities with targets in them)

    That's why so many devices are needed - the inventory evaporates very fast. Thats also why defenses like ABM are so important (and the urgency behind deploying the new US Missile Defense System). The defenses don't have to be very effective to work (although the new US system is looking good), its the complexity they throw into the planning process. As long as we can assume that if we get a warhead on its way to its target, that target is going to be hit, then planning is relatively easy and the results predictable. If, however, we can't make that guarantee; if we have to factor in a possibility - perhaps a good one - that the outbound warhead will be shot down, then planning becomes very uncertain. Now put yourself in the position of somebody planning a strike - do you wish to gamble your nation's change of survival on something that MIGHT work. Of course not. So Strategic Paralysis strikes again. A defense system doesn't have to work against an attack to be effective because it works on the minds of the people who make the decisions.

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    Senior Contributor JA Boomer's Avatar
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    Have done some reading on this recently, the US seems has several overlapping capabilities aimed at defeating incoming ballistic missiles:

    -Ground-Based Midcourse Defense
    -Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System on Navy cruisers and destroyers and Aegis Ashore with SM-2 Block IV, SM-3, and SM-6 interceptors
    -Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD)
    -Patriot and Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS) with the PAC-3 missile

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    Quote Originally Posted by JA Boomer View Post
    Have done some reading on this recently, the US seems has several overlapping capabilities aimed at defeating incoming ballistic missiles:

    -Ground-Based Midcourse Defense
    -Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System on Navy cruisers and destroyers and Aegis Ashore with SM-2 Block IV, SM-3, and SM-6 interceptors
    -Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD)
    -Patriot and Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS) with the PAC-3 missile
    Yup, a layered approach

    The Ground Based Midcourse Approach is actually an Army National Guard unit mission

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/100th_...efense_Brigade
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    Quote Originally Posted by WABs_OOE View Post
    I thought I'm the one with memory issues.
    I remember this post well. Still one of the most educational posts I've read on WAB.

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    Senior Contributor Oracle's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Albany Rifles View Post
    Yup, a layered approach

    The Ground Based Midcourse Approach is actually an Army National Guard unit mission

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/100th_...efense_Brigade
    Can Gurus enlighten me with a detailed post.

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    Official Thread Jacker Senior Contributor gunnut's Avatar
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    Great information guys, thank you all!
    "Only Nixon can go to China." -- Old Vulcan proverb.

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    Contributor NUS's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by gunnut View Post
    I know it's "terminal high altitude area defense" and used to be "theater high altitude area defense." Why is China so nervous about its deployment in South Korea? Doesn't the thing have something like a 50% success rate?
    One more thing to consider: Ballistic Missile Defense may have not impressive performance aganst massive missile strike, but the less missiles enemy has, the better it becomes. I.e. intersept of 1 misslie of 2 is not the same thing as 1000 of 2000.

    It might give to US politicians funny ideas about disarming first strake - destroy China/Russia nuclear forces with disarming strike and hope that remaining few missiles/warheads will be intersepted.

    And the idea is already discussed in press:
    https://www.foreignaffairs.com/artic...uclear-primacy

    What both of these camps overlook is that the sort of missile defenses that the United States might plausibly deploy would be valuable primarily in an offensive context, not a defensive one -- as an adjunct to a U.S. first-strike capability, not as a standalone shield. If the United States launched a nuclear attack against Russia (or China), the targeted country would be left with a tiny surviving arsenal -- if any at all. At that point, even a relatively modest or inefficient missile-defense system might well be enough to protect against any retaliatory strikes, because the devastated enemy would have so few warheads and decoys left.
    In other words, THAAD is an offensive weapon.
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    Senior Contributor DOR's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by NUS View Post
    In other words, THAAD is an offensive weapon.
    The whole point of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty was to take away the sense that your side might be able to protect itself. Each side was limited to two arrays of no more than 100 ABMs: one at the national capital and the other (presumably) at a silo farm. The treaty was replaced by bilateral agreements with former SSRs in 1997, but the President Previously Thought to be the Worst Ever abrogated it in 2002.
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    Quote Originally Posted by DOR View Post
    The whole point of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty was to take away the sense that your side might be able to protect itself. Each side was limited to two arrays of no more than 100 ABMs: one at the national capital and the other (presumably) at a silo farm. The treaty was replaced by bilateral agreements with former SSRs in 1997, but the President Previously Thought to be the Worst Ever abrogated it in 2002.
    THAAD is not a national level system standalone. It can be integrated but it is intended as theater level weapon. It gives the theater commander a weapon system to counter IRBMs.
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    Quote Originally Posted by NUS View Post
    In other words, THAAD is an offensive weapon.
    THAAD is in no way offensive against Russia since the INF Treaty has gotten rid of the class of weapons THAAD was designed for. The Russian nuclear forces are immune to THAAD development and deployment.

    China, however, was not a signatory to the ABM Treaty and have no legal say, historic or otherwise, against THAAD development and deployment against their nuclear forces. However, be advised, the small number of Chinese nuclear warheads (120-200) does not guarrantee a retallitory strike against an American first strike, with or without THAAD.

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    Quote Originally Posted by WABs_OOE View Post
    China, however, was not a signatory to the ABM Treaty and have no legal say, historic or otherwise, against THAAD development and deployment against their nuclear forces.
    China have right to say everything China wants. Or in your book the right of free speech is limited to US alone? And nobody is a signatory to the ABM Treaty at the moment, so it is completely irrelevant.

    However, be advised, the small number of Chinese nuclear warheads (120-200) does not guarrantee a retallitory strike against an American first strike, with or without THAAD.
    Try to think out of the box. The retallitory strike against an American first strike will not be limited to CONUS alone. Short range strikes against US bases and allies around China might be even more important in case of war. The same goes for Russia in case of full scale war on Far Eastern theater.
    Winter is coming.

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