So, this is a question I wanted to ask in relation to the blog post I made introducing the Cuban Missile War series of blog posts, which is the result of the Cold War escalating into World War III during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Here is the link, though to summarise, the point of divergence is that the Soviet Foxtrot-class submarine known as the B-59 fires a nuclear torpedo at the USS Randolph and its 11 destroyer escorts, after Vasily Arkhipov agrees to launch the torpedo. The B-59, the USS Randolph, and its escorts are all sunk by a 10 kt nuclear blast. More information is in the blog post itself.

So, if you read the blog post, then skip here.

You skipped? Good. It is the 27th of October of 1962 at around 17:16 hours Romeo/6:17 PM EDT. The first wave of American air strikes against Cuba is about to begin, as a total of 399 F-100 Super Sabres, F-104 Starfighters, and F-105 Thunderchiefs begin to take off from their aircraft carriers and air bases respectively. Then, they begin to head towards the missile sites, which are defended by:

  • 144 SAM launchers, with 576 total SAMs ready to fire.
  • 102 total MiG-17s, MiG-19s and MiG-21s ready to shoot the Americans out of the sky.

The objective is as follows: take out the missile sites and soften up defenses for the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions to land near Havana and for the US Marines in Guantanamo Bay to expand their perimeter. The F-104s are to provide air cover, while the F-100s and F-105s begin their strikes on ground targets. Unknown to the American forces that land in Cuba later on, the Soviets have 100 tactical nukes waiting to be unleashed on them, which are distributed as follows:

  • 80 14 kt cruise missiles
  • 6 12 kt nukes from IL-28 bombers
  • 12 Luna missiles, each carrying 2 kt nuclear warheads from six FROG-3/5 launchers

If they land, the Americans have those tactical nukes waiting to vaporize them.

Now, my question is: before the Americans land (only to be vapourised), would any of the missile sites (which are a total of 20 to 40 launchers located in the San Cristobal, and Sagua La Grande Medium Range Ballistic Missile (MRBM) sites, and the Guanajay Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile (IRBM) site respectively) have any launchers left to be useful in a Soviet nuclear strike against the mainland US?

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    $\begingroup$ I think your blog link may be broken. That being said, much of the real question will be the Soviet response to a substantial chunk of the US airforce striking at Cuba. How long will they let the missiles just sit on the ground? $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented Dec 8, 2017 at 18:02
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    $\begingroup$ @CortAmmon I fixed the link. There was a dot at the end for some reason. $\endgroup$
    – Secespitus
    Commented Dec 8, 2017 at 18:06
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    $\begingroup$ By the way, that's a HELL of a buildup. There's more to this alternate history than meets the eye. Consider this declassified document from the CIA in 1982 suggesting they had 30 SA-2 launchers from when they were dug in in the 1960's. $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented Dec 8, 2017 at 18:12
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    $\begingroup$ Does this detail even matter in your story when you are already claiming that there is tactical nukes waiting? If the Americans didn't know about the tactical nukes, why would you assume they even knew where every missile site is. If the Americans are going to attack, they would make sure every site they know about is rendered completely inoperable because the consequences of not doing so would be catastrophic so the only way one would be working would be either the Americans fail in their initial attack or their intel was wrong/incomplete. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 8, 2017 at 18:17
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    $\begingroup$ @Future Historian, even worse (from the American viewpoint), the local Soviet commanders had release authority on the warheads. They could have fired them on their own initiative at any time without needing further instructions or command from Moscow. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 8, 2017 at 20:31

3 Answers 3


Keep in mind that the early 1960s were before the widespread use of smart bombs. Then look at probabilities.

  • For the sake of the argument, say each Soviet warhead is attacked by two US aircraft. (That's roughly half the American planes on "Scud Hunt" missions ...) Each aircraft has a 90% chance to kill the target. With two separate attacks, each warhead has an 1% chance to survive.
  • Now take 100 warheads, each with that 1% survival rate. The odds are roughly two in three (0.99^100) that at least one warhead survives.

That 90% kill rate is pretty optimistic for 1960s technology, even with perfect intel on the target locations. And there won't be perfect information. Most likely some kitchen trailers will be attacked as "high value targets" and some warheads (and their delivery systems) will remain unattacked.

  • $\begingroup$ Well, 100 tactical warheads and 40 IRBM/MRBMs, the former of which the Americans were not aware of. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 9, 2017 at 13:14
  • $\begingroup$ @FutureHistorian, so getting all of them will be quite impossible. The Coalition couldn't stop Saddam from launching SCUDs, and that was in easier terrain with a much more advanced air force. $\endgroup$
    – o.m.
    Commented Dec 9, 2017 at 14:15
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    $\begingroup$ @FutureHistorian, with these numbers it is highly unlikely that the Americans would get all of them. You could describe an air raid on a battery which ends with most of the missiles destroyed, most of the launchers damaged, most of the crews dead, and still there is a wounded major who rallies the survivors: "We still have a launcher, we still have a missile, we have our orders, so let's load the missile and fire." $\endgroup$
    – o.m.
    Commented Dec 9, 2017 at 15:36
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    $\begingroup$ @FutureHistorian, impossible to say, too much random chance. A bunch of photo interpreters eat something funny in the mess, they are not up to par, half a battery is not even attacked. A fuel truck is halted right between two launchers, the fuel truck is hit, both launchers are gone. An attack squadron encounters some MiGs, the fighter-bombers jettison their bombs to go air-to-air, a command center survives. A general orders a missile battery to move just hours before the attack, and it survives. Or it gets caught on the road and destroyed. $\endgroup$
    – o.m.
    Commented Dec 9, 2017 at 18:29
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    $\begingroup$ @FutureHistorian, it would be quite improbable that all survive, and equally improbable that all are destroyed. So you can have fun writing the little random stuff. "The pilot who saved Miami." (Went kamikaze into a missile because he was out of ammo.) "The political officer who went missing, along with his part of the code." (A starfighter crashed into the hotel where he met his mistress.) $\endgroup$
    – o.m.
    Commented Dec 9, 2017 at 18:53

EDIT (to account for new information):

My understanding of the question is: given the forces listed above, plus 187 American reinforcement aircraft in Day 2, and assuming that leaving the ballistic missile sites alone for several days is an option, is it possible for any of the ballistic missile sites to survive a sustained air assault?


Here is a simulation. Feel free to make a copy and experiment.

In summary, the surface to air missiles would do terrific damage on the American aircraft. It would be reasonable for the Cuban surface to air missile sites to be the sole focus of the first day of combat. It would be a bloodbath, and almost all of the American aircraft would be shot down. All of the surface to air launchers, however, would be destroyed.

Reinforcements, in the form of 187 additional American aircraft would arrive at the end of Day 1. This would give the Americans an almost 2-to-1 numerical advantage over the Cubans.

I looked at several websites that said Cuban aircraft were superior air-to-air fighters than their American counterparts. To get to surviving nuclear missile sites, you must assume this to be true.

The next requires a misstep in the American commander's assignment of aircraft missions - continuing to focus on surface to air missile site hunting in Day 2, completely understandable since they shot down nearly four hundred American planes the day before. However, this ground focus allows Cuban aircraft to continue shooting down American planes - cutting down the American numerical advantage.

On Day 3, the American commander changes focus to the Cuban aircraft. The battle will continue for two days, where the superior Cuban air fighters and shorter sortie times allow the Cubans to turn the tide, shooting down the last American aircraft on Day 5.

In this instance, all 40 ballistic missile sites would remain. If the American commander devotes some small percentage (less than 20%) of the force to taking out the ballistic missile sites first, the number could be reduced.

  • $\begingroup$ That makes sense. And this is just the first day, correct? Because I forgot to mention in the blog post: the air campaign lasts for eight days minimum before the Americans land. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 10, 2017 at 13:12
  • $\begingroup$ I might have missed it in the blog, but I would imagine the ballistic missile counter attack would begin as soon as the air strikes began. You can use this to determine time to eradication with some probability. But you'd have to take into account attrition among the aircraft, because they are a fixed resource. Let me see if I can set up a public sheet. What is the outcome you are trying to achieve? $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 10, 2017 at 13:17
  • $\begingroup$ Some launchers are still operational over by the end of the eight day air campaign (though the plan could make it last to a total of 18 days, with the remaining time being to provide air support to ground units), followed by US forces landing in Cuba, which get vapourised by tactical nukes after intense fighting. However, I should point out that I want this to be realistic, so...... $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 10, 2017 at 16:35
  • $\begingroup$ Here is what (I hope) is a public Google sheet. You'll want to adjust the mission distribution by day. docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/… $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 10, 2017 at 19:19
  • $\begingroup$ What I found to be a problem was the SAM launchers. You could exhaust your entire supply in Day 1, allowing the friendly forces to concentrate on targets other than the launchers in later $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 10, 2017 at 19:33

Here come the boring statistics, it will be a long answer.

The invasion of Cuba was OPLAN 316 [Operational Plan].

Cuba had 17 divisions with a total of 130,000 all ranks: 1 armoured, 3 motorized, and 13 infantry. Tanks were mainly Soviet T-34s.

The Soviets had a Motorized Rifle Division on Cuba of 4 Motorized Rifle Regiments instead of the normal 3. Further, they had 2 SAM divisions with 144 S-75 Dvina [SA-2 “Guideline”] launchers, a Fighter Aviation Regiment of 40 MiG-21s [“Fishbed”], a Transport Helicopter Regiment of 33 Mi-4s [“Hound”], and a Fighter-Bomber Squadron of 17 Il-28 [“Beagle”].

Nuclear forces in Cuba consisted of 2 Frontal Cruise Missile Regiments with a total of 80 FKR-1 coastal defence missile on 16 launchers. These had a 20 kt warhead. There were 3 MRBM Regiments with a total of 36 R-12 (8K63) Dvina [SS-4 Mod.1 “Sandal”] missile and 24 launchers. Each R-12 had an 8F126 warhead at 2.3 Mt. There were also 2 IRBM Regiments with a total of 24 R-14 (8K65) Usovaya [SS-5 Mod.1 “Skean”] missiles and 16 launchers. Each R-14 had an 8F15 warhead also at 2.3 Mt. There were 3 Rocket Regiments with a total of 12 3R10 Luna-2 [FROG-5] rockets and 6 launchers. Each Luna-2 had a 3N14 warhead at 20 kt. Finally, there were 11 RDS-4M Tatyana free-fall bombs at 28 kt each to be delivered by the 6 Il-28N bombers [the other eleven Il-28s were non-nuclear-capable].

The Americans were not aware of the tactical nuclear weapons, this is important to realize.

The US invasion plan would have unfolded as follows. On D-Day, the USAF would have flown 1,180 sorties with the F-4 Phantom, the F-100 Super Sabre, the F-105 Thunderchief, and the F-104 Starfighter series of aircraft. Their main targets were the MRBM and IRBM launch sites, the airfields, and the SAM nests. These aircraft were stationed on airbases in Florida, Alabama, and Louisiana. On D+1 a total of 786 sorties were planned and somewhere between 700–800 for the following days.

The USMC would operate the AF-1E Fury in the air defence role over Guantanamo Bay. At this point, no carrier operations were planned although carrier-borne aircraft were on standby should the USAF losses prove to be too high. Since nobody had flown in an environment with so many SAMs, the USAF had no clue what its losses would be.

On D+2 the amphibious landings would have taken place around Havana. A brigade-sized Task Force from the 1st Armoured Division would support the 2nd Infantry Division. Also on D+2, the XVIII Airborne Corps consisting of the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions would be parachuted in Cuba. D+3 would see the deployment of the 4th Infantry Division while on D+7 the rest of the 1st Armoured Division would follow.

The USMC would land an Expeditionary Brigade on D+5 in Guantanamo Bay and would push land inwards from the East.

Soviet General Pliyev had nuclear release authority for the tactical nuclear weapons but not for the strategic MRBMs and IRBMs. This means he would have hit the American invasion fleet with FKR-1 coastal defence missiles and Luna-2 rockets. This nuclear barrage would effectively destroy most of the US troops landing.

NATO had a First Strike Policy in place, the nuclear war plans had zero flexibility.

The moment the US invasion fleet is destroyed, Strategic Air Command would have executed SIOP-63 [Single Integrated Operational Plan]. 2,952 strategic nuclear weapons would have been used against the Communist Block within 8 hours.

The US had 224 ICBMs on alert: 142 C/HGM-16D/E/F Atlas D/E/F, 62 HGM-25A Titan I, and 20 LGM-30A Minuteman IA. The first wave consisted of 49 ICBM launches followed within two hours by the rest. This would effectively take out a substantial chunk of the Soviet Air Defences and allow the bombers to penetrate.

The bomber force consisted of 540 B-52D/E/F/G/Hs Stratofortresses, 790 B-47B/Es Stratojets, and 72 B-58As Hustlers. They were equipped with the AGM-28A Hound Dog [on some B-52s] and with mainly Mk-15 and B28 series free-fall bombs. The Hound Dogs had a yield of 1.1 or 1.45 Mt, depending on the type of warhead. The free-fall bombs had yields between 350 kt and 1.69 Mt. Some B-58A Hustlers would carry the Mk-39 series with a yield of 3 or 4 Mt against command bunkers. They would dash in and take out the bunkers around Moscow.

The US Navy would fly 62 aircraft against the Soviet Union. All A-4B/C/E Skyhawks carrying B28 series free-fall bombs. The Navy had two Washington-Class SSBNs on patrol with 16 UGM-27A Polaris SLBMs with a 600 kt warhead; and two Grayback-class each carrying 4 RGM-15A Regulus II cruise missiles each carrying a W-27 Mod.1 warhead at 2 Mt all aimed at the Soviet Union.

Cuba would have been hit by 14 tactical nuclear weapons, all B28s, while North Korea would have been hit by 35, and China by 60. The Nuclear Operations Plan of NATO had allocated a further 3,011 nuclear weapons against Eastern Europe varying from battlefield rockets, over cruise missiles and free-fall bombs, to strategic weapons carried by the British V-Bomber Force. These attacks would have been executed within the first 5 hours of the war.

Follow up nuclear attacks were planned with an undefined number of nuclear weapons, depending on how well the war was going. The British had 175 nuclear weapons, the US 27,387.

The first wave would kill an estimated 37% of the Soviet population. The ultimate aim was to destroy 75% of the Soviet military, 90% of the industry, 75% of all housing, and to kill 55% of the entire Soviet population within 72 hours.

The Soviets had 3,322 nuclear weapons of which only 149 were on alert. Most of these weapons would have been destroyed in the NATO Nuclear First Strike.

It is doubtful the Soviets would have been able to hit even a couple of targets within NATO and other Western countries.


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