- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 9, 2002

You've probably seen the "Peacemaker," a 1997 thriller by Steven Spielberg. It's about terrorists and loose nukes and has been on TV a lot lately.

The film opens with a renegade Russian general and his men stealing the 10 multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles (MIRVs) carried by the Soviet SS-24, which is similar to our Peacekeeper intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). The renegades detonate one nuke to cover the theft, disassemble a second and attempt to truck the remaining eight to Iran.

The rest of the flick is about the life and loves of the beautiful airhead in the White House responsible for preventing you from getting nuked in your jammies by terrorists.

Perhaps you can't accept the basic premise. Surely no president would put Nicole Kidman in charge of thwarting nuke terrorists. Well, President Clinton put Hazel O'Leary in charge of all our nuke and anti-nuke programs.

However, there are certain critical parts of the "Peacemaker" screenplay that you should not accept. In real life, renegade scientists probably could not set-off a MIRV-ed nuke on the ground. Nor could a renegade scientist remove a "primary" from a Soviet MIRV. And no man could carry a nuke "primary" in his knapsack.

At this point you need to know something about MIRVs. You can consult either Chapter II of the 1999 Cox Report, or the July 31, 1995 issue of US News and World Report. There you will find a cutaway reportedly supplied by Hazel O'Leary of our cone-shaped MK-21 MIRV which houses the W-87 nuke and protects it during reentry. Because form must frequently follow function, you may assume that the Soviet MIRV is very much like ours, both inside and out.

The W-87 is an integral part of the MIRV. The "primary" and "secondary" are literally joined at the waist and cannot be separated. Then the whole nuke is "potted" into the MIRV and can't be disassembled.

But, you say, perhaps the Soviet MIRV is not so sophisticated. Maybe the Soviet primary and secondary can be separated. Perhaps, but the primary is of no use can't be armed or detonated without the MIRV's arming-fuzing-firing package. Better to leave the stolen MIRV intact.

But wait. How much does the MIRV weigh? How big is it? Well, according to Mrs. O'Leary, our Peacekeeper MIRV weighs more than 600 pounds and is about six feet tall. The Soviet MIRV must weigh, if less sophisticated, even more. Try putting that in your knapsack.

Okay. Forget the knapsack. How about a minivan? Can your Islamic terrorist now take out the Pentagon with his minivan delivered nuke?

No way, Jose Padilla.

You see, the MIRV-ed nuke can only be detonated producing an appreciable yield at the end of its preprogrammed stockpile-to-target sequence.

When the MIRV is taken out of stockpile and mated mechanically and electrically to an ICBM, the nuke's AFF package begins communicating with the ICBM and its guidance system. From then on, if anything goes wrong in the missile's stockpile-to-target sequence, the nuke is automatically disabled.

So, if the MIRV-ed nuke is not delivered to the Pentagon via ICBM, it will be a dud.

Well, are there any Soviet nukes worth stealing by terrorists? Yes. The Soviets had hundreds of Atomic Demolition Munitions. According to the late General Lebed, they were very similar to ours.

Our ADMs were designed to deny the invading Red Army the use of bridges, tunnels, docks, railway hubs, etc. That is, they were intended to be used on our own territory, with our troops and friendly civilians not far away. Hence, the yields were low, a few tons. Not kilotons. Tons.

The ADM consisted of only a fission "primary" and an AFF package. The ADM was about the size of a large footlocker and could be carried for short distances by two men.

Large footlocker? Wherever did the idea get abroad that the Soviet ADMs were "suitcase" size? Well, Lebed told Congress in Russian that they were "footlocker" size. His interpreter translated that into "suitcase" in English. Lebed immediately realized his interpreter had made an error and tried to correct it. Too late.

ADMs were intended to be employed by junior officers and senior non-coms. So it is certainly conceivable that a good electrical engineer and a Ferrari mechanic might figure out how to arm, fuse and fire an ADM. And they might even bring down the Bay Bridge. Or the John Hancock building. But not the Pentagon. That place is built like a fort.

James Gordon Prather is a former national-security adviser with several federal agencies, including the Defense Department. He also worked as a nuclear weapons specialist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California and Sandia National Laboratory in New Mexico.

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