This is a presentation from the Union of Concerned Scientists' webinar series on nuclear weapons and global security. For a complete list of past webinars (and links to the videos), please see:

Abstract: Advances in remote sensing technologies have raised concerns that nuclear arsenals are becoming more vulnerable as making weapons survivable through concealment becomes more difficult. Space-based radar (SBR) has been raised in the literature as a technology that could have particular impact on the survivability of road-mobile missiles as SBR can operate at night and through cloud cover, conditions where traditional optical imaging may not be useful.

To evaluate the potential impact of the widespread deployment of SBR on the survivability of mobile missiles, this talk formulates the problem as a game of hide-and-seek where the seeker employs a remote sensing system to determine the location of a set of mobile missiles concealed by the hider. Analysis of the capabilities and limitations of radar modalities is used to estimate number and capability of SBR satellites that would be needed to meaningfully threaten the survivability of road-mobile missiles. The cost of such a system is compared to the cost and efficacy of countermeasures available to the hider that degrade or defeat it. This analysis indicates that the widespread deployment of SBR could threaten arsenal survivability if the hider took no compensating actions, but that decisive countermeasures are available at low cost.

Bio: TD MacDonald is a Ph.D. candidate in the Laboratory for Nuclear Security and Policy in the Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering at MIT. He comes from an interdisciplinary background, having earned a B.Sc. in Biochemistry from the University of Waterloo and a M.Sc. in Pharmaceutical Sciences from the University of Toronto before coming to MIT to study radiation detection and measurement techniques. His current work focuses on the implications of changing technologies for strategic nuclear stability, a problem at the intersection of political science and physics.

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