The Interstellar Nuclear Kill Vehicle, or simply referred to as the INKV, is a multi-stage rocket equipped with a Nova-class Nuclear Device built as a last resort, doomsday weapon as part of a serious of ultimatum-type projects in the event that a total defeat of the United Nations Space Command in the Human-Covenant War became a highly-likely inevitability. The weapon was never deployed, though began development as far back as the 2530s when the conflict was still raging and the chances of the Covenant discovering Earth were slim.
Interstellar Nuclear Kill Vehicles are not typically carried on warships or deployed in any preemptive manner. They are strictly considered a last-resort weapon and deployed on a case-by-case scenario. Similar to nuclear policies in the twenty-first and twenty-second centuries among the few nuclear states of the world, the UNSC treats nuclear weapons including the INKV as weapons of mass destruction. However, due to their extreme lethality, INKVs are treated in a class of their own, similar to the Halo installations or the Composer employed by the Forerunner Ecumene.
While the INKV never left its silo, NOVA bombs saw action in the final years of the Human-Covenant War. The awesome power of these thermonuclear weapons was so powerful that they have the capacity to obliterate entire planetoids and incinerate planets' atmospheres. In an unorthodox and unplanned incident, the Covenant supercarrier, Sublime Transcendence acquired a NOVA bomb from the stockpile assigned to the former Human colony, Reach, following the intense curiosity of Forerunner-designed Huragok, several of these cybernetic alien lifeforms attempted to complete and understand the inner workings of the weapon. Unaware of the threat the weapon posed to it, the crew, and the surrounding star system, the Huragok completed the bomb's timer circuit, setting the weapon off. The ensuing explosion vaporized 300 Covenant starships and the nearby colony world, Joyous Exultation, and its moon. This was only one of a few detonations of the Nova-class at the end of the Human-Covenant War, however, it did more than enough to display its terrorizing capabilities as a last resort/doomsday weapon.
It was described during the accidental detonation of the NOVA bomb, "a small star had erupted between Joyous Exultation and its moon."
The UNSC developed the INKV as an advanced delivery system for NOVA bombs, acting as a conventional warhead. Its development began in the 2530s but limitations of the technology at the time prevented the weapon's further development. Because the Interstellar Nuclear Kill Vehicle relies on a number of advanced technologies, it's deployment continued to be pushed back by years. Hypothetically, the weapon had two methods of deployment — both not achievable until the end of the Human-Covenant War. Ship-based deployment and interstellar delivery-deployment. In the post-Great War Era, the weapons have been transitioned to mothball and are marked with some of the highest levels of classification. The weapon's existence is only known to a select few along with the location of their development and launch facilities. Those who helped develop the weapon, Naoto Technologies and ONI Section III, are sworn to a lifetime of secrecy over the weapon.
The creation of the NOVA Nuclear Device was a final provision of the Human-Covenant War, and the peak of Humanity's innate ability and talent to build and destroy in an instance. It was finalized and integrated into UNSC's ordinance arsenals officially in late March, right after the dignitaries of the Unified Earth Government and Swords of Sanghelios met to sign official documentation establishing that the twenty-seven-year interstellar conflict was officially over. It would be another year, in 2554, when the Interstellar Nuclear Kill Vehicle was also adopted into the UNSC arsenal. However, due to the fragile security apparatus and sensitive nature of the weapon's secrecy, it was not stored on key Human worlds as it was believed that they would be eventually discovered and found out by other parties. Covenant remnants, Insurrectionists, Humanity's few allies. It was too great a risk. As soon as they were commissioned by the UNSC Ordnance Comission had accepted the device, it disappeared from all government records. Few in the government, both military and civilian alike, were left in the dark on the weapon's existence. The key players who were in the know on the weapon included, the UNSC High Command, the UNSC Security Council, and upper echelon members of Naval Intelligence. Civilian officials only included President Ruth Charet of the UEG and her presidential cabinet, specifically anyone with a top-level security clearance — everyone else was kept privy of the weapon's existence.
To keep these secrets secret, the missiles were placed under the jurisdiction of the UNSC Department of the Air Force and maintained by highly-vetted aircrews stationed on distant colony worlds at the edge of Human space and guarded by top-of-the-line military assets and personnel, primarily from the Office of Naval Intelligence and advanced UNSC Navy warships. These deployments were semi-permanent with rotation periods for troops at these holding sites lasting far longer than normal for the UNSC Armed Forces. Planets like Jade Rock on the colonial frontier were considered viable staging points as they were far from Earth and obscure enough that they would mostly go unnoticed. Other worlds like Argus V were previously considered, however, by interest of specific individuals in the UNSC upper echelon, some sites had to be reconsidered due to a number of conflicting projects already taking place on those worlds of interest.
Known NOVA Bomb Detonations
Joyous Exultation Incident:First deployment of the Nova-class nuclear device. Successful detonation by unassuming Covenant elements ended in the destruction of a major Covenant fleet and colony world.
Operation SUNSPEAR:At some point following the Fall of Reach and days nearing the coming of the Great Schism which would see the Covenant Empire split into two, SPARTAN-II Gray Team was deployed deep behind Covenant lines with the intention of detonating a NOVA Bomb on a major Covenant world. While Sanghelios was one of the first targets, it was ruled out as too well defended. Instead, the colony of Glyke was chosen. Through remote detonation, the planet was destroyed along with its predominately Sangheili population. It would lead to a political incident on the Joint-Occupation Zone world of Carrow later on in the 2558.
Operation FINAL TRINITY:An operational test over an uninhabited world at the edge of the Human Sphere. Slipspace signatures in the surrounding space were calculated to be stagnant for the month in a half the system was under observation by ONI Section III. Occurring in 2554, a Halberd-class Destroyer passed through an unnamed star system while in Slipspace transit. The destroyer, under observation by an ONI Winter-class Prowler, deployed an Interstellar Nuclear Kill Vehicle testbed. The weapon decelerated into a regular orbit around the uninhabited planet. Following a repositioning of the ONI Prowler to an estimated safe position, the weapon was detonated by way of remote detonation six hours later. The test proved fully successful, meeting and even exceeding all expectations from the detonation test. This is the first and only deployment of an INKV by the UNSC.
"Damn. I wish we had these during the War. Would have stopped a lot of deaths, and it would have assured us a proper victory. Not some shitty suspension of hostilities."
― UNSC Naval Officer upon being informed about the existence of the INKV and NOVA bombs.
Inspired by the near-invincibility experienced by weapons of mass destruction during the early centuries of the modern era, the UNSC devised the Interstellar Nuclear Kill Vehicle as an invincible stealth weapon. Unseen and unstoppable. The weapon had to go undetected all the way into delivery. While 21st Century ICBMs were not known for their stealth, the nuclear force they produced and their ability to achieve low orbit was part of the concept that the UNSC sought to replicate on an even grander scale. The INKV would be deployed from a weapons facility through Slipspace to an intended target upon which the delivery vehicle would arrive and detonate, concerns of a faulty trigger eventually recommended the inclusion of a Dumb AI to be included in the missile as a guidance system. The goal was to guarantee an on-time deployment and maintain accuracy all the way to detonation. The Official of Naval Intelligence, who first envisioned the weapon, wanted to guarantee the weapon would never fall into enemy hands, drift off course, or detonate prematurely — potentially causing massive loss of life if the weapon didn't reach its target or found the wrong target to go after.
INKV Block I Delivery
"It's like dropping a torpedo from those old submarines, or firing from an underwater vertical launch chamber. Once fired, it chases after its target while we disappear into the inky black. Invisible. Unpredictable. Unbeatable. It's the perfect weapon."
― Senior Naval Officer describing the first variants of the INKV delivery system.
INKV's Block I Delivery System was designed to be launched from a cruiser-sized vessel while transiting through Slipspace.
The INKV is a very basic design, being made up of a multi-stage booster rocket for achieving escape velocity from a launch facility, the delivery vehicle itself would then detach from the rocket and begin a journey that could last anywhere between a week and six months of short-Slipspace jumps from star system to star system till it reached its designated target. This concept, however, was not yet achievable for Humanity. Short-Slipspace Jumps were already a commonality for the more advanced Covenant, however, the UNSC had yet to mature in the revolutionary combat capability. Instead, the new design, coming long after the introduction of the LRSOIP, a Slipspace-capable stealth ODST drop pod, that would decelerate out of Slipspace to land on a planet below. The drop pods would be carried into battle by a passing warship in Slipspace. In the same methodology, the first INKV models were designed for a deceleration from Slipspace assisted by a shipboard deployment directly out of Slipspace. Because of the simplicity of the system, a separate Slipspace Drive for the delivery vehicle was unnecessary. This variant of delivery was now as the INKV Block I Delivery System. It would be the simpler of the two deployment methods.
INKV Block II Delivery
"The Admiralty called the Infinity "the culmination of Human Achievement." That's horseshit and they know it. This is."
― ONI Section III scientist speaking on the INKV Block II Delivery System.
The INKV Block II was built atop a three-stage rocket to allow the bomb to achieve escape velocity.
Taking the traditional concept of a rocket, a considerably-old technological concept, dating back beyond half a millennia, the goal was to reuse it to create something new. While the technology is primitive and simple by the twenty-sixth Century's standards, it works and the technology has been perfected. The Interstellar Nuclear Kill Vehicle's first iterations relied on a simple remote detonation tied to an original planted target or the more recent, shipboard deployment — the newest variation is exotic and yet simplistic in its concept. A nuclear weapon tipped on a three-stage rocket that can reach the low orbit of a planet, or better yet, reach escape velocity and make it to the emptiness of space. The complexity and the requirement of advanced technologies for the Block II compared to the Block I and standard deployment methods, however, makes the idea of the Block II seem a bit unorthodox and too complex for its mission, like, the capability is a waste of taxpayers' money. The weapon's creators would like to say otherwise.
In its most basic terms, the second delivery system developed for the INKV is a rocket mounted with a shrunken down Slipspace drive so that the nuclear device could be deployed from one planet to a totally different star system without the requirements of a human pilot or an expensive warship to guide the missile to its target. One of the problems with the system, however, was the complex guidance systems required to perform multiple successful Slipspace jumps to reach a designated target. UNSC Dumb AIs were unable to perform the calculations at the speed or efficiency deemed necessary for the missile to function on a reliable level, so, the mission was deemed only feasible with the deployment of a Smart AI. This mission would be a sacrificial matter where a Smart AI would have to be willing to die in the process of deploying the missile upon its target. Because of this, the reliability of the weapon was determined by the number of AIs available to perform such a duty and whether the strategic value of sacrificing a military Smart AI was worth the cost as they are one of the most advanced and useful tools in the UNSC's arsenal.
Rampant AIs, upon reaching the end of their seven-year service life, were considered too dangerous to be left alive.
In an attempt to minimize the costs and losses of having to sacrifice AI, UNSC think-tanks determined that it was best to use human-derived AIs that were approaching the cusp of Rampancy. Rampancy, the state of insanity for most AIs after seven years, is caused by the virtual recreation of a human mind. Smart AIs literally think themselves to death, running into more and more inconsistencies and corrupted code as time went on. While there were concerns that an AI approaching the Anger stage of Rampancy might prove unreliable and might even lead to an INKV falling into enemy hands or that the AI might turn the weapon on its creators out of spite. So far, tests and deployments involving such procedures have not run into any perceived problems with Rampancy and therefore, the procedure and process of decommissioning Smart AIs include death by nuclear detonation as a viable option, even though it is an extreme rarity in a time of peace and minor bushfire wars.
For current plans of deployment with AI pilots, the UNSC has invested instead to deploy AI pilots aboard probes in the star system to detonate the INKV from a relatively safe distance. The AI and its remote control station would be picked up later on by UNSC post-operations teams. As a more viable alternative, however, regular Dumb AI have displayed capabilities to operate the INKV and it looks like, given the current trends in the UNSC toward more streamlined methodologies, using dumb AI over dying Smart AI is the superior choice, ethically, morally, and logistically.
Following the immediate detonation of an Interstellar Nuclear Kill Vehicle, the Nova-class Nuclear Device goes off and hitting all surfaces and substances in a blinding flash of light that has been described as bearing witness to "a second Big Bang" and on some occasions, the "start of a supernova."
The Kill Flash as its known is so harsh that it is believed that looking into the explosion with the naked eye, the flash will cause immediate, permanent blindness and the flash will blind or disable most visual camera systems altogether. Individuals closer to the explosion might have their skin singed off in seconds after exposure due to intense radiating heat and light, going beyond what is considered third-degree flash burns of typical nuclear weapons. There is a good chance that organisms near the blast will be killed or vaporized by the intense light alone.
If the light doesn't kill everything in the weapon's vicinity, the following shockwave that hits like a mini-supernova is known to buffet a planet's atmosphere and surface, causing downward and spherical wind drafts similar to G-forces numbered in the tens. Following the initial shockwave, the recuperating vacuum will pull back and could drag people hundreds of meters into the air before stabilizing. In space, this effect is minimized due to a lack of atmosphere, however, runaway energy can still cause extensive quake damage to objects near detonation.
The ensuing radiation is the greatest and most horrifying portion of Nova-class Nuclear devices which is reflected in the Interstellar Nuclear Kill Vehicle. Shortly after detonation, the runaway heat and nuclear radiation will incinerate anything in its path. The radiation will atomize just about any atmosphere and bathe any planetoid in instantly-lethal radiation levels. The heat and radiation will vaporize all liquid bodies and cook the surface of rocky worlds several thousand degrees Kelvin in a matter of seconds, making a world unsuitable for terraforming for thousands of years and uninhabitable in any format. Liquids would vaporize. Metal would catch fire. Surfaces would be burned an ashen-black going beyond the effects of any sustained Glassing with plasma bombardment could do over several years. Stepping foot on the planet would be impossible after as the radiation doses would be able to unravel genetic material in moments and the ground would literally melt like lava.
Nova bombs, commonly nicknamed "Planet-Crackers," are literal descriptions of the effect of these kinds of weapons. Planetoids near detonation site would have their surfaces ripped apart and their atmospheres dosed in radiation. The earth would be melted into a soupy liquid and any presence of intelligent life or any life for that matter would be extinguished in seconds. Only starships on the other side of a planetoid in the direct path of the explosion might escape certain death. Even then, these vessels would be dosed with so much radiation that the organisms on board would be subject to lethal levels of radiation as well. The radiation from the INKV is so intense that it can overwhelm and bypass all known energy shield formats discovered by the United Nations Space Command and ONI. It remains unknown how effective these weapons would be in contact with vessels of similar stature to that of Forerunner or ancient Human starships. Such tests have never been attempted due to a lack of economic feasibility and a lack of suitable candidates for weapons testing.
"Stick a fucking NOVA on a missile, slap in a Slipspace Drive, Eureka! Instant superweapon! Why didn't I think of that?"
― UNSC Admiral on the INKV's basic concept.
The Interstellar Nuclear Kill Vehicle concept was built off the considerably-redundant 11-B1 Intercontinental Ballistic Missile platform, an older ground-based rocket tipped with a nuclear warhead but was capable of multi-stage delivery and could exit up to high orbit.
The YSS-770 Masamune, the base for the INKV's early-warning, radar, and combat response software and hardware suites.
Switching up the system to become a dedicated delivery system, the rocket that the INKV is placed on is called the "11-N nuclear-delivery system." This new modified version of the 11 series platform was developed as a retrievable three-stage rocket with the capability of breaking through any human-rated colonial atmosphere to reach open space. Following detachment, the delivery vehicle stored at the front of the rocket separates and begins its multi-jump journey to its destination.
Aboard this delivery vehicle — there is space for reserve rocket fuel to propel the vehicle and its rocket boosters. It also carries the computing matrix of its AI pilot and a miniaturized Slipspace drive. Many of the parts aboard the delivery vehicle are taken from other vehicles and equipment inventory from the UNSC arsenal as the devices, while unique in design, were built off reusable pieces from across human space in case parts need to be replaced quickly. The Slipspace drive, the STFE drive, is a heavily-modified CODEN Series IV drive variant — typically found aboard UNSC destroyers and frigates. The variant on the INKVs is developed to match Covenant and post-Great War era Human Slipspace drives for greater accuracy with slipstream jumps and capable of reaching its target in much quicker bouts. While not nearly as fast as modern UNSC ships, these drives are much cheaper to construct and serve their purpose enough. As long as an enemy has no forewarning of the weapon's arrival — the weapon has an acceptable deployment rate.
The directional boosters on the vehicle are similar to the ones equipped aboard OF92 Booster Frames, specialized vehicles usually used by Spartan operators in microgravity environments. The frames' rocket boosters give the INKV delivery vehicle respectable maneuverability on a small platform allowing it to avoid Covenant close-in weapon systems relatively intact upon reaching its detonation position. The navigation and combat detection suites aboard the vehicle were developed from work on the mainline F41 Broadsword space fighter and the more advanced YSS-770 Masamune space plane.
UNSC Special Weapons facilities are a closely guarded secret, as much as that of populated colony worlds and national security secrets, which the INKV is one of the latter. Only intelligence clearances belonging to high-ranking ONI analysts and officers or that of military officers entrusted with the knowledge of the weapon's existence, usual rankings of a Colonel or a Naval Captain or higher, are informed of where the weapons are kept, how they are stored, how they are deployed, and instructions on when it is appropriate to deploy the weapons.
If the knowledge of any of these facilities were to get out, along with the existence of the weapons, it would spark a Public Relations nightmare and potentially start an arms race among the regional powers in the Orion Spur. That said, due to the concerns that Humanity might be defeated on Earth as the Covenant closed their grip around the UEG's Inner Colonies, an INKV launch facility was constructed in the distant Perseus Arm as part of Project JANSZOON to protect the weapons facility on the Jade Rock colony from being discovered and as a last resort in case Humanity did, in fact, lose the war. The weapons and the facility was one of a few last resorts, continuity-of-government style programs that rose up out of the paranoia of the Human-Covenant War.
The design of the INKV was heavily inspired by nuclear-tipped ICBMs or Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles. While the ICBM is the 20th and 21st Centuries' ideas of doomsday devices, the Interstellar Nuclear Kill Vehicle is the Human doomsday device of the 26th Century. It's not a Halo, however, it does kill pretty well.