Murphy's Law: May 31, 2002


The very real prospect of India and Pakistan starting the first two sided nuclear war has generated a lot of speculation on exactly what would happen. Calculating the destruction and loss of life if weapons are used is relatively easy. Much more difficult, and important, is figuring out how many of the weapons will actually work. All bombs have mechanisms (arming devices) in them to prevent accidental detonation. This sort of thing is particularly important for nuclear weapons, and the Indian and Pakistani weapons designers know it. But knowledge does not immediately translate into practice, and we know from the American and Russian experience that arming devices on a nuclear weapon (often as many as five different ones) can easily fail (from design, manufacturing or installation flaws.) It takes a lot of practical experience to develop arming devices that work every time. The Indians and Pakistanis are known for sloppy military engineering. Just take a look at their safety and reliability records for military equipment (especially aircraft and ships.) The most common guess for the size of each nations current nuclear arsenal is 20 weapons for Pakistan and up to a hundred for India. What percentage will fail? Perhaps up to fifty percent. If they fought their nuclear war 5-10 years from now, the failure rate would be a lot less. But there is yet another problem; reliability of delivery systems. While both sides have ballistic missiles that could carry a nuclear warhead, producing weapons small enough, and reliable enough, to be used in a ballistic missile is yet another daunting engineering task. A nuclear war in 2002 would probably see both nations using aircraft to deliver the weapons. Aircraft can be intercepted, and both nations will probably make exceptional efforts to intercept enemy bombers making for their major cities. If both sides make a major effort, some nukes will hit some cities and detonate. But it's unlikely that all the weapons in each nation's nuclear arsenal will detonate, and that's one case where we can be grateful for inadequate engineering.


Article Archive

Murphy's Law: Current 2022 2021 2020 2019 2018 2017 2016 2015 2014 2013 2012 2011 2010 2009 2008 2007 2006 2005 2004 2003 2002 2001 2000 1999 



Help Keep Us Soaring

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling. We need your help in reversing that trend. We would like to add 20 new subscribers this month.

Each month we count on your subscriptions or contributions. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage. A contribution is not a donation that you can deduct at tax time, but a form of crowdfunding. We store none of your information when you contribute..
Subscribe   Contribute   Close