Tuesday, March 04, 2008

The Gigaboom and Other Stories

I wrote this reply to an email, but then the topic was relevant so I decided to share it with all my readers.

****

The 1998 tests proved that we have a high degree of reliability in our fission based designs.

There was no "failed thermonuclear test" in 1998 - that is an NPA invention. The NPA are simply exploiting information compartmenting inherent in every nuclear test - the fact that no one outside the actual team knows what the exact device is and that there is a large crowd of people who think they know what the device is. The NPA know that we have fed them crap about our design via the usual gang of idiots and since they are paid to go houbara hunting - this entire "failed test" thing is their way of making the real Indian houbara run.

The FBF was deliberately tested because it was a more challenging design idea and because the site itself limits the yeilds that can be safely tested underground. The FBF kept the yeild low while ensuring a demonstration of the mastery over the same physics that goes into a much larger bomb. This ensured that the Indian houbara stayed underground and the air sampling black shaheen returned empty handed.

If the arsenal were to be defined in narrow terms - i.e. the same terms that the Americans used to murder the Japanese into submission (the only proven usage of nuclear weapons in the battlefield) - then we have a credible arsenal of fission and fusion based weapons. Remember the Americans had only tested their designs once - ergo the two tests of each design are sufficient to achieve narrowly defined aims.

If the arsenal is to be defined in wider terms - i.e. the same terms that the Americans used to allegedly beat the Russians into submission (the use of the size of the arsenal as a device for rhetorical escalation - though I do not consider this a "proven" use), then mere tests do not inspire credibility in the arsenal's value as a robust economy does. The Americans had a robust economy based on unfettered access to oil. The Russians did not - and that is where they "lost". If the Americans can't keep their economy under control, they will "lose" also - i.e. be pushed into a situation where their arsenal becomes an unsustainable expense.

One would think that if India intends to become a "big power" - and "talk like the big boys" do - it has to have an economy that backs up its talk.

Talking about "gigabooms" is not going to scare anyone.

Doing a few tests may prove the technical ability to field an arsenal of this kind, though one wonders what the point of proving the same thing that was proven in 1998 - again. The 1998 tests prove that despite whatever the sons of Mother India say - a suave looking jackass in a suit on television will tell the DCH that the test was a failure and then the DCH will agitate for another test. Every test - as the American "natural allies" will never admit - risks the security of the arsenal. It reveals just that much more about what our exact capabilities are.

I am not saying whether India should test or not. I do not have the authority or the competency to advise on those matters. That is purely the responsibility of the Prime Minister and the Council.

I am merely pointing out that if a cost benifit analysis is done - as I am sure it is done before every test - then I personally feel that the "appease the DCH" aspect is likely to be outweighed by a desire to preserve the security of our capabilities.

The cost benifit analysis that goes into a decision to test is very complicated and the DCH and its "heart's desire" are a very small fraction of that. Beyond that I am not keen to comment on this - as I am not a party to the process and even if I was it is not something I would talk about in public.

*** unrelated note to sparsh - have I captured the earlier discussion on "bigger v/s smaller"?

***

Another unrelated note on information compartmenting strategies allegedly pursued in a major democracy which many people in India seem to like and (not-so) secretly admire. Typically in this country no one knows all the exact details of the warhead design. Everyone who comes into contact with the warhead is only cleared to know a small chunk of the information that is relevant to what their role is. For example, the person charged with releasing the weapon on the target does not know anything about the details of actually designing the warhead. They are simply told which sequence to push the red buttons on the black box in front of them. If by some accident the person tasked with the release becomes aware of some other details of the weapon's operation - they are immediately subject to a very painful and time consuming clearance revision protocol.

Similarly in this country the scientist who designs the warhead casing does not have to know the details of the nuclear reactions that make the explosive charge work. Unfortunately unlike man-made technology which can be specifically engineered - natural physical laws do not lend themselves easily to security - anyone can design experiments and gain information about these things. Most physicists are pretty generally trained, so it is not difficult for a physicist to "figure out" how something works - and usually if you know one piece of the puzzle you can make intelligent guesses about what the other piece looks like.

In order to keep a check on this tendency of physicists to do things ... that are well ... less than wise... this country has devised the concept of the "born secret". Per this concept - any information that sheds deep and meaningful insight on the functioning of the explosive core of the weapon is a "born secret" - i.e. irrespective of whether you enjoy a specific security clearance - if you "figure out" something that sheds light on the functioning of a nuclear explosive - you are automatically charged with the responsibility for keeping that information from spreading to the wrong hands.

A very tiny fraction of the people preparing the compartmenting protocol actually know all the details of the weapon - and their identities are obviously not public knowledge.

Another example of a compartmentation scheme is also available in the history books - where it is alleged that a foreign government asked two teams to simultaneously pursue weapons design. One was told to work with plutonium and another to work on uranium and the two were kept completely in the dark about the other.

A corollary to this - is that the military is kept out of certain kinds of information. Ofcourse every military in the world has chafed under the manner in which non-combatant civilians seem to control the nuclear thing. Indeed many a military man questions whether the weapons he brandishes with such zeal actually work at all. Any military man would be a fool to not atleast ask himself whether he has simply been given a dud to parade for public amusement.

I do not know the answer to such questions, but I point out that whatever the answer is - it is quite simply the way Allah has willed it.

It is said that the seekers of martyrdom are seldom denied their wish in Allah's court, however I feel, in their own best interests, eunuchs and handmaidens of the men-at-arms should refrain from questioning the will of Allah.

The DCH and their pied pipers will do well to know such things.

27 Comments:

At 9:42 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

While the rest of the argument is smooth, there is a minor wrinkle in this para:
"If the arsenal is to be defined in wider terms - i.e. the same terms that the Americans used to allegedly beat the Russians into submission (the use of the size of the arsenal as a device for rhetorical escalation - though I do not consider this a "proven" use), then mere tests do not inspire credibility in the arsenal's value as a robust economy does. The Americans had a robust economy based on unfettered access to oil. The Russians did not - and that is where they "lost". If the Americans can't keep their economy under control, they will "lose" also - i.e. be pushed into a situation where their arsenal becomes an unsustainable expense."

It is not that Americans only had unfettered access to oil. Russians also had access to oil. The boom in Russia during the 70s coincided with peak oil prices for that time. While the downturn during the 80s coincided with additional oil supplies coming on stream and thereby reduction in oil prices. Russia's main export during 70s was oil and oil based products and imports were food items. Perestroika was launched to change that situation but finances were so thin that it broke the Russian state. What Americans demonstrated was that it is not necessary to own a resource as long as you own the currency denominating that resource. They had unfettered acccess to that and there by the ability to price that resource by 80s. But the price of a commodity cannot be delinked from its supply.

 
At 10:23 AM, Blogger maverick said...

Dear Anonymous,

To my mind access to oil is only truly "unfettered" if you have the ability to price it as and how you want.

The Russians did not have that ability and the Americans did - courtesy as you point out of their ability to denominate it in a currency they printed.

That is all I was trying to say.

We in India do not have that ability.

 
At 7:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi M,
Correct me if I am wrong FBF - Fusion boosted Fission?
with best wishes,
mukunda

 
At 10:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi M
""In order to keep a check on this tendency of physicists to do things ... that are well ... less than wise... this country has devised the concept of the "born secret". Per this concept - any information that sheds deep and meaningful insight on the functioning of the explosive core of the weapon is a "born secret" - i.e. irrespective of whether you enjoy a specific security clearance - if you "figure out" something that sheds light on the functioning of a nuclear explosive - you are automatically charged with the responsibility for keeping that information from spreading to the wrong hands.
""

You have heard of Black cities in ex-SU. Scientists were herded like cattle into such cities locked away from outside world for eternitiy. In Gen SP book "2017 India...." the author mentions a incident where a scientist is working on some cutting edge technology for a GOI lab located deep within the earth and that the renowned scientist has not visited his native village for a long time...

By the way be careful in what you are revealing to us, otherwise you and me both will find ourselves in a dark dungeon(humour). I do not want to ask intelligent questions to you also. Let me engage you in light chai-biscoot sessions rather than 32 course meal!
Be careful in what you reveal in emails too.
with best wishes,
mukunda

 
At 4:56 AM, Anonymous alok_n said...

folks, it is happening already ... just like I knew it would ... Pandit-ji is being tarred as of now on DF ... the DCH feather brigade is waiting on the wings of the "echo-chamber" ... give it a week and the full portrait of "traitor Mishra" will be framed, signed and mounted on the DF Hall of Shame ...

I will be taking bets on who will be the next traitor (sorry KS, AK et al are old hat traitors by now)?

 
At 5:14 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Alok,
Once upon a time some of us would see you with great esteem. But after you wrote that "India needs to suck upto...." you have shown your character!

Maverick will consider it as flaming but your comments are appreciated by few others!

with best wishes,
mukunda

 
At 10:25 AM, Anonymous alok_n said...

mukunda,

if esteem could produce electricity, I would have some need for it ... this is the problem of DCH ... it is all about H&D, a decidedly Paki trait ...

By the way, if I recall correctly, I did not say that "India *needs* to suck up" ...

I believe I said, "India *will* suck up ..."

false pride is useless.

 
At 10:28 AM, Blogger maverick said...

Hi Alok,

A lot of the feather brigade's
"information" is from one source.

I can guess who the source is - I am sure you can too.

Ambition makes people do strange things.

 
At 10:29 AM, Blogger maverick said...

For the record, I have no problems sucking up or having India suck up.

Electricity is electricity.

If sucking up will get it - we should do it.

 
At 10:30 AM, Blogger maverick said...

Alok,

The next target is ABV himself.

 
At 10:37 AM, Anonymous alok_n said...

continuing further along that line (too bad that this site does not have an edit feature) ...

IMHO, the impotency of Indian polity is on massive display with this deal tamasha ... what is coming through clearly is the inability to exercise quiet power ... instead, we have folks of stature whining in the media about Hyde Act and how big bad America is screwing and deceiving India ...

grow up!

of course, the entire goal of international relations is to screw and deceive others ... the entire point is to come up with a strategy to prevent getting screwed and deceived ... IMO, what GOI is currently doing is entering a deal with eyes wide open and a plan on how to negotiate the screw/deceive moves that are sure to follow in the future ...

and what are the worthies doing? ... basically yelling, "Hai Hyde, Hum na Rahae" ...

what alternative strategies are the opponents suggesting? ... other than some DCH calls for getting uranium from non-NSG nations, I haven't seen much ... and even that one is pretty naive plan ...

so, in this national mess, it is not surprising that folks like Mukunda find solace by saying "Alok has a flawed character" ... wah!

headless chickens should sue Ronan Sen for insulting them by comparing them to Indian polity ...

 
At 5:24 PM, Anonymous kg. said...

headless chickens should sue Ronan Sen for insulting them by comparing them to Indian polity

rotfl!

 
At 8:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Alok,
""so, in this national mess, it is not surprising that folks like Mukunda find solace by saying "Alok has a flawed character" ... wah!
""
I too can write more about you folks! but then it will be a useless tu-tu-main contest!
You got banned at DF maverick will ban me at his blogs.
with best wishes,
mukunda

 
At 12:27 AM, Blogger quantum chaos said...

This should not be seen as defence of Maverick.This post of his made me google and unlike what NPA's say nuclear weapon targeteers in western military do believe our test was successful. The following link and para would attest to it.Also it verifies what he says that we tested FBF only.
Abhisheik

FWIW its here

link : http://www.worldaffairsboard.com/128761-post140.html


Originally Posted by Stuart Slade
India has, certainly. They have gun-configuration fission, implosion fission and boosted fission devices. They're mostly configured for delivery by Jaguar and Mirage 2000 aircraft but they do have a few missile-compatible device configurations.

Pakistan is a much harder case. Its not certain that they have any functioning devices at all. Of their three initial test shots, two fizzled completely and the third was a partial shot. It appears that all three devices were gun configuration which means that the pakistanis have apparently achieved the impossible and botched a gun-configuration (that's a level of achievment comparable with jumping off a log and missing the ground). They very hastily did two more test shots, both of which were successes. The problem is there are very strong reasons to believe that both those second-series test shots were Chinese devices.

Probably the fairest assessment of the situation right now is that the Pakistanis probably have some gun-configuration devices of uncertain reliability. They probably do not have implosion devices. That means they have the big clumsy bomb-like configurations of which you speak.

 
At 12:40 AM, Blogger quantum chaos said...

MAV,
I have some questions regarding testing.would send a mail to you.
Till then the jingos might like this link too
http://www.worldaffairsboard.com/science-tech/10523-stuart-slade-suitcase-nukes.html

this should rest any doubts about ability of our sci comm.
abhisheik

 
At 4:50 AM, Anonymous alok_n said...

Mukunda: "Tu"

Alok: "Main"

Mukunda: "Let's not start a tu-tu-main-main"

yes boss, my bad ... :)

 
At 7:43 AM, Blogger maverick said...

Quantum Chaos,

The problem is not distracting the DCH with comforting sounding ideas.

The problem I am dealing with is how to create an atmosphere of informed debate within the DCH where a realisation grows that arsenal sizes and economy sizes are correlated.

This is the zero sum game that works inside every economy. As long as you have enough butter you can make a few guns. If you don't have enough butter you can't make as many guns and you have to choose between guns or butter.

An argument that is made is that India which has an 1/10th the American economy should have 1/10th the number of weapons. So if the Americans have 15000, India should have at least 1500.

Essentially while India has 4 times the number of people as America, it has an economy that is 1/10 the size. So while India may want a bigger arsenal with 4 times the josh - it can only afford about 1/10th the arsenal.

This problem with this argument is that it does not capture economic dynamics inherent in reality. The American economy is under heavy strain to keep its large arsenal.
If we have 1/10th the arsenal - then we will put the Indian economy under a similar strain.

It is not immediately obvious to me that if the US cannot sustain a 15000 weapon arsenal - why will the Indian economy sustain a 1500 weapon arsenal.

Against that backdrop it is not at all clear to me why India should invest in a paradigm of deterrence that predisposes it to vast stocks of weapons when the material could easily be used to make electricity instead.

The emphasis on "gigabooms" puts India into the realms defined by Herman Kahn. It leaves us struggling economically to cope with megatons falling from the sky when the real threat could as easily come from a bullock cart that crawls across the border or a shipping container that is "innocently" left at Nhava Sheva.

I am in favour of taking an expedient route in matters. If a rationale for higher yeilds appears, I would support a shift - provided it gells with the economic reality.

 
At 7:50 AM, Blogger maverick said...

Hi,

When the Indo-US nuclear deal first surfaced, it attracted a lot of interest in US based NRIs. Many saw business opportunities to repatriate a fraction of their wealth to India. This is why the US NRI community lobbied so hard against the Hyde act. Unfortunately the US NRI community lacks the political power of the NPA and it lost on the hill.

The Hyde Act effectively criminalises nuclear commerce with India - and it places any Indian American keen to participate in nuclear trade with India at great risk. Thanks to the Hyde Act any reason is good enough for the US government to seize your business and put you in jail.

The weird provisions in the Hyde Act put a bar on Indian American participation in the trade. The provisions by themselves do not amount to as much of an obstacle for bigger players and they have the muscle in D.C. to deflect any serious disruption. The Hyde Act showcases the manner in which the US intends to approach the trade with India - i.e. it wants to ensure that only a few big players - carefully chosen by the party in power - to participate and profits. The Americans have no intention of letting a few immigrants seize disporportionate power.

As the US based NRIs would naturally find this unpalatable - a small fraction of them have decided to use their contacts in the BJP to try and scotch the deal in India.

The NPA who have issues with the deal because it disrupts their sacred (cash) cow - the NPT, have linked up with their friends in India to block the deal via channels in the Left Front.

So oddly enough the NPA and the US NRI are on the same page in India. This peculiar situation is not unlike what Jewish Americans face on a routine basis in their dealings with Israel.

The American govt. is more keen to ensure that its friends in big industry get market access in India, and so a back door via non-NSG countries has been crafted so that India can purchase what it needs.

Unfortunately from an economic perspective - this does not benifit India at all. Dealing with non-NSG countries amounts to dealing with US based businesses in an "private" environment where they have a monopolistic advantage and the entire environment is very high risk - this is why GoI never pursued it before (yes I have said). It is the exact same reason the Russian offer was handled the way it was. By contrast an approval from the NSG on the other hand creates a far more competitive environement.

Needless to say, any negotiation with the NSG is more complicated and time consuming and the only thing to rush about is doing the bare minimum needed to avoid pissing the Americans off completely.

I am sympathetic to the plight of US NRIs and that is why I am bluntly telling them that their views are unlikely to meet a positive reception in India.

Ofcourse, abusing the powers that be in India isn't going to help either, but the only way that you learn that ... is the hard way.

 
At 10:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Alok_N,
"yes boss, my bad ... :)"

I was first to flame you! Sorry for the usage of harsh lanuage against you.

I would like to get in touch with you. Can you ask maverick to send my emaild to you?

with best wishes,
mukunda

 
At 4:40 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi M,
""The NPA who have issues with the deal because it disrupts their sacred (cash) cow - the NPT, have linked up with their friends in India to block the deal via channels in the Left Front.
""

The left are chanakian type. They have made money from the NPA, they have made money from the Chinese, they have made money from the Kremlin, menawhile they have milked the congress too!

with best wishes,
mukunda
P.S - India will have the last laugh.

 
At 6:53 AM, Blogger maverick said...

Hi Mukunda,

As someone who sympathises and deeply endorses the "chankian earthashatter" way of doing things - I feel the left has a very solid political model for its operations.

The BJP seems is transitioning from the Vajpayee-Advani team to the next generation of leaders.

If no one can be found in the BJP to voice the economic side of things, then I fear for the well being of the nation. Even if we assume for a moment that the BJP will never come to power again - an assumption that I feel is completely unlikely - it will have to sit in the opposition and India cannot do without a responsible and capable opposition.

I am deeply concerned by the fact that none of the people vying for Vajpayee's spot in the BJP seem to have his keen sense on economics or politics.

They are all good at muscle flexing and writing poison pen articles in forums of convenience - but economics and politics are tied at the hip. If they cannot articulate an economic vision that goes beyond what ABV did ten years ago - then what is the point of having new leaders today?

There are very solid economic arguments against this deal - the Left has made only one of them - ie. the deal panders to the needs of urban industrialists without making specific provisions for the rural sectors.

There are others economic arguments against the deal as well. If they want to be a real opposition - absolutely critical to the functioning of a real democracy - then the BJP should voice at least one of those.

It is very upsetting to see the BJP lose its cunning Hindu bania roots.

 
At 9:31 AM, Anonymous Sparsh said...

Maverick,

Yes, you have captured our earlier discussion on the "bigger is better" topic very succinctly.

India should not indulge in empty and meaningless posturing that will precipitate a reaction from the rest of the world that results in our deterrence needs and schemes escalating to a point that is economically unsustainable.

 
At 2:51 PM, Anonymous alok_n said...

Hi M,

"There are others economic arguments against the deal as well."

Nobody else was biting on that, so I will ... care to elaborate?

I have held the view that the deal is merely an "enabler" ... when it comes to the deals that will follow, it will be up to corporate heads to negotiate ...

firstly, NPCIL needs to be privatized ... secondly, incentives have to be given to the industrial houses to enter this sector and create healthy competition ...

IMO, the biggest immediate benefit to NPCIL would be that it could start exporting 220 MWe PHWR reactors to all the small countries that have even a puny Uranium deposit ... they'll have an incentive to start digging ... of course, we will be happy to import any extra U ...

anyway, I digress ... you were talking about economic downsides ... what do you have in mind?

Alok

------------------

Mukunda,

M has my email ID and you can ask him for it ... however, everything I have to say on this subject is open source and does not need private email conversations ...

[I know, I know, "private email" is an oxymoron ... :) ]

 
At 2:57 PM, Anonymous alok_n said...

just to clarify ...

I ain't no economist, but I believe that when it comes to dollars and sense, only good deals survive ...

hence, it may well be that the MahaDeal Shri 123 comes down from the heavens with clouds trailing and conchs blaring and all of Indian Industry says: ... "Yawn"

that has been my nagging worry ... this whole thing is an enabler of the Khan's military sales to India ... and that may be the limit of trade following this deal with not an ounce of uranium changing hands ...

[where is that google-eyed emoticon for "shock"?]

 
At 3:36 PM, Blogger maverick said...

Hi Alok,

It is going to be difficult to value this trade in dollars at a time when the dollar is unstable.

When the dollar falls, we end up writing off their debt to us. This curtails the competitiveness of our exports to the US and reduces our market access in the US.

From our point of view it is best if our losses are compensated in the pricing and repayment schedules of the reactors and fuel.

From their point of view, it is best if we forgive their debts and poor economic management and simply agree to whatever terms they place on the pricing and payments.

Basically - there is no agreement on how the pricing and payments are going to be structured. This is what Sri. Sood was hinting at.

We cannot be expected to buy reactors and fuel at escalating prices while our exports to the US are declining in competitiveness.

Defence deals are simply meant to test the waters. Sure today LM can sell us 1970s junk and cut the spares tomorrow. But day after tomorrow when GE comes sell us a PWR - we will ask GE to pick up LM's tab and then settle the matter in the US in a brotherly fashion.

 
At 5:36 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

India's N-arsenal may be targeted by terrorists: US
http://www.rediff.com/news/2008/apr/05nuke.htm

 
At 1:59 PM, Blogger maverick said...

Hi Anonymous,

Historically US' own nuclear security leaves a lot to be desired. There are a number of broken arrow scenarios that occured during the Cold War.

And as recently as last year half a dozen or so nuclear weapons were accidentally transported across the US and a number of questions about US command and control surfaced in the public debate that followed.

Given the large numbers of weapons the US insists on stockpiling, the risks of proliferation are in my opinion scarily high.

And why even go to weapons, really if you look at the loss of non weapons grade material, say medical radwaste in the US, the sheer numbers are ... well less than encouraging.

Also I am sure that if some Americans put their mind to it, they could snatch any country's nukes and make it look like a terrorist group did it.

So entering into some cooperation scheme with the US does not really diminish the prospects for this
kind of thing happening.

However, if we enter into a cooperation scheme with the Americans and out of some misguided sense of justification, they leak information about our security setup to the Pakistanis - and that leaks to some Pakistan terrorist group given the porosity of their Army - this puts us at considerable risk.

It has been argued that discussion with the US on things like "personnel selection models" etc... may be benificial from the Indian pov. However I argue that as demonstrated in the case of Aldrich Ames, and Robert Hansen, the American personnel selection models are far from flawless.

Plainly speaking I feel we have yet to see how reliable the US' own personnel selection models will be in an environment where the US economy nosedives and financial incentives of inappropriate conduct rise.

In India's case, the economy is has always been depressed, and the financial incentive for misbehaviour has been very high. The American models and ideas may be unsuitable for the Indian context.

 

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