Home > Uncategorized > National Security Archive – Cold War Air Defense Relied on Widespread Dispersal of Nuclear Weapons, Declassified Documents Show

National Security Archive – Cold War Air Defense Relied on Widespread Dispersal of Nuclear Weapons, Declassified Documents Show

From the National Security Archive:

Cold War Air Defense Relied on Widespread Dispersal of Nuclear Weapons, Declassified Documents Show

Deployments Had Dangerous Potential Because of Predelegation Arrangements

For more information contact:
Christopher Bright – CBright@christopherjohnbright.com
http://www.ChristopherJohnBright.com

http://www.nsarchive.org

Washington, DC, November 16, 2010 – To counter a Soviet bomber attack, U.S. war plans contemplated widespread use of thousands of air defense weapons during the middle years of the Cold War according to declassified documents posted today at the National Security Archive’s Nuclear Vault and cited by a recently published book, Continental Defense in the Eisenhower Era: Nuclear Antiaircraft Arms and the Cold War (Palgrave Macmillan) by historian Christopher J. Bright. The U.S. government publicly acknowledged the facts of the deployments in the 1950s, yet they garnered surprisingly little public opposition, Bright concludes, in disclosing for the first time that air defense weapons comprised as much as one-fifth of the US nuclear arsenal in 1961. Still, nearly 25 years after the United States retired the last of them in 1986, their exact number remains secret.

During the Cuban Missile Crisis, the most perilous crisis of the Cold War, Bright shows that top Defense officials wanted to limit a response to a bomber attack to conventional weapons, not realizing how much plans and deployments rested solely on nuclear weapons. Bright’s work also raises the possibility that air defense weapons may have been among the most dangerous nuclear arms because of their widespread deployment and the predelegated use arrangements that could have led to inadvertent nuclear use during a crisis.

Bright’s book recounts many other formerly secret details about the thousands of Army and nuclear air defense weapons built during the Cold War, the plans and procedures for their use, and their eventual withdrawal. Drawing upon declassified documents held by the National Security Archive (including material in ninety boxes of files donated in 2003 upon the death of nuclear researcher Chuck Hansen) and other once-secret information originating at the White House, Pentagon, Atomic Energy Commission and elsewhere, Continental Defense in the Eisenhower Era discusses the development and deployment of:

* 3155 Genie air-to-air rockets (with two kiloton nuclear warheads) estimated to have armed scores of Air Force interceptor aircraft at 31 bases in 20 states starting in 1957

* 1900 Falcon guided air-to-air missiles (with half kiloton warheads) which later also equipped some of these and other airplanes

* 2500 Army Nike-Hercules surface-to-air missiles (carrying 2 or 22 kiloton warheads) that the Army positioned at 123 launch sites around 26 cities and 10 Air Force bases in 25 states

* 409 Air Force BOMARC long range surface-to-air missiles (each with six and one-half kiloton warheads) located at eight launch sites in seven eastern and northeastern states (in addition to two locations in Canada).

Bright discusses his book in a presentation on “Continental Defense in the Eisenhower Era: Nuclear Antiaircraft Arms and the Cold War,” sponsored by the Cold War International History Project at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, November 17 2010, 4:00 p.m.-5:30 p.m., One Woodrow Wilson Plaza, 1300 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W. For more information about tomorrow’s presentation, check the Wilson Center’s Web site:

http://www.wilsoncenter.org/index.cfm?topic_id=1409&fuseaction=topics.event&event_id=638674

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