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In my story, the supervillain loads ICBM missiles onto a ship and fires them from sea. He can't use a naval ship with missile launchers; that'll arouse suspicion. He uses a civilian cargo ship.

Could the bad guys construct a floating platform that would accommodate a large number of surface-to-air missile launchers or road-mobile ICBMs?

The requirements of this platform are –

  • It would have to be deployed in several hours, not days and days. Not enough time for military satellites to wonder what's up and send something to investigate.

  • It would have to be large enough to hold a large number of road-mobile ICBMs, maybe 100s or 1000s

  • A civilian/industrial ship, maybe a heavy-lift ship carries and deploys it.

  • It would have to cost.... maybe tens of millions? Let's say $100 million at most. The supervillain has access to funds, but not billions and billions.

  • It would have to be strong enough to take the weight of the missiles, 30,000 tonnes, and support them when they fire.

I can't find any examples of platforms like this being built at sea.

Thank you.

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    $\begingroup$ There are two questions here and you need to ask them separately (VTC:NMF until you've separated the questions, then I'll retract). Q#1: How to build a floating platform that can hold X (be specific!) number of ICBMs (which type? Be specific!) and be towed behind a ship? Q#2: What would be required to build the accepted answer to Q#1 in less than X hours (bee specific!)? $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Jan 24, 2023 at 0:18
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    $\begingroup$ Worth considering: the most prolific road-mobile ICBM ever made, the RS-24 Yars, has about 150 units in active service. And the Russian Army will probably notice if you try to put them all on a container ship. $\endgroup$
    – Cadence
    Jan 24, 2023 at 0:26
  • $\begingroup$ The thing with road-mobile ICBMs is that the transporter-erector-launchers can launch them at short notice (meaning, minutes) from wherever they happen to be. This is the whole point. There are a hundred SS-29 missiles moving around randomly on the roads of Russia, nobody knows precisely where, and therefore nobody can target them; and, if needed, all of them can launch and nobody can do anything about it. Why would you want to self-negate this tremendous advantage? $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Jan 24, 2023 at 0:39
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    $\begingroup$ The supervillain can afford hundreds or thousands of ICBMs but only $100 M for a platform? Your supervillain is badly underfunded to try to play with the big boys, needs at least an order of magnitude more money for the platform and 2+ orders of magnitude more for a thousand armed ICBMs. $\endgroup$ Jan 24, 2023 at 3:27
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    $\begingroup$ @KerrAvon2055 Maybe he blew the budget on the ICBMs and didn't have much left for the floating launch platform? Or intercepted a truck convoy of missiles and only had hours and $100 million ready cash to take advantage of the opportunity, or... $\endgroup$
    – Jedediah
    Jan 24, 2023 at 4:08

8 Answers 8

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The ship is easy, use a Bulk Carrier

enter image description here

Unlike a container ships, bulk carriers have several (typically 5-7) giant hatches for storing large amounts of unpackaged goods like ore, grain, coal, lumber, etc. Some larger bulk carriers will be deep enough to fit a road capable ICBM launcher into, and wide enough to pack in a few hundred. Unlike a heavy-lift ship, these bays will keep your payload launch ready and concealed. Just open the hatches and start firing to your heart's content... but there is a major problem...

Getting it loaded is not so easy

The tricky part is the size of ICBMs. Even a road capable ICBM is on average 21-23m long and 45-50 tons. Most harbors can not handle bulk carriers with a 21+ meter deep bay, nor do they have cranes that can lift 45-50 tons. Furthermore, most of the Bulk carriers in the weight class seem to cost a bit over \$100 million which means even if you found one on discount, it would not leave any funds left over for retrofitting and operations. So, you'd be limited to a hand full of very major ports that you could use to load your missile ship. This is a huge problem for your supervillain because loading and unloading missiles at such a major port is not going to be able to be done in secrete, and building your own port on this budget at this size is not an option... besides, any port this size will attract a lot of government oversight even if your could afford to build your own.

Use strategic nukes instead

There is no reason to put an ICBM on a ship, the whole point of an ICBM is that it can be launched from anywhere, to anywhere in the world, but cargo ships can cover most of that distance themselves. If your villain has road capable ICBMs, then it makes more since to simply park them in some woods or something where satellites cant see them.

Instead you could use a shorter ranged cruise missile. There are modern cruise missle in the 7-10m length, 2-3 ton range that can fire nukes 2500-4500km. Such a weapon system can threaten an entire nation or group of smaller nations... but more importantly, they will fit into practically any bulk carrier and are light enough to be loaded by any port crane meaning that it is much easier to find some unscrupulous dictator or cartel warlord who will let you use a smaller port off the beaten path to load up your missle ship.

If your goal is to threaten many countries over a larger area, 2-3 smaller bulk carriers would be in your budget... technically you could afford 4, but you'd have to plan on spending a fair amount on turning those bulk bays into proper missile silos to keep your first launch for causing a chain reaction blowing up your ship.

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No need to construct. You can have it for free.

iceberg b15

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iceberg_B-15

Iceberg B-15 was the largest recorded iceberg by area.[Note 1] It measured around 295 by 37 kilometres (159 by 20 nautical miles), with a surface area of 11,000 square kilometres (3,200 square nautical miles), about the size of the island of Jamaica.

I don't want to hear any griping about how this floating ice island is more than you need. Free is free! Break off a side piece if you want and leave the rest. Get the missiles down in there covered with snow. You can have tugboats disguised as little icebergs move it into positon.

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  • $\begingroup$ Getting the launchers on top of the iceberg is, presumably, left as an exercise to the reader. $\endgroup$
    – Cadence
    Jan 24, 2023 at 2:07
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    $\begingroup$ +1 for your usual creativity! It's not as if the platform's needed after the launch, and it can be towed to warmer waters for quick disposal of the evidence! $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Jan 24, 2023 at 4:08
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    $\begingroup$ @JBH - good thought re warm water. It would be tricky to scuttle it. $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Jan 24, 2023 at 20:43
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I would have thought the simple answer is a second-hand Bulk Carrier. Do away with the platform idea, leave the Cargo covers in place, fill the 'cargo holds' with vertical launch tubes.

According to Here - $20 Mill will get you a second hand bulk carrier - so buy 3 of these, then use the remaining 40 Mill for outfit them - to appear as innocent Cargo vessels with the cargo covers shut.

For extra Evil genius points - perhaps the modifications are one-way only (as in the crew is not expected to survive the launch)

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    $\begingroup$ Yeah, willing to pivot to just ships. They could even be rented rather than bought for extra cheapsktery. Maybe a heavy-lift ship: those seem to have a big open surface area. The missiles could be in shipping containers there, and the roofs of the containers open for launch. $\endgroup$
    – wokopa
    Jan 24, 2023 at 13:09
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You really have a major part of the platform in place

In fact the launching gear (separated from the ICBM) is so simple that it could be manufactured as something civilian, and assembled in the open sea. And your supervillains already have a supercargo ship under control. You don't need a stationary platform to do launch, just make the ship adrift and it would wel suffice. So they could most likely modify a civilian supercargo to have a rather simple launching gear installed, use that ship for several years as normal (carrying goods between ports), in the meantime load ICBMs there, then at time X raise the device and FOOM! And if that isn't enough, use several.

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It seems that a version of Judgement Day (a mobile, converted oil tanker) from the Three-Body Problem series would fit your conditions best. I will be assuming the dimensions of a Suezmax tanker because I could find the most specifications for this class online, but this is quite a general analysis, so you could probably modify the particulars somewhat.

This would satisfy all your requirements:

  1. Can be deployed in several hours. This is the factor I am most uncertain about, and the source on rapid turnaround I could find does not specifically mention a Suezmax tanker, but states that the average turnaround time in 2018 of both container ships and liquid transport ships was less than a day. It at least seems plausible to me that a <24 hour timeframe for this tanker deployment after purchase might work, if it is already at port.

  2. Can hold several hundred road-mobile ICBMs. The deck area of an average Suezmax carrier is (274 * 48) = ~13,000 square meters. The cross-sectional area of the Minuteman III, the only currently active US ICBM, is (1.68m^2 * pi) = 8.87 m^2. Even if only half of the ship's deck is used for missile storage, that still leaves room for ~700 missiles.

  3. A civilian/industrial ship. This one should not be hard, as oil tankers are very often used for commercial purposes. No need to purchase a military vessel.

  4. In the $100 million price range. Multiple sources suggest that the price for a used large oil tanker is in the tens of millions of dollars.

  5. Supports 30,000 tons or more worth of ICBMs. This source claims that a large Suezmax oil tanker from a few years ago has a max DWT of around 160,000 tons, and the one linked discussing #2 also suggests at least 30,000 tons of that is cargo (gross tonnage - raw tonnage).

So, your best bet for clandestine world-threatening operations appears to be a modified large oil tanker.

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A container ship might do the job if you can arrange the loading.

The containers are about 8 ft high and 20 ft long. They have a maximum weight of 30 tons. If you made a triple-height 20-ft container that looked like three containers, you could stick three Polaris missiles into it, with launch tubes, and a top that blows off. This would just come under the 30 ton limit, and loading cranes grab the units from the top, so the whole thing could be loaded in. one go without further modification.

There are container ships that can take 24000 containers, or 8000 of our treble-height units. However, if we are to launch at sea, we can only launch from the top row. Nevertheless, there are plenty of ships with hundreds of containers per level, so that ought to be enough.

Happy doomsday!

Postscript replying to comment.

You don't have to own the ship if you can trigger the launch remotely. The shippers might not even know what they are carrying. Say they are 'big sheets of thick glass for fancy apartments'. The triple-height containers would not fit on trucks or go through any railway tunnel, but you might be able to find a branch line that you could load and ship from.

If you are going to develop a backstory, have a business that needs triple height units. When you deliver, you want these special units back again, so these boxes are permanently going to and fro across the ocean. Some of them are full of ICBMs ready for the right moment.

PPS: Double mad-scientist points for making a case that whatever is in the triple-height containers is perishable, so should be packed last, and unpacked first, which should put them on top.

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  • $\begingroup$ "Happy doomsday!" lol you too. I'm leaning towards some kind of ship given the comments here, but the key is a large surface/launching area for sudden deployment. If the missiles are stashed away in the belly of the thing, they're out of action. Container ships can take days to unload. Now maybe if there are a lot of containers – say 100 – facing the sky it could work; it's a matter of picking the right class of ship, which is maybe some 'heavy lift ship' or 'bulk carrier' $\endgroup$
    – wokopa
    Jan 25, 2023 at 20:02
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Frameshift--you don't need it.

Consider the long-abandoned Sea Dragon concept. You seal your rocket against salt water intrusion and damage, dump it in the ocean and fire it.

I don't think the Sea Dragon would have worked as designed (there are some big issues with rockets in high pressure environments--the Shuttle OMS engines would be destroyed if fired too low in the atmosphere) but ICBMs are normally solids and thus avoid most of the headaches. You just have ordinary ships, they use a crane to put the birds in the sea and nobody's around when they light off.

Your villain has a different problem, though--you can't use big safety margins with rockets at this scale, nobody sends birds that far without testing them first--and good luck getting away with testing your ICBM without both the US and Russia taking note. And asking some pointed questions about what you're up to.

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  • $\begingroup$ The testing phase is a plothole I'm working on, alright, well spotted. Stolen missiles are a simple answer. $\endgroup$
    – wokopa
    Jan 29, 2023 at 10:07
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Scrapper's Paradise:

Your villain (or his family) is involved in the scrap industry. Back in the 70's, they got the contract to decommission the Polaris, and then Poseidon ballistic missile systems from US ballistic missile submarines.

Only a corrupt admiral took a bribe, and the paperwork proving the missiles were decommissioned properly appeared out of thin air. While the warheads were tracked carefully, the missiles got piled up in a big warehouse. The villain also got extensive information on how the launch tubes for these missiles worked.

So now your villain has a bunch of ballistic missiles designed to be launched from underwater launch tubes and the knowledge how to build those tubes. With a scrap yard, the villain has access to old ships ready to be decommissioned. Given a pile of warheads from "somewhere," a plan is hatched.

The missiles are pre-loaded into launch tubes with a weighting system (like an anchor) to get the tube pointed up. Then, the villain has simply to roll the missiles off the ship and into the sea. The missiles can launch at a predetermined signal or on a timer. The ship may not even be nearby when the missiles all suddenly pour out of the ocean in a huge mass.

  • I did not read Loren Pechtel's answer (+1) before coming up with this, and I acknowledge some similarity. I feel my approach addresses many of the problems in that answer, and I derived mine independently, so I'm still posting it.
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