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America’s Nuclear Sponge

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 22, 2020

The “nuclear sponge” is a colorfully named Cold War-era concept whereby stationing a massive collection of ICBMs in sparsely populated areas of the United States would serve to “soak up” a nuclear attack from the Soviet Union, drawing fire away from populated targets like NYC, Chicago, and Seattle.

Before the development of nuclear-armed submarines that can hide their locations at sea, ICBMs were the crux of American nuclear strategy. Today, however, their only purpose is to draw fire away from other targets (like New York and San Francisco) in the (suicidal and thus highly unlikely) event of a first strike by Russia. The Air Force does not plan to launch the missiles in a war, but to have them draw a nuclear attack to the Upper Midwest.

We’re not making this up — that’s what former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told Congress.

Here’s what the nuclear sponge looks like, courtesy of the National Park Service (areas in black have been decommissioned):

Nuclear Sponge

The amazing/crazy thing is that the sponge is not only still an active strategy, but the Pentagon is planning on replacing the sponge arsenal with new missiles at a cost of $95.8 billion.