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Dr. Michael Gruntman, Wednesday, 9-23-15 September 24, 2015

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Dr. Michael Gruntman, Wednesday, 9-23-15


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Guest: Dr. Mike Gruntman. Topics: Dr. Gruntman’s new book, “Intercept 1961: The Birth Of Soviet Missile Defense” plus missile defense issues. Please direct all comments and questions regarding Space Show programs/guest(s) to the Space Show blog, https://thespaceshow.wordpress.com. Comments and questions should be relevant to the specific Space Show program. Written Transcripts of Space Show programs are a violation of our copyright and are not permitted without prior written consent, even if for your own use. We do not permit the commercial use of Space Show programs or any part thereof, nor do we permit editing, YouTube clips, or clips placed on other private channels & websites. Space Show programs can be quoted, but the quote must be cited or referenced using the proper citation format. Contact The Space Show for further information. In addition, please remember that your Amazon purchases can help support The Space Show/OGLF. See www.onegiantleapfoundation.org/amazon.htm. For those listening to archives using live365.com and rating the programs, please email me as to why you assign a specific rating to the show. This will help me bring better programming to the audience.


We welcomed Dr. Gruntman back to the show to discuss his new book, “Intercept 1961: The Birth Of Soviet Missile Defense” along with the subject of missile defense in both Russia and the U.S. today. During the first segment of our 1 hour 44 minute program, Dr. Gruntman first started out by telling us that the USC Department of Astronautical Engineering was now in its tenth year. He described the program & how it differed from other aerospace engineering programs at universities across the country. I asked Mike about the classes he teaches and has taught & as you will hear, his classes have been extremely popular with upper division and graduate students. Dr. Gruntman then turned his focus to his amazing and very unique book, “Intercept 1961: The Birth Of Soviet Missile Defense.” While I took elaborate notes during our discussion to serve me in writing up the summary of the program for our archives (as I do with each show), Dr. Gruntman, listeners through emails and phone calls, plus my questions, covered so many important historical as well as current and strategic topics that doing any type of “blow by blow” summary would short change what you will hear on this program. As a result, I am choosing to summarize our discussing by referring to themes and big picture issues for the most part instead of reporting on the incredible detailed information Mike shared with us. We started out talking about the little known Soviet Union missile defense program starting in the 1950’s. The program was not part of the space program or the Soviet military but instead was part of air defense. It was very secretive. The early Soviet program was significantly advanced over anything the U.S. had at the time, especially with the first Soviet intercept March 4, 1961. Mike then explained in amazing detail the Soviet program, the research and development, targeting, nuclear destruction as opposed to the direct hit. He talked about rocket and warhead as one unit, then the development of the capability to separate the warhead for its own incoming trajectory along with the intercept difficulty of figuring out what was the useless rocket body as compared to the warhead which was the intercept target. As we discussed this subject, listeners asked Dr. Gruntman about early US missile defense weapons and our program. Also in the first segment, we talked about using nuclear weapons for the intercept because guidance and targeting was not yet advanced enough for a direct hit kill. This led to several discussions about nuclear explosions and their effects in the upper atmosphere where the intercept would take place. I asked Mike how he got access to the information used for his research and this book. He talked about a window of opportunity that existed in Russia for document access and declassification from the early 90’s to the early 2000’s, then the window closed in Russia. He also got information from the Freedom of Information Act and multiple library archives. The end result is an amazing book on a seldom discussed & little known topic that each and everyone one of us should learn about as the consequences of missile defense are extremely important with the potential to impact all of us.


In the second part of the program, we fielded more listener questions & requests for comparisons with American missile defense weapons of the same era. We also engaged in a detailed conversation about the role of diplomacy in missile defense, particular from the U.S. and western perspective. Mike talked about diplomacy being naive in the face of significant national security threats and issues. As part of this discussion, I drilled Mike on how much of his perspective on missile defense, diplomacy, and national security came from his having grown up in the Soviet Union, having been educated there, having lived in a totalitarian system that had food and other shortages, and then his actually escaping at great risk to get to the U.S. As part of his reply to my questioning him about the impact of his background on his analysis of his work, especially on diplomacy issues, he told us a great story about the Soviet Union honoring the famous Soviet cosmonauts. Do not miss this story.  Mike then talked more about the missile defense system surrounding Moscow and noted that they had more than a 30 year operating history with it which gives them significant operational advantages along with advanced management control to maximize the benefits of the system, even if it has technical deficiencies. Another topic discussed was the advances made by the US in later years in digital computers and guidance and targeting. This enabled the US to develop direct hit and kill interceptors while the Soviets still relied on the nuclear explosion kill weapon. As you will hear, radar played an important role in missile defense. Dr. Gruntman addressed radar issues during both segments of the program. Mike talked at length about the 1955 design work that led to early 60’s operations. Near the end of the program, I asked about incoming warhead speeds, we talked more about nukes exploding in the upper atmosphere, and the ongoing debates about deploying missile defense in the U.S, especially since at this time the eastern part of the U.S. is not shielded. In his concluding comments, Mike argued for citizen education on the subject of missile defense, especially in light of the growing number of players in the world that may prove hostile to the US such as China, N. Korea, and Iran, with capabilities now or in the near future to reach the US with an ICBM & nuclear weapon. Mike used another great story to illustrate why he believes we need missile defense, even if it is less than perfect. This story focused on the police wearing body armor but still be vulnerable to being shot in places where they are not protected by the body armor. He said that was no reason not to wear body armor. He urged we learn lessons from past history (this implies we need to factually know the past history on this subject), because the consequences of a bad or wrong decision by diplomats, policy makers, or those mandated with the nation’s defense can be catastrophic.


Please post your comments/questions on TSS blog. You can reach Dr. Gruntman through me or his faculty page at USC, https://gapp.usc.edu/about/faculty/mike-gruntman. His book is available on Amazon at www.amazon.com/Intercept-1961-Missile-Defense-Library/dp/1624103499/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1443122232&sr=1-1&keywords=intercept+1961. If you buy the book using the One Giant Leap Foundation portal mentioned on our home page and all archived shows on the website and blog, Amazon will donate a percentage of the sales price to OGLF/The Space Show. If you have questions about using the OGLF Amazon portal, let me know and I will be glad to help you. It is really easy.


1. Andrew Tubbiolo - October 6, 2015

I would like to address the comment made by both David and and Dr Gruntmann along the lines of “What has diplomacy given us anyway?”. It effected the balance of forces and set up the possibility of Europe as we have it today. Namely the INF (Intermediate Nuclear Forces) Treaty of 1988 and the CFE (Conventional Forces in Europe) Treaty. Both treaties were based on decades of talks between both the USSR and the USA. In other words, “Talking for the sake of talking.”. The real world effect of these treaties was the elimination of short and medium range nuclear and conventional missiles in the European theater. And with the CFE it was the removal of Russian and the vast majority of American forces from Europe. The effect of that was the expansion of NATO right up to the border with Russia, and the membership of almost the entire Warsaw Pact, and a number of ex-Soviet republics. Diplomacy gets you nowhere? Compare the effects of diplomacy with even the most optimistic estimates of a confrontation of NATO against the Warsaw Pact. How diplomacy does not come out looking good over military force, I don’t know….

On the strategic front you can also see the effects of the most ‘awful’ and dreaded treaty, the 1972 ABM treay. The essential structure of the balance of forces in the 70’s and 80’s consisted of LGM-30 Minuteman vs the Soviet SS-18/R-36 and Trident II series. Minuteman and SS-18 forces were both scaled to counter each other. Minuteman could conduct a credible first strike against the SS-18 force, and the SS-18 force could conduct a credible first strike against Minuteman. When Trident II-D5 came online it could conduct a credible first strike against the SS-18 force as well. The point of the 1972 ABM treaty was to the limit the growth of those systems. If those systems would have to overwhelm a defence system they would have grown out of all proportion of reason. Look at the numbers as they were, approx 2500 warheads on Minuteman, 3000 on the SS-18 force and about 180 warheads for each Ohio class SSBN that would have been on patrol during a nuclear war. In the end, if the US and USSR did not enter into the 1972 ABM treaty, those numbers would have had to grow to much higher numbers, yet the balance of nuclear forces would have been just as murky as it was under the balances of forces of MAD. There would have been no assurance of anything with a defence except larger numbers of incoming to deal with.

You might make the argument that a defence could take away the assurance of conducing a crippling first strike. But look at the history of the systems built. The basing mode for MX (Peacekeeper)/LGM-118 known as the shell game could have soaked up any attempt at a counterforce strike against it. If you look at the published plans for the shell game you can easily see it was made to absorb the entire SS-18 force if it were thrown at it, now that most of the SS-18’s capabilities are known and in the public domain. Yet it was put in Minuteman class silo. Then look at the SS-25, mobile and immune to an American first strike. Yet the system was never MIRV’d and not structured to conduct a first strike, but was structured to act as a retaliatory weapon. Both sides knew how to make systems capable of absorbing a first strike, yet both sides chose not to invest deeply into the idea. Read what you want into that, but the overwhelming point is clear. Neither side really put real effort into blunting the advantage of a first strike.

As for the defence of Moscow. It in no way effected or blunted American resolve or nuclear policy during a nuclear war. Note that Jimmy Carter’s Nuclear Directive 59 stipulated that the US would concentrate on the targeting and execution of Soviet leadership during a nuclear exchange. Directive 59 was kept in effect right up to the end of the Cold War with full knowledge of the ABM system around Moscow. This Soviet’s had such faith in the the ability of their ABM system to blunt an American nuclear attack on Soviet leadership that they instituted the Dead Hand/Perimeter system that handed authority to use nuclear weapons to the military after the Soviet civilian leadership was wiped out, or rendered incapable of acting as NCA.

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