What role are bombers supposed to play in a nuclear war?

Discussion in 'Alternate History Discussion: After 1900' started by BigBlueBox, Aug 12, 2017.

  1. BigBlueBox Well-Known Member

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    I know that there is a nuclear triad consisting of intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and bombers, but are the bombers even necessary? In a war involving America, the Soviets/Russians or Chinese, I can't think of any scenario in which bombers can do something ICBMs and SLBMs can't. The only real advantage I can think of is that they can be called back, but what are the chances that one of those three powers would launch a nuclear attack then cancel it?
     
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  2. galveston bay Donor

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    They can be recalled. The nuclear powers are not interested in collective suicide, but in deterring attack and if it came to it, wrecking the enemies ability to launch further nuclear attacks. Recalling the bombers allows for options in a potential cease fire scenario.

    While you cannot recall a ballistic missile, and after a certain point in the launch phase you cannot even abort it.

    They are also more reliable, with usually at least 50% or more immediately operational (up to 80% if you have a few hours). We have little actual idea how reliable the missiles would have been in an emergency limited time launch window.
     
  3. Riain Well-Known Member

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    Callback is indicative of flexibility, the idea behind the B2 was to be able to cruise around the Soviet Union chasing mobile ICBMs, reacting when they were located.

    Until the 80s or so bombers were more accurate than missiles and carried much bigger tonnages.

    They also complicate the nuclear warfighting strategy, forcing the Soviets to defend against them and not just SSBNs and ICBMs.
     
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  4. RIBorderer Active Member

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    Is there an abort system, like a launch vehicle range safety system, included in an American ICBM?
     
  5. galveston bay Donor

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    Somehow it seems unlikely but I am not sure, so I hedged
     
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  6. SsgtC Well-Known Member

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    AFAIK, nobody puts a range saftey system on their ICBMs. Too susceptible to being hacked. I think they're only installed during testing in case a missile goes of course
     
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  7. Blue cat Well-Known Member

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    In the case of the U.S. I believe Bombers can deliver higher yield warheads than ICBM's and SLBM's. Until the retirement of the B53 bomb (which apparently had a 9MT yield) the the difference was apparently quite significant although the B83 bomb reportedly has a yield of approx one MT. Reportedly the U.S. also has gravity bombs with a certain amount of ground penetration capabilities.
     
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  8. Lost Freeway Western Propaganda F***er

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    Making the rubble from the missile strikes bounce
     
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  9. SsgtC Well-Known Member

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    When you really want to make sure something is dead, bomb it to rubble, then bomb the rubble.
     
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  10. Admiral Beez Well-Known Member

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    It's noteworthy that we still refer to them as strategic bombers when in fact they're launching ALBMs. They're no more bombers than SSBNs.
     
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  11. Blue cat Well-Known Member

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    Plus the crew can presumably confirm that the rubble was actually bombed.
     
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  12. Blue cat Well-Known Member

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    I'm fairly certain the USAF still plans on dropping B61 and B83 bombs if certain circumstances were to occur.
     
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  13. Lost Freeway Western Propaganda F***er

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    [​IMG]

    Duh, they're built to carry bombs-carrying missiles is a bonus.
     
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  14. DaveBC Well-Known Member

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    At the root of most comments so far, correctly, is their role in deterrence. ICBMs provide a very fast, mainline strike option. Missile submarines provide a more secure second strike. Strategic bombers provide a very visible but reversible escalation step: you can launch the bombers to show you're serious and hope for one last-minute round of crisis negotiations, whereas launching missiles will prompt an immediate counterattack, and surfacing your missile submarines would just compromise their location without accomplishing anything politically. It's not so much that you're ordering a nuclear attack and then changing your mind so much as ordering them to go forward and hoping to give the enemy one last chance to blink and stand down.

    Second, I don't think we should neglect the bureaucratic rationale for them, either. From the perspective of at least some of the professionals involved, the fact that we have invested thousands of careers and billions of dollars over many years in maintaining a strategic bomber force is reason enough to keep the bomber force around, even if it is the least useful leg of the triad.

    Third, you can use the strategic bombers for conventional operations, so even if their central mission is obsolete, they're not exactly useless.
     
  15. BlondieBC Kaiser of Ozarks

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    I don't think we even use them in tests. When we did our one SSBN test with a live nuke, the missile initially headed towards Hawaii for a few 10's of seconds, and they were worried that they had programmed in the landing location wrong. The missile then corrected course and headed towards the test range.
     
  16. SsgtC Well-Known Member

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    I can understand not using one with a live warhead. I mean, if you trigger the thing, all you've done is created one hell of dirty bomb and irratiated a huge chunk of land or ocean.
     
  17. Blue cat Well-Known Member

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    Yes that is my view as well.
     
  18. BigBlueBox Well-Known Member

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    One last question
    I always thought that scene in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol in which they deactivate a warhead right before it detonated was extremely unrealistic.
     
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  19. pjmidd Well-Known Member

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    Bombers had 3 functions , to deter/reassure by being visible , to force the enemy to counter them and in the early days be more accurate with bigger bombs. In the 1960's missiles could take out cities but not a bunker in a forest ( big reason for the warheads getting smaller was because they could actually hit the target not just near it.) Meant the enemy leadership thought it could hide and survive.
     
  20. Nick P Donor

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    Why is North Korea currently threatening Guam? It's because nuclear armed bombers can be launched from there. We live with the background knowledge that missiles are underground and on submarines are always there but it's when the aircraft get sent out to nearby bases that people look up and go 'Uh-oh'. There's a psychological effect of knowing what happens when bombers fly over your homes and how much damage could happen.