If current information reports are any guide, most Americans are worried about traditional military operations in the Middle East, in Africa, and in other geographical regions where U. S. interests are jeopardized. However, little attention is paid to possible nuclear confrontations, either regional (North Korea, Iran) or intercontinental (Russia, China). In spite of this, war planners would be wise to understand how we would wage nuclear war, should the need ever arise.
U. S. atomic operations can be divided into three broad areas: weapons delivery systems, command and control, and post-attack reconstruction.
Long-range bombers (B1, B2, B52) are the traditional means of delivering nuclear weapons. The number of aircraft available for such assignments has diminished since the mid-sixties, however, due to improvements in ground-to-air missiles by both the United States and by Russia. Still, there are post-attack targets that are acceptable for these airplanes.
Land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (Minuteman III) overcome the limitations of long-rang bombers; however, the locations of missile silos are well known and targeted.
Submarine-launched missiles (Trident II) overcome the constraints of both bombers and land-based missiles because the submarines operate in a stealth mode, making them elusive, if not impossible goals for an enemy.
These three weapons delivery systems are known collectively as the Triad. Their targets are spelled out in what was once referred to as the Single Integrated Operational Plan, SIOP for short. It became operational on 1 July 1961 and was meant to make certain that capabilities were closely matched to targets and that there was no overlap among components of the Triad. In 2003 the SIOP became a part of OpPlan 8044, the general war plan. Although SIOP is technically not a current term, most senior officers understand exactly what it means.
Procedures for the command and control of nuclear weapons are spelled out in detail, the most important of which is the two-man rule. Aboard bombers, in missile silos, and aboard missile submarines, two senior persons must authenticate launch orders which come from the National Military Command Center (NMCC). The two-man rule applies as well as the president of america, who must obtain concurrence from the Secretary of Defense before ordering a nuclear strike.
If the authorization for a nuclear strike is legitimate, the NMCC will issue an Emergency Action Message (EAM) to all nuclear-capable commands. This EAM will also be transmitted from the Alternate National Military Command Center (ANMCC) and by the National Emergency Airborne Command Post (NEACP). The EAM will define targets, weapons to be used, and Permissive Action Link (PAL) codes to unlock the firing devices on the weapons.
When two senior officers at the NMCC simultaneously turn keys to launch an EAM, 100 million people, 50 million on each side, will perish. But in the United States 250 million will remain and remain, though under desperate conditions. In Russia approximately 90 million will survive. Other effects: infrastructure in shambles, destroyed power grids, nuclear fallout, critical shortages of food, water, and medical supplies. Americans will have to depend on Canada and Mexico for massive aid shipments, although the wall we are now building along our southern border might be an impediment to much of this aid.
The United States and Russia will no longer be first-rate powers. For the entire next generation following a nuclear exchange, the two nations will be in reconstruction mode, just as Hiroshima and Nagasaki have been in the years after World War II. In an atomic war there are no winners, only losers. Click Here for more information.