Nuclear Arsenal Controlled by SFX
April 1, 2004 -- Cheyenne Mountain -- Dramatic changes are occurring deep underground across the U.S. Midwest plains in states such as Nebraska, North Dakota, and Colorado. Buried beneath tons of soil, concrete, and lead, antiquated nuclear triggering systems are being torn out and brand-new Stage Research SFX Show Control systems are being installed, all at a tremendous savings to the U.S. tax payer. But, it's not about the money, it's about protecting citizens, says Colonel Martin Klaproth of the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD).
Col. Klaproth is the man responsible for bringing Stage Research's SFX software into the nation's missile silos. While performing in a production of South Pacific at the Colorado Springs Community Theatre last fall, Col. Klaproth first became aware of Stage Research's SFX sound playback and show control software and how it is used on Broadway, the West End, and in theatres in the professional, amateur and educational settings around the world.
"I saw this amazing piece of American engineering -- the SFX program -- executing the sound cues and even controlling the lighting board," recalls Col. Klaproth. "And then I thought, 'If it can control the lighting console, then why not the firing system for our thermonuclear intercontinental ballistic missiles?'"
The price is right, too. The U.S. Air Force has seen a dwindling budget for its nuclear arsenal as money is being directed towards Homeland Security and the current war in Iraq. Resources are also becoming hard to come by because the U.S. no longer has an enemy to point its nuclear arsenal at, but still maintains the need to blow the world up several times over. Col. Klaproth's discovery of SFX will help keep the silos glowing.
"The fellas at Stage Research were real nice," says Col. Klaproth. "I asked the salesman when I was first speaking to him, 'How much does this software cost?' and he says to me, 'It's only eight forty-five plus shipping.' And I go, 'Wow! We spent over nine hundred million on one tiny, tiny, tiny component on a B-2 just last year, so eight-hundred-forty-five million for this entire project is a steal! For that price, I can even get a government check to you ASAP!' And the guy says to me, "Uh, eight hundred million...when I said it was eight forty-five plus shipping I meant....uh....I meant....shipping was included, sir! That even includes next day, sir!' Nice fella."
SFX is not the first advanced computer system to control the U.S. nuclear weapons backbone. The War Operations Plan and Response (WOPR) war games computer by Dr. Stephen Falken was the main system used during the early 1980s. This system was discovered to be unreliable when, in 1983, a teenager looking for computer games unwittingly hacked into the system and caused a chain of events that nearly led to total global thermonuclear war.
Col. Klaproth shakes his head. "Because of the lessons learned with WOPR, the first thing we did after installing SFX was to remove Solitaire, Hearts, and Minesweeper from the computers." Instead of playing computer games to pass the time while waiting to launch missiles aimed at nobody, the U.S. Air Force commanders instead encourage the silo crews to drink lots and lots of caffeinated coffee to remain alert and poised to push the button.
Col. Klaproth did admit there were some early problems with installing a new system, but those problems where human based; exactly why installing a computer system is necessary.
"Because SFX can output MIDI, we decided to change over the ICBMs so that the 2,200,000 KN thrust Thiokol solid fuel motor was ignited through a MIDI signal," Col. Klaproth says. "So we instruct the boys at Boeing to make the missiles respond to Note On for 'Missile Launch' and Note Off for 'Test Launch.'"
"You know how civilians are," Col. Klaproth chuckles. "Total FUBAR. They ended up reversing the codes and the first time we sent a signal from SFX to Test Launch, the klaxon starts wailing, the fueling hoses pop-off, and the silo doors retract! Thankfully, we hit the SFX Panic button and aborted the launch. We almost wiped out Severodvinsk! Boy, did those Boeing fellas feel stupid."
Col. Klaproth said SFX also "saved their keisters" because redoing the MIDI messages on the missiles would have been time consuming and expensive. With a few simple mouse clicks in SFX, he adjusted the MIDI message in SFX to match the MIDI programming on the missiles; showing how flexible SFX is with working with other MIDI devices.
Because SFX is so easy to work with, Col. Klaproth discovered he could embellish on the standard launch sequence. Being fond of countdowns, Col. Klaproth dragged-and-drop a countdown voice-over into his launch sequence cue list and assigned it to all areas in the bunker. In addition now to broadcasting messages to specific areas, all areas will also now hear a continuous countdown until launch; multiple audio files to the same and multiple speakers all done with a few mouse clicks.
Not to be outdone by the U.S. Air Force, the U.S. Navy, taking a cue from the cruise ship industry, is considering installing SFX systems on its Ohio-class Trident submarines to control their nuclear weapons systems.
Submarines have the same limitations as cruise ships: space. Cruise ships enjoy using SFX because it is a sound playback and show control system all contained in one computer. It's small, easy to use, and very affordable. For this very reason, the Navy sees the benefit to using SFX laptops on its boats.
The combination of flexibility, ease of use, and affordability led the branches of the U.S. armed services to choose SFX as their basis for controlling MIDI devices and playing back audio files. It's popular on Broadway and theatres around the globe, and now is the trusted name for controlling WMDs. Shouldn't you be using it for your shows?
Contact the author: The author of this article can not be contacted because she now currently resides in a 9' x 7' cell in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba for violating the Patriot Act by divulging the information contained in this article. In fact, just by reading this article probably puts you in violation of the Patriot Act. Maybe we should have warned you first before reading the whole thing, huh? Oh, well, hope you look good in an orange jumpsuit....