The laser satellite stuff is interesting. I was under the impression the massive payload capability (which necessitated the external tank and SRB's) was dictated in part by the military, which lends some credence to those concerns.
Effectively, each shuttle launch gives Russians a little heart attack and the culmination is basically each orbit that goes over Russia because SST is supposed to have capability to alter the course, dip in the atmosphere, drop the bomb and go back into orbit and they only get about 2 minutes of warning at best.
This warning time is crucial because that's all you got to decide whether you are under attack or not. For ballistic missiles launched from enemy territory you get half an hour and it means a bunch of people can gather data and figure out if it's real or fluke and make informed decision. You can't make informed decision in 2 minutes and it is extremely dangerous because it does not give you any capability to verify anything or ask anybody.
I apologise in advance for the naivety and the insensitivity but what kind of an idiot would give a go ahead for a strike like this knowing that an unprovoked strike on a major civilian population center in Russia will almost assuredly lead to a response from multiple Russian ICBM locations that we keep worrying about the North Koreans.
If there was a fleet of a dozen or more space shuttles either "permanently" in the air or ready to fly at a moment's notice, I can see how that would change the equation but one space shuttle can't just dip, deliver a payload, climb up to rinse and repeat on five or more cities, can it?
The short answer is: for the same reason somebody would want to shoot ICBMs at enemy population centers.
The longer answer as I understand it: after WWII both USA and USSR invested incredible amount of resources in bid to achieve supremacy or at least maintain parity with the other. During that race anything that achieved results was on the table and both sides did funky stuff to surprise enemy, all the time.
Space race was viewed as a cover up story for advanced rocket and surveillence research.
Given the amount of resources and the current situation I think it was natural for russians to think there is something else going on with Space Shuttle. We know the dimensions of Shuttle bay and its capabilities were dictated by military requirements so it definitely isn't out of question. It would certainly be completely stupid for Russians not not assume the worst because in that kind of race the one that is not prepared looses.
Russians are same people as Americans. They have proven many times they are unwilling to attack USA, thanks to the balance of power and multitude of people who prevailed in difficult situations.
That doesn't mean they will not use any dirty trick to get advantage but using dirty tricks in this game is a legitimate way to maintain parity which is the objective of the game.
Since a space shuttle has a much larger payload than an ICBM and is also much more maneuverable, the Soviets probably couldn't exclude the possibility that it can deliver enough payloads to wipe off several cities and/or military bases in a single pass. They were already having trouble developing effective countermeasures to MIRV; a shuttle would have been a nightmare.
Cold War has its own, counter-intuitive logic. It is governed by game theory.
If war is bad then why US invests so much in war machine? Well, probably because investing nothing is historically bad way of maintaining peace. You are just inviting a bully to come and take your toys.
Looking from this point of view isn't it strange that so many people treat Russia as villanous because it invests so much in their military (or it has been investing)? I really wonder why people think it is ok for US to militarize itself but for USSR or Russia to do that it is somehow bad. I, of course, intentionally omit what the country is doing with its power, it is one thing to have military and the other thing what are you using it for.
Now, if US sends its troops abroad to subject some country, is it so difficult to think that USSR may feel threathened? If the way to keep peace is to keep parity and one party is trying to upset the parity the other has no other choice than to respond.
This game has many paradoxes and I feel people have not enough willingness to look at some geo-political events through the lens of a longer game.
We may say we want to bring democracy to Venezuela but what Russia is seeing is their power slipping. Right now they have precious little friendly land close to mainland US and they have no prospects of gainging more. At the same time, US is expanding NATO with more and more countries close to Russia border. Why is it so difficult to figure out this makes them very uneasy? Wouldn't some kind of response be expected? Why would US be surprised by it?
Up until now the game was to keep parity and now the parity is slowly eroding away. This absolutely must cause a response from Russia because the theory says they have to fill the void some way. Electronic warfare? Hacking? Meddling in elections?
Each side wants, understandabl, to mobilize its population in this struggle and there is no better way than to paint the enemy as a villain. I just wish we keep healthy amount of population on all sides capable of seing through cheap propaganda.
One of the reasons could be that US and RF are very asymmetrical players in the game. The structure of control in RF is less reliable, to the point of having arguments (not in the Kremlin, of course) of passing nuclear arms to US (!) to avoid dangerous scenarios. The intents are also different, modern RF power is mostly interested in material gains rather than strategic development. Abilities are different - RF can't always adequately answer to some voids left.
I am far more intelligent than such people, and so I am obliged to show them the logical fallscy of their bias.
yeah, literally as I was writing the first sentence, I realized how it reinforces the very self-serving bias that you seem to be confronting.
Despite gross miscalculation on the part of USA intelligence and military strategists, Soviet leaders did not issue a decapitation strike in late summer of 1983. I am sure they thought our President and military leaders to be crazy to wish for such a thing.
High-school and college students, we felt every bit as confused by all this. Madness. Every teenager must beleive at some point that their elders are completely insane...
A couple of years later, I had two classmates from the USSR, the only two such students in the United States at the time.
Anyway. The bias: "We are the Good Guys!" -- yeah that seems to have gotten worse, if anything. President W Bush asking Sec of State Colin Powell to systematically lie to the UN in order to drag them to war with Iraq, I was in Germany that week, and most people would ask me WTF your country so crazy and I would say actually yes i try to make noise to protest this myself, don't give up on us, it will get better...
And here we are. My kids think this is all normal.
One of the early applications of game theory was to develop your point into a strategic doctrine: If there are two adversaries with the capacity to annihilate each other and with mutual knowledge of each other's capacities, then not initiating conflict is a stable equilibrium.
While this was never achieved in practise, not even close, regular and possibly short notice flights were part of the reusable shuttle's design intentions.
> but one space shuttle can't just dip, deliver a payload, climb up to rinse and repeat on five or more cities, can it?
I doubt it, but all that is needed for the enemy to be intimidated is that they think it might be possible.
The shuttle couldn't dip in and out of atmosphere even once, there wasn't the fuel on-board to allow aborting re-entry and landing. It could have dropped once though and hit (or at least aimed for) at least one target. Finding a safe landing zone ("safe" both in in terms of the ability of the craft to survive and the ability to receive the craft and its crew) would be difficult after that) could be quite a challenge, but that doesn't rule out s desperation attack or even a suicide attack.
In theory there is the possibility of a decapitation strike - destroy the he command and control centers so that they can't retaliate.
And the idea that only the president can launch nukes is false. There were contingency plans.
rkagerer addressed exactly this point, so I think you've misunderstood him. He acknowledges that the heads-up time from launch is formally much shorter than other delivery methods, but argues that the effective heads up time is large in scenarios of interest ("imminent geopolitical threat") because you have to slowly roll out a shuttle launch. The only case where you can actually exploit the very quick launch speed is when you have premeditated a first strike months in advance, which is not the typical scenario that Cold Warriors worried about.
Remember, when you are dealing with foreign power that you fight tooth and nail the worst case is the only thing that matters and you have to be prepared for it. You don't say "let's see what those pesky Americans will do with their new shiny toy", you say "Sasha, we need to be prepared or we are screwed".
Also, do you remember there was couple of those built from the start and there was supposed to be many, many more. That's a serious threat if your enemy has history of using that kind of projects for DoD purposes, you know DoD is engaged and you have no idea what is the real intended purpose.
The genius of using the shuttle as a bomber is stealth. Not regular steath, but hiding in plain sight.
The USSR were worried the airforce could launch a shuttle with a nuclear bomb into an orbit near Moscow (or other targets), but claim it was just a regular launch with a regular payload with totally legitimate reasons for that orbit. Actually, with the shuttle's cross range ablities the orbit could be several hundred kilometers off the target.
And it would look like a regular flight as it climed into orbit and spend 20-30min floating towards Russia. Soviet command wouldn't be able to identify it as a threat until 3.5min before impact.
The Soviets did like to put anthrax warheads on their ICBMs targeted at cities and I suppose those won't have any distinctive emissions signature. But then again keeping anthrax spores alive in space with the thermal cycling and radiation can't be easy.
EDIT: But then again anthrax is a strictly counter-value rather can counter-force weapons. You would hypothetically put warheads in space for a quick counter-force strike so that plan wouldn't make sense.
What would matter is whether that first strike or a later follow-up could take out the shuttle(s) before it could retaliate.
Did the USSR have capability to take out a space shuttle in orbit? I wouldn’t know. It wasn’t that high up (a V-2 could almost reach it), but accuracy of ICBMs wasn’t even good on stationary targets, and, I guess, you would need more of it in space, where ‘only’ radiation and heat would cause damage.
That's why the response time is so crucial. To ensure retaliatory strike strikes fear in your enemy (pun intended) you need to convince the enemy you are capable and willing to put your ICBMs before their ICBMs can even reach you. If you have only 2 minutes you need to convince the enemy you are willing and capable to do it within 2 minutes of detecting the strike.
You also want retaliatory strike to be delivered all at the same time as the best strategy seems to be in numbers. It is relatively easy to stop a single ICBM. It is completely different problem to stop hundreds of them each possibly containing multiple warheads. In this case the strategy is to deluge the enemy with warheads or, more precisely, hope they will not try to destroy you because they can never be sure to stop all out retaliatory strike.
Likely going for something closer to: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/GLONASS
Molniya orbits‘s are just an example. GLONASS uses a related orbit, but never comes that close to the atmosphere.
PS: You could do the same thing over the US including Hawaii and Alaska. You end up with different tradeoffs to keep things synchronized, but it’s not that hard of a problem.
- Considering how much of a problem normal space debris is I'm happy we don't have a number of old nukes in orbit.
- I also guess nuclear weapons need some maintenance.
- Leaving nuclear weapons in orbit would make it possible for another country to try to intercept/study/disarm them.
- Regulations/treaties about weapons in space
It's pretty smart in its own way. At a very superficial level the mimicry has a prospective effect, a potentially advantage-tipping energy. And military-style decisiveness almost always has to draw on things with such a superficial character by necessity. Seen as a start toward refinement of inner character (of a shuttle-like craft) from the outside-in, Buran makes much more sense.
Also, having honed in onto a very serious threat, spreading the information of that threat among it's scientists and pushing them towards a goal is an incredible motivation building tool. You can't make a scientist work effectively under threat of punishment. But tell him that his work will save his motherland, and you are on.
Of course this all nearly backfired on everyone with Operation RYAN and Able Archer 83 when the paranoia of the Soviet leadership was at such a crazed level that they thought the West was planning a first strike so they thought their only option was to strike first.
Thankfully, he didn't get his way.
"Restraint? Why are you so concerned with saving their lives? The whole idea is to kill the bastards. At the end of the war if there are two Americans and one Russian left alive, we win!"
See this article about operation Giant Lance simulating nuclear attack on the USSR during Vietnam war.
Shuttle was under development in 1976, and Energia-Buran as well. 70's are relatively successful years for USSR, that's why a project of such magnitude was undertaken.
> Very early our calculations showed that the cost figures being used by NASA were unrealistic. [...] Because of our suspicion and distrust we decided to replicate the Shuttle without a full understanding of its mission.
I can imagine someone in NASA, looking at the massive budget overruns, reacting like that "Ha! Got 'em!" meme
Well, now we have ICBMs with hypersonic warheads. Doing the atmospheric skip thing.
I wonder why the Russians wouldn't consider such a possibility.
(PS: While Gemini B did an empty shell test flight only, Almaz actually flew a few missions. So the Soviets actually won – widely unbeknownst – this military space race. However, at the time the US had already switched to their recon satellite program. We may assume that the two parallel projects had shaped pretty much the idea of the profile of such a mission and that the shuttle would have been an odd fit.)
There's a certain amount of conjecture here, as spy stuff is classified. It's pretty well established that NRO needs impacted the payload size and 'cross range capability' (i.e. ability to land from polar orbit)  which may well have driven the delta-wing design and the piggyback-booster design . And of course without the piggyback design, the Columbia disaster might not have happened.
Astronauts could then get out to inspect or tamper with satellites. Or they could put the satellite in the cargo bay and take it home.
The Space Shuttle program was so incomprehensibly inefficient that the USSR thought that surely the USA was hiding something. In reality, it was just... a really inefficient program.
It then became a civilian program with military requirements and military operating costs - very inefficient.
> I wonder why the Russians wouldn't consider such a possibility
We don't see much discussion of the Shuttle's ability to launch surveillance satellites because that was an absolute given. Nobody questioned that.
As an aside my first boss in the computer industry retired USAF detested Shuttle because it wasn't fulfilling a military mission that he thought it ought to fulfill. Strange times. Was great living in Indialantic and viewing the launches.
Could you possibly CC the Pentagon on this?
The threat profile of a Shuttle carrying nuclear bombs is that it combines the unstoppable nature of an ICBM with the potential for a surprise attack.
A surprise ICBM launch gives you 10-15 minutes between detection and mushroom clouds over your cities. An overflying Shuttle gives you 2-3 minutes.
Much like in 1941, Soviets never accepted the possibility of Nazis invading just because every rational estimate resulted in suicidal nature of such an invasion by Hitler, which turned out correct, so they never prepared properly believing that Hitler is a military genius and will never commit such a stupid mistake.
Is there a transcript somewhere?