The Arms Race and Space Race during the Cold War Era

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That the Arms Race and Space Race were vital components in the rivalry between the USA and the USSR during the forty-five years between 1945 and 1990 is a comment and philosophy on the period which has and continues to produce much and far-ranging debate which will continue for many years to come. In the efforts of simplicity, however, it is clear that during that period, the rivalry was rife and stronger than it had ever been and perhaps stronger than it will ever be... The arms race and space race are fruits of that competition, and when looking back in 2003, the technological marvels of that period are more of a symbol of the prowess and pride of the individual nations. It was a race of competition to prove the might of each nation and also to act as a deterrent to each other, given that they both had exceptionally powerful and high-tech resources at their disposal, albeit with perhaps differently weighted priorities in each race.

When on the 6th day of August 1945, the world's first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, some 66,000 people died almost instantly after the explosion and the firestorm subsequently. That fateful day in 1945 gave birth to an entirely new era in worldwide arms and war practices that would forever change the world. 1945 brought about what is widely regarded as being the first time frame in the Arms Race which would continue for a further 45 years. From 1945 onwards, and with a succession of Presidents, the United States remained confident of leading the nuclear arms race and took great pride in their achievements, the fruits of many billions of dollars of development. But that confidence was shattered in 1957 with the launch of the Soviets' first satellite, Sputnik, into orbit, signaling clearly the fact of the USSR's capability of developing missiles carrying nuclear warheads across intercontinental distances. For the USA, continuing its policy of Containment, the tests symbolized one thing: The USSR was a force to be reckoned with.

Between 1961 and 1967, the United States developed the concept of an arms control agreement with the Soviet Union. This allowed each other to target only military installations. This is known as counterforce theory. Therefore, for the protection of nuclear missiles, missile silos were constructed. From 1967 to 1974, the world witnessed the development of the 'Multiple Independently Targetable Re-entry Vehicles' (MIRVS) in order to destroy more than one missile in the underground silos. Consequently, to counter the MIRVS, both sides developed Anti- Ballistic Missiles (ABM) Systems. Following the development of Anti Ballistic Missile Systems, during this period, the former Soviet Union developed the most powerful and transportable Intermediate Range Ballistic Missiles (IRBM), i.e., SS-20. This led the Western European countries to develop their own IRBMs for security. Simultaneously, the USA, with the worries of strategic parity, developed stealth bombers and large MX missiles with multiple warheads and continued the reconstruction of nuclear forces till 1985. From 1981 to 1985. During this reconstruction period, the fleets of Submarine Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBM) were increased and updated, and B-52 bombers and B-1 bombers were developed with nuclear cruise missiles for deep penetration strikes into Soviet territory. This was also the period when the concept of Strategic Defence Initiative (SDI) was thought of to intercept and destroy the Soviet Strategic Ballistic Missiles. But it did not take a real shape due to budgetary constraints, its doubtful technical feasibility, and change in Soviet leadership.

1985 to 1991. Following Gorbachev's rise to Power in 1985, the Soviets changed their policy with the adaptation of Perestroika and Glasnost. This affected the participation of the Soviet Union in the nuclear arms race and resulted in a 50% reduction of nuclear warheads under the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START). The latest survey carried out by the Defence Council of the United States shows that from 70,000, the number has reduced to 36,000, with 12,000 in the US and 22,000 in Russia, while 14,000 of 36,000 warheads are awaiting disassembly.

InterContinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) had striking Power. The largest single-warhead carrying ICBM is the Russian SS-18, which has an explosive yield of 20 megatons (MT), while its MIRV version has ten MIRVS, each with 500 kilotons (KT) of yields. (1000 ton+ 1 KT, 1000 KT+ 1 MT)
Submarine Launched Ballistic Missile (SLBM) Poseidon. The submarines armed with Poseidon ballistic missiles are by far the most survivable type of strategic nuclear weapon, which, on patrol, could stay underwater for more than a month. The Poseidon-type US missile submarines carry 16 SLBMs. Each SLBM has ten 50-kiloton MIRVs, enabling one Poseidon submarine hit 160 targets.

As compared to the range of the strategic nuclear weapon, the tactical nuclear weapons were developed to cover distances below 6400 km with Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile (IRBM), Medium Range Ballistic Missiles (MRBM), and Short Range Ballistic Missiles (SRBM). Additionally, Cruise Missiles, Nuclear-Capable Attack Aircraft, Nuclear Artillery, Torpedoes, and Mines were also developed. The most powerful is the Soviet SS-20 IRBM. It has a range of more than 4800 km and can carry a 1.5 megaton warhead or 3 MIRVS of 150 kilotons each. The least powerful is the US-made nuclear land mine with explosion power as low as 0.01 kiloton. Diversified tactical nuclear weapons can be classified into two broad categories.

(b) Trident. Much larger is the Trident submarine, which carries 24 SLBMs, each with eight 100-kiloton MIRVs, and the range is equal to an ICBM, i.e., 6400 km. Therefore, one Trident submarine could hit 192 targets.

Long Range Bombers. These were the first long-range strategic nuclear weapon-carrying aircraft developed by the United States of America. A B-52 bomber can carry up to 12 Cruise Missiles armed with nuclear warheads. However, these bombers were found to be vulnerable to attack. They also suffered from the problem of penetrability. A strategic bomber like B-52, being much slower and bigger, unlike the missiles, is easier to shoot. This led the United States to further research, and B-IBS was developed for low-level penetration. This aircraft is capable of carrying 22 Cruise Missiles. The latest addition is B-2 Stealth Bombers, which have an improved penetrability carrying strategic nuclear bombs of 1 to 2 megaton yield.

As compared to the range of the strategic nuclear weapon, the tactical nuclear weapons were developed to cover distances below 6400 km with Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile (IRBM), Medium Range Ballistic Missiles (MRBM), and Short Range Ballistic Missiles (SRBM). Additionally, Cruise Missiles, Nuclear-Capable Attack Aircraft, Nuclear Artillery, Torpedoes, and Mines were also developed. The most powerful is the Soviet SS-20 IRBM. It has a range of more than 4800 km and can carry a 1.5 megaton warhead or 3 MIRVS of 150 kilotons each. The least powerful is the US-made nuclear land mine with explosion power as low as 0.01 kiloton. The diversified Nuclear doctrine and strategy developed during the cold war period of continuing political struggle between the United States and the former USSR. Deterrence was of extreme importance in creating an impression of military strength upon a potential adversary that he would have no chance of victory in war. There will be no victors in a nuclear holocaust. This gave birth to an arms race between the superpowers, unprecedented in warfare.

During the first decade after the end of World War-Il, the United States enjoyed first a real nuclear monopoly and then an overwhelming nuclear superiority. The USSR, on the other hand, had large-scale conventional forces. The Soviet Union, however, succeeded in constructing a few atomic bombs and in forming an embryonic striking force. Faced with these initial Soviet steps toward the development of a nuclear threat and an air defense system, the United States declared the doctrine of massive retaliation, which is defined as 'A great capacity to retaliate instantly by means and at places of our own choosing' against Soviet aggression. In other words, it will be an all-out nuclear response to an enemy's attack.
The resulting stockpile, which gave birth to nuclear deterrence by massive retaliation, was substituted by the doctrine of flexible response in 1967. The logic of nuclear deterrence strategies of the superpowers reflects the enormity of the punishment that a nuclear-armed deterred would be capable of inflicting on the homeland and society of an aggressor. In the nuclear age, a surprise attack attains a chilling connotation, cities are considered to be the only viable targets for atomic assault, but unless the enemy's means of nuclear retaliation are destroyed, little could be gained by surprise.

The next question was, 'why to squander precious assets of surprise and the initiative in attacking cities (the counter-value targets); a mission that can be carried out later so easily. The main targets of a surprise nuclear attack must then be the force-in-being or counterforce targets. Therefore, the first and foremost priority in the security program of a nuclear weapon state of the age of atomic weapons was to take measures to ensure the possibility of retaliation in case of a surprise nuclear attack must then be the force-in-being or counterforce targets. Therefore, the first and foremost priority in the security program of a nuclear weapon state of the age of atomic weapons was to take measures to ensure the possibility of retaliation in case of a surprise attack. This formed the basis of the 'Second Strike' capability.

 

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The Arms Race and Space Race During the Cold War Era. (2023, Mar 11). Retrieved May 22, 2024 , from
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