> There has been a great deal said about a 3,000 mile high-angle rocket. In my opinion such a thing is impossible and will be impossible for many years. The people who have been writing these things that annoy me have been talking about a 3,000 mile high-angle rocket shot from one continent to another carrying an atomic bomb, and so directed as to be a precise weapon which would land on a certain target such as this city. I say technically I don’t think anybody in the world knows how to do such a thing, and I feel confident it will not be done for a very long time to come.
The debate over ICBMs vs pilots reminds me a lot of the current tech/AI vs. human debates today:
> But it wasn’t just that the USAF was pro-bomber. They were distinctly anti-missile for a long time. Why? The late Thomas Hughes, in his history of Project Atlas, attributes a distinct “conservative momentum, or inertia” to the USAF’s approach to missiles. Long-range missiles would be disruptive to the hierarchy: engineers and scientists would be on top, with no role for pilots in sight. Officers would, in a sense, become de-skilled. And perhaps there was just something not very sporting about lobbing nukes at another country from the other side of the Earth.
Those early ICBMs were also delicate and required a lot of preparation to launch, making them highly vulnerable to attack, and of course they would be prime targets in a war. Bombers could be kept ready to take off in just a few minutes from receiving an alarm, and some could be kept on airborne alert at all times, making part of the force effectively invulnerable to attack. The modern idea of an ICBM, able to launch on warning from hardened silos capable of withstanding a close hit from an enemy weapon, took many more years to come about.
The Atlas had a CEP of 1.4km, which was good enough for a kiloton-class warhead. Plus, its original warhead was only 1.44Mt. It was mostly lack of priority that delayed the first operational squadron to 1959.
The "only" in my comment was a response to the assertion that it required "multi-megaton" warheads to make ICBMs practical.
Huge bombs weren't a dick-waving contest, they were partly to maximize the value of an ICBM carrying one warhead, and partly to mitigate inaccuracy. As MIRV became practical and accuracy increased, yields decreased on both sides of the Cold War, because smaller bombs are just plain more efficient if you can put them where they need to go.
Otherwise, at something in the 1 Mt plus or minus level, I forget, a lot of the energy is wasted by being thermally re-radiated out into space.
"The U.S. initiated ICBM research in 1946 with the RTV-A-2 Hiroc project. This was a three-stage effort with the ICBM development not starting until the third stage. However, funding was cut after only three partially successful launches in 1948 of the second stage design" https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intercontinental_ballistic_mis...
(I don't know if that's a bootleg or an authorized electronic version of the text; hopefully it's the latter since it's unavailable in electronic form via usual channels. I don't feel too bad posting it since it's also the top hit on Google for the title, even above Amazon.)