Mar 152014

A General Dynamics/Astronautics film from 1962 describing the ORCA Weapon System. This was a seafloor deployment concept for solid-rocket ICBMs similar to the Polaris; the missile would be installed within a sealed watertight canister and lowered to the seafloor. There is would sit until called for by a sonar device. Upon receipt of a proper coded audio signal, ballast tanks  would be filled with air and the canister would shoot to the surface. Upon breaching, the “nose” of the canister would jettison and the missile would launch out and, presumably, fly to the target.

[youtube YyJjfCpfnI4]

While the idea had some merit, including low cost compared to a Minuteman or a ballistic missile sub, it also had some pretty unfortunate problems. Not least of which is that the US Navy would basically just be dropping nuclear missiles on the seafloor. The canisters would probably have been fairly easily detectable via active sonar, so they would have to have been watched in some fashion to make sure nobody came along and simply strolled off with one. And the security would help to point out where they were. The Soviets and SPECTRE would be forever tripping over each other searching for these things (though that raises the notion of the US Navy making a show of lowering hundreds of these capsules… each of which turns out to actually be a miniature sub that wanders back to base. The Soviets would tear their hair out looking for missiles that don’t exist)

So, obviously, these were never fielded. But as the film shows, the concept was built and apparently successfully tested. In contrast to today where such a concept would get years worth of Powerpoints, here… they just went ahead and built a 1/4 scale functional model of the thing including a sizable “model rocket” that successfully launches from the canister upon breaching.

orca 3

orca 2

Shown here is a diagram of a 47,000 pound missile in a 108-foot-long capsule. There is considerable resemblance between this idea and the concept, almost 20 years prior, of V-2 rockets in capsules towed behind U-Boats for use against the US.

orca 1

The rather artsy style of having three guys in business suits posing on the seashore seems a bit odd.

 Posted by at 6:16 pm
  • Michael the Somewhat Civilized

    Wasn’t there an Irwin Allen movie in which such launchers were a plot device?

    • Graham1973

      I think it’s an episode of Voyage to the ‘Bottom of the Sea’. More recently there was a horror film called ‘Deepstar 6’ that used the construction of such a facility as it’s backdrop.

      However the grand-daddy of them all is a novel by Geoffrey Jenkins that has obscure ties with the James Bond film ‘You Only Live Twice’. Entitled ‘Hunter-Killer’ the novel culminates in the launching of a modified Polaris missile from a seabed capsule which carries the Vice-President of the United States into orbit where he becomes the first US President to swear the Oath of Office while not being on the Earth.

      • Anonymous

        That sounds just… terrible.

  • se jones

    >>Soviets and SPECTRE would be forever tripping

    NFS…welcome to my world
    >>years worth of Powerpoints

  • outsider

    With technical glitches there would always be the possibility such a missile would launch because of a seaquake or whales or something.

    • Anonymous

      That’s sarcasm right?

  • John Nowak

    It’s a fascinating idea. I agree with Scott that the biggest problem (ignoring possible limitations of the weapon itself) would be security.

    I have to wonder about recovery. Sending a submarine or submersible to a known point on the sea floor was a huge problem at the time (and likely still is), so I would bet a dollar the ORCA would listen for two different codes: recover and launch. On hearing the recovery code it would return to the surface and release a smoke tracking charge: on hearing the launch code, it would of course launch.

  • Anonymous

    Maybe a smaller version of this in Europa’s oceans to launch some samples back…

  • Rick

    remember that hilarious recording of Scott Carpenter calling the President with a squeaky helium voice?

    that was testing longer term human habitation at depth. Specifically to manage undersea missile bases.

    Notice the Navy’s interest in manned deep sea occupation stopped soon after the submarine launched ICBM was made sufficiently accurate? Now other than raiding submarine cables for intel purposes and the occasional deep sea recovery, notice the Navy cares little about any depth below what Boomers operate? No Trieste programs, no serious work into liquid breathing systems, nothing.

  • Anonymous

    I’d like to see some of these fitted with conventional warheads placed in hotspots around the world–a shorter range prompt global strike.