Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
The Military United States Power Technology

Power Failure Shuts Down 50 US Nuclear Missiles 338

Posted by timothy
from the need-a-bigger-ups dept.
Pickens writes "The Atlantic reports that a power failure at F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming took 50 nuclear intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), one-ninth of the US missile stockpile, temporarily offline on Saturday. The 90th Missile Wing, headquartered there, controls 150 Minuteman IIIs. According to people briefed on what happened, a squadron of ICBMs suddenly dropped down into what's known as 'LF Down' status, meaning that the missileers in their bunkers could no longer communicate with the missiles themselves. LF Down status also means that various security protocols built into the missile delivery system, like intrusion alarms and warhead separation alarms, were offline. The cause of the failure remains unknown, although it is suspected to be a breach of underground cables deep beneath the base, according to a senior military official."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Power Failure Shuts Down 50 US Nuclear Missiles

Comments Filter:
  • by ravenspear (756059) on Tuesday October 26, 2010 @07:19PM (#34032276)
    are offline!
  • by scourfish (573542) <scourfish@@@yahoo...com> on Tuesday October 26, 2010 @07:20PM (#34032288)
    Our stockpiles are ruined! how can we protect ourselves with only 5463 warheads?
    • by corbettw (214229)

      50 / (1/9) != 5513.

      • by FooAtWFU (699187)
        It's called a MIRV [wikipedia.org].
      • by treeves (963993)

        True, but (X/9) != 50.
        Hell, two Ohio class SSBNs have (the capacity for) almost 50 nuclear (Trident, MIRV) missiles.

      • by rubycodez (864176)

        Our 450 land based Minuteman III each have one warhead

      • by X0563511 (793323)

        You are assuming (most likely incorrectly) that every warhead we have is sitting at the top of a missile...

    • by Haedrian (1676506)
      Meh, I guess we'd have to leave Antarctica out when we launch the rest.
    • by hawguy (1600213)

      I don't get it - is this some geek culture reference?

      The article says 50 missiles, 1/9th of our arsenal, which implies a total arsenal of 450 missiles.

      I realize that each missile can carry more than one warhead, but I don't think they each carry 12.14 warheads. I thought that the maximum was 10 or 12 and I thought that some treaty cut that back to 1 or 2?

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by moonbender (547943)

        According to Wikipedia, the START II treaty [wikipedia.org] would have banned the use of MIRVs on ICBMs. However, START II was never activated, so I guess there is no legal limit. The Minutemen III ICBM can carry 3 MIRVs.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by treeves (963993)

        Each SLBM (which they must be totally ignoring, since we have 14 SSBNs, each of which can carry 24 Trident D-5 SLBMs) can carry 8 MIRVs.

      • by X0563511 (793323)

        It's the supposed number of warheads we have. I don't think he realized that they are not all kept sitting on missiles at the ready...

    • by cgenman (325138) on Tuesday October 26, 2010 @07:58PM (#34032718) Homepage

      To be fair, the far more frightening thing is that someone can take out a base full of nuclear missiles with a backhoe and a bottle of Jager. My server room at least has a UPS, and the fate of the free world doesn't depend on that.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by budgenator (254554)

        First it wasn't a power failure the caused the problem, it was a cable problem. I imagine those cables have intrusion protection, which if it's anything like the old 4-wire secure telephone lines they have a lot more false alarms than they have missed alarms. It would be like your server room's network shuts down any time a ping detects a signal reflection change to foil a man-in-the-middle attack or a snooping device.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by nacturation (646836) *

        To be fair, the far more frightening thing is that someone can take out a base full of nuclear missiles with a backhoe and a bottle of Jager.

        Now we know what those Chilean miners were really up to.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by master_p (608214)

        Let me guess: "free world" equals the United States?

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by molo (94384)

          The US nuclear umbrella covers NATO, Japan and Korea. That is a pretty good portion of the free world.

          -molo

    • by Timmy D Programmer (704067) on Tuesday October 26, 2010 @08:21PM (#34032928) Journal
      The end of the world could possibly take an extra 5 minutes.
  • WOPR tried to hack in and must over loaded something likely taking a fuse with it.

    • "I ain't gonna let some silicon diode tell me what to do!" -- General Beringer

      False alarm, good Amerika peoples. Only Peoples Republic of China installing network taps. Please to go about your daily businesses.

  • by the linux geek (799780) on Tuesday October 26, 2010 @07:21PM (#34032312)
    I understand the wish of some to reduce or eliminate the US nuclear arsenal, but while we have it, whoever is in command really needs to take care of it better. We had the loss of launch codes in 2000, completely removing the ability to launch for several months. We had the notorious "let's load live warheads on to low-security cruise missiles slated for destruction" incident a few years back. And now this. At this rate, is the nuclear arsenal even serving as an effective deterrent?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by siddesu (698447)

      Deterrent against who? Against the terrarists? No, not really, you cannot really strike back at them with a nuke.

      Against Putin? No, because Putin is not really interested in having a shooting war with the West right now, at least until his family lives there.

      Against the Chinese? No, because international trade seems to be the better way to have each other by the balls.

      Against the Japanese? Nah, not really, US has bases over there, and their prime minister resigns as soon as he hints about something American

      • by ScrewMaster (602015) * on Tuesday October 26, 2010 @08:07PM (#34032814)

        Deterrent against who? Against the terrarists? No, not really, you cannot really strike back at them with a nuke.

        Against Putin? No, because Putin is not really interested in having a shooting war with the West right now, at least until his family lives there.

        Against the Chinese? No, because international trade seems to be the better way to have each other by the balls.

        Against the Japanese? Nah, not really, US has bases over there, and their prime minister resigns as soon as he hints about something Americans don't like.

        Against Iran or North Korea then? How are they even a threat that would merit deterrent?

        So nope, it looks like US nuclear arsenal is definitely not serving as an effective deterrent.

        Is it deterring a massive strike from a bitter enemy with thousands of such weapons at his disposal? No, not so much. Is anyone else bothering to build even a fraction of our stock of the things? Nope: because to achieve even a fraction of the threat that the Soviet Union once posed would be far too costly. So I'd say you're wrong: the United States' nuclear arsenal is deterring anyone else from building anything similar: the barrier to entry is too high. I don't see that as a bad thing.

        And if I'm wrong, well, then so are you. The global situation is changing and the current status quo will not be maintained forever. We may need them some day.

        • by siddesu (698447)

          Is it deterring a massive strike from a bitter enemy with thousands of such weapons at his disposal? No, not so much.

          Yes, my point exactly, and an answer to your original question.

          Is anyone else bothering to build even a fraction of our stock of the things? Nope: because [nukes are] far too costly.

          Precisely. The nukes have cost many times over their value as a deterrent. So many were made not because they were an effective deterrent, but because some got very, very rich on them.

          The global situation is changing and the current status quo will not be maintained forever. We may need them some day.

          Or you may end up like Putin, sitting on a large pile of nuclear rust some day.

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by ScrewMaster (602015) *

            Or you may end up like Putin, sitting on a large pile of nuclear rust some day.

            Better that than swimming in a lake of molten glass. And, if you Google our force reductions, you'll see that we realized a long time ago that we didn't need the Cold War buildup, after the Soviet Empire collapsed. We've reduced both our nuclear and conventional forces considerably since then. That may ultimately prove to be a mistake, time will tell. But we no longer possess the same nuclear capability we once had.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by GumphMaster (772693)

          So I'd say you're wrong: the United States' nuclear arsenal is deterring anyone else from building anything similar: the barrier to entry is too high. I don't see that as a bad thing.

          The "barrier to entry", as you put it, to building a US-sized nuclear arsenal would exist even if the US had no missiles. Nukes are expensive - end of story. The real question is, if the US had no missiles would the incentive to try to build a US-sized nuclear arsenal, or even a fractional one, still exist?

    • by braeldiil (1349569) on Tuesday October 26, 2010 @07:41PM (#34032544)
      We never lost the launch codes. President Clinton's authorization card was lost (I'm not following it close enough to know by whom), but all that meant is that he couldn't authorize launch. There are many other people able to authorize a launch, beginning with VP Gore. There's a whole designated chain, and there's quite a few people at the top of the list with authorization cards. It's all designed to maintain a National Command authority in the event of a decapitation attack. In addition, it would only matter in the event of a massive suprise attack with no buildup. In the normal course of events, tensions would rachet up for weeks or months, and its likely the President would be in a command center when the order needed to be given. At the very least, he's be able to give a verbal order to someone with a card who was in the room, and launch would be approved.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by PatPending (953482)
        But-- but-- what about the Mine Shaft Gap?
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by cgenman (325138)

        "Gore, I don't care about the penguins. Order the damned launch."

      • by mirix (1649853) on Tuesday October 26, 2010 @08:45PM (#34033130)

        Well perhaps you're forgetting the provisions of plan R, sir.

        Plan R?

        Plan R is an emergency war plan in which a lower echelon commander may order nuclear retaliation after a sneak attack if the normal chain of command is disrupted. You approved it, sir. You must remember. Surely you must recall, sir, when Senator Buford made that big hassle about our deterrent lacking credibility. The idea was for plan R to be a sort of retaliatory safeguard.

        A safeguard.

        I admit the human element seems to have failed us here. But the idea was to discourage the Russkies from any hope that they could knock out Washington, and yourself, sir, as part of a general sneak attack, and escape retaliation because of lack of proper command and control.

    • by EdIII (1114411)

      Embarrassing maybe. It's absolutely still an effective deterrent.

      You could have the rest of the military running around like morons with 9000 warheads as if they were in Sgt. Bilko, but all it takes is ONE.

      Just ONE missile in the hands of ONE competent military group controlling ONE functional system gives you the same level of threat as the other 9,000. Even if all of land based systems were taken offline, we have still have plenty of nuclear submarines out there sitting quietly.

      The thing is, all of the

      • Yes, a combination of land-based missile silos and nuclear-armed submarines (which theoretically may or may not be nuclear-powered submarines, and vice versa). Bombers too.

    • by Culture20 (968837)

      At this rate, is the nuclear arsenal even serving as an effective deterrent?

      I'm starting to think it's like a revolver being waved around by a drunk guy. There's a stark realization that he really could pull the trigger, but the gun might not be loaded. So you think to yourself "Do I feel lucky?"

    • by blair1q (305137)

      At this rate, is the nuclear arsenal even serving as an effective deterrent?

      Is Rupert Murdoch our King yet?

      No?

      Then it's working.

  • Oh what a shame: (Score:5, Insightful)

    by phyrexianshaw.ca (1265320) on Tuesday October 26, 2010 @07:22PM (#34032318) Homepage
    "for a few hours, we lost the ability to end the world"

    what a shame.
    • No worries, there are thousands of warheads; ending the world would have been no trouble at all.

  • ...when you fail to check your power systems regularly, the terrorists win.

    Please, take care of your electrical-systems-powering-ICBM-missiles. Please.
  • Switch the targeting systems for empty boxes while Colossus can't look!

  • Obligatory (Score:3, Informative)

    by PatPending (953482) on Tuesday October 26, 2010 @07:26PM (#34032362)
    Major T. J. "King" Kong: Well, boys, I reckon this is it - nuclear combat toe to toe with the Roosskies. Now look, boys, I ain't much of a hand at makin' speeches, but I got a pretty fair idea that something doggone important is goin' on back there. And I got a fair idea the kinda personal emotions that some of you fellas may be thinkin'. Heck, I reckon you wouldn't even be human bein's if you didn't have some pretty strong personal feelin's about nuclear combat. I want you to remember one thing, the folks back home is a-countin' on you and by golly, we ain't about to let 'em down. I tell you something else, if this thing turns out to be half as important as I figure it just might be, I'd say that you're all in line for some important promotions and personal citations when this thing's over with. That goes for ever' last one of you regardless of your race, color or your creed. Now let's get this thing on the hump - we got some flyin' to do.

    Oh, wait...

    • by Haedrian (1676506)
      How can we protect our precious bodily fluids with 50 missiles not working?
      • How can we protect our precious bodily fluids with 50 missiles not working?

        General Jack D. Ripper: Fluoridation is the most monstrously conceived and dangerous communist plot we have ever had to face.

    • by _Sprocket_ (42527)

      Now let's get this thing on the hump - we got some flyin' to do.

      Oh, wait...

      "Yeeeeehaaaaw?"

      • Yeah Kong got some flying in that time. Its one of my earliest memories BTW. Maybe taking a three year old to Kubrick movies wasn't such a good idea...

        • Maybe taking a three year old to Kubrick movies wasn't such a good idea...

          Your earliest memory is from age three, eh? And from seeing a movie?

          Well, my earliest memory is nine months before I was born! -- I remember going to a drive-in movie with my dad, and then going home with my mom!

  • Update to the story (Score:5, Informative)

    by pickens (49171) on Tuesday October 26, 2010 @07:31PM (#34032424) Journal

    It is now being called an engineering failure not a power failure.

    "According to the official, engineers believe that a launch control center computer (LCC), responsible for a package of five missiles, began to "ping" out of sequence, resulting in a surge of "noise" through the system. The LCCs interrogate each missile in sequence, so if they begin to send signals out when they're not supposed to, receivers on the missiles themselves will notice this and send out error codes.

    Since LCCs ping out of sequence on occasion, missileers tried quick fixes. But as more and more missiles began to display error settings, they decided to take off-line all five LCCs that the malfunctioning center was connected to. That left 50 missiles in the dark. The missileers then restarted one of the LCCs, which began to normally interrogate the missile transceiver. Three other LCCs were successfully restarted. The suspect LCC remains off-line. "

    The missiles were offline for about an hour.

    • by Sulphur (1548251)

      So somebody set the clock wrong?

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Just a little test run of Israel's NEW version of the Stuxnet.
      But I'm (almost) sure that Israel will ALLOW the US to launch a couple missiles when the time comes.
      Maybe.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Buelldozer (713671)

      This sounds an awful lot like a "swamp gas and reflections from Saturn" explanation.

  • 50 * 9 = 450 nukes

    anyone think it's funny that we don't allow other countries to have nukes?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by couchslug (175151)

      "anyone think it's funny that we don't allow other countries to have nukes?"

      No. Power and force matter. They trump everything else.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by jeff4747 (256583)

      We have 450 Minuteman IIIs. We have lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of other delivery mechanisms.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by ScrewMaster (602015) *

      50 * 9 = 450 nukes

      anyone think it's funny that we don't allow other countries to have nukes?

      I'm not sure what you mean by "funny".

      Should the U.S and its allies encourage proliferation of thermonuclear weapons and delivery systems? I don't think so, personally. We aren't discussing tariffs or trade embargoes here, you know. Understand one thing: fairness doesn't matter. Never having them used in war, that's what matters. Also, lots of other countries have them, you know. We just don't like countries whose leaders are likely to drop them on us, or on our allies, to have them. We also don't like n

    • by nedlohs (1335013)

      No.

      Just because I can kill you, doesn't mean I want to allow you to be able to kill me.

  • ... and assumed the launch control center has been blown away, then proceed to start the launch sequence on their own?

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by jeff4747 (256583)

      This kind of situation is the reason they don't put such 'intelligence' into the missiles.

  • Stupid hype (Score:4, Insightful)

    by fartingfool (1208968) on Tuesday October 26, 2010 @07:41PM (#34032540)
    After reading the article, it's full of hype. They corrected themselves; it wasn't a power failure, but just a couple of missiles that started blabbering to the monitoring computers incorrectly so they unplugged them to prevent a cascade. Everyone in the article with a name (e.g. Sgt. Soandso) said everything was fine and they knew everything that was going on. Everyone without a name (e.g. "a general who is high up") happened to suggest otherwise.

    Move along, nothing to see here -.-

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 26, 2010 @07:47PM (#34032616)

    Look, I RTFAd.

    To summarize: one of the ICBM routers went out of control, sending out pings to the missiles before it should. The missiles sent back error codes as they weren't expecting to be pinged yet, and the increase in traffic eventually flooded that segment of the network, and they had to take it down. The local guys lost control of some added security features. They sent in armed soldiers to each silo to make sure they were intact.

    The president still had full control of the missiles via NCA and Kneecap. Neither were operational at the time due to our relatively peaceful defcon status, but every single one of the missiles would have still launched during the "power failure".

    Really, the only reason this is a big story is what the hardware was controlling. As any slashdot reader can tell you, routers can die all the time without warning. They were back up and running within an hour (bypassing the faulty router).

  • So Broken Arrow [imdb.com] means missing nuke.

    Apparently Dull Sword [wikimedia.org] is the term for a non-functioning nuclear warhead.

    • So Broken Arrow means missing nuke. Apparently Dull Sword is the term for a non-functioning nuclear warhead.

      Yeah, but what does Limp Dick mean?

  • "Gentlemen, you can't fight in here, this is the war room."
  • That has to give a whole new meaning to being afraid in the dark. I bet there were a few hundred people messing their pants on Saturday, and a lot of people who haven't stopped working non-stop since the incident.

  • http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSWAT00960720080606 [reuters.com]

    The Air Force has been long criticized over its handling of the nuclear stock pile. Missleers used to be a sought after job, but over the last few decades, its been a career dead end in the Air Force.

  • Dick Cheney came to elected office from Wyoming, and claimed he was from Wyoming to avoid the law that prohibits both president and VP candidate coming from the same state (Texas, with Bush). Cheney is the devil, and dwells in the bowels of the Earth. Cheney loves nothing more than WMD like "loose nukes". He's got plenty of time on his hands, and saw on TV that Republicans are taking over again next week.

    I believe we have located the Cheney Bunker. And he's grabbing nukes!

  • It's not like we were using them anyway. Heck, we probably saved on some tritium, assuming it didn't leak out when the power went off.

  • by magarity (164372) on Tuesday October 26, 2010 @09:02PM (#34033228)

    I know a fellow who cut the phone lines to Cheyenne Mountain back in the early '70s. He was running the drilling machine to make pilings for a new highway overpass when two truckloads of angry MPs hunting communist infiltrators came roaring down the road. Turns out the guy who left the little flags showing where there was an underground cable didn't notice a loop that was put in when the cables were installed and the two ends didn't match up. By complete coincidence the bridge piling was going in right over the looped cable. Hah, took my friend and his crew several hours to convince the MPs they weren't a Soviet sleeper cell disrupting communications as prelude to nuclear attack.

  • by LoRdTAW (99712) on Tuesday October 26, 2010 @09:23PM (#34033374)

    "The cause of the failure remains unknown, although it is suspected to be a breach of underground cables deep beneath the base, according to a senior military official."

    Mole People working for Al Qaeda! How else can this act of sabotage be explained?

All constants are variables.

Working...