Salient. Victoria University of Wellington Students' Newspaper. Volume 31 Number 14. June 25, 1968
N.Z. may become prime target for nuclear attack — Omega Radio Station Poses a Threat
N.Z. may become prime target for nuclear attack
Omega Radio Station Poses a Threat
The Government is investigating the installation of a radio navigational system of such importance that it could make New Zealand a primary target for nuclear attack in any war involving the United States.
The Prime Minister, the Right Hon, K. J. Holyoake, discussed the establishment of this installation, known as an Omega station, in a statement last night.
His statement does not view the installation as a potential threat to New Zealand.
But some scientists see it as being essential to the accurate firing of nuclear weapons from Polaris submarines.
"More information must be gathered and assessed before it can be decided whether it would be advantageous to have an Omega station in New Zealand or elsewhere," said Mr Holyoake.
"No commitment has been entered into by either the New Zealand or the United States Governments to establish an Omega station in this country.
"Should a New Zealand site prove suitable, the United States authorities will approach the New Zealand Government to seek approval for the establishment of the station and full consideration will then be given to the matter.
"The Omega system will not be restricted to military uses. With the purchase of a small, simple and relatively cheap receiving device, all ships and aircraft will be able to fix their positions — with great accuracy — from the lower frequency signals of the Omega station," Mr Holyoake said.
In an article published in Canta this morning (Tuesday), Owen Wilkes, a scientist with the New Zealand Antarctic team, said:
"There Is sufficient internal evidence available to suggest that Omega is intended for military use. Accuracy can be obtained up to a quarter of a mile," he said.
"This is far in excess of the accuracy required by merchant ships."
The position is arrived at by comparing beams from two radio stations, he said. For Omega to work, the position of the craft must be established within seven miles by conventional methods; Omega can then pinpoint the position within a quarter of a mile.
"To achieve seven mile accuracy is beyond the precision of the ordinary sextant and nautical calendar methods so Omega is useless for merchant ships," Mr Wilkes said.
They would have to purchase most expensive equipment, he said.
A Wellington physicist said last night that the Omega system went to great expense to secure very long wave lengths. These are unnecessary for ordinary purposes.
But as seawater is a conductor of electricity, only long wave lengths can penetrate it. Long wave lengths are therefore necessary to reach submarines.
In the case of the Omega the wave length is 20,000 metres fat 15 kilocycles) and this can penetrate to 2000-3000 metres. To produce this wave length, you need a very long and expensive transmitting aerial, say between two mountains, he said.
Even this is really not long enough and to compensate for this disadvantage it must be fed a termendous power supply.
"I would suspect they definitely would not hook on to the national grid for this power" he said. "They will have a very high . realiability grid which means they will probably have one of their own—my guess would be they will put in a nuclear power reactor, for this would be the most efficient way of getitng the power continuously.
Mr P. J. G. Howles, senior technician of the Physics Department at the University of Canterbury, said:
"In the event of the outbreak of war, it would be imperative for the enemies of the U.S.A. to destroy this radio guidance system for nuclear submarines immediately.
"The mere presence of such a station in a country committed to United States policy would change New Zealand's status from a country whose lack of importance might well save it from an expensive missile attack to one which would be hit in the very first phase by rockets etc," he said.
The Christchurch Press on Friday, June 14, said it is conservatively estimated that the station will cost more than $4 million and will require a small town to accommodate staff.
It will be equipped with a computer and atomic clock and will have a 4000ft long aerial strung between two hills, and will use four megawatts of power.
The New Zealand station is apparently an attempt to overcome jamming of the network of Omega stations by the Chinese. It will be similar to the one being installed at North-West Cape in Australia.