If current news reports are any guide, most Americans are worried about traditional military operations in the Middle East, in Africa, and in other geographical areas where U. S. interests are threatened. However, little attention is paid to possible nuclear confrontations, either regional (North Korea, Iran) or intercontinental (Russia, China). Regardless of this, war planners would be wise to understand how we would wage nuclear war, should the need ever arise.
U. S. nuclear 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 conventional way 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 from Russia. Nonetheless, there are post-attack targets that are suitable 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 since the submarines operate in a stealth mode, making them elusive, if not impossible targets for an enemy.
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 carefully matched to targets and that there was no overlap among components of the Triad. In 2003 the SIOP became part of OpPlan 8044, the general war plan. Although SIOP is not a current term, most senior officers understand exactly what it means.
Procedures for the control and control of nuclear weapons have been spelled out in detail, the most important of which is the two-man rule. The two-man rule applies as well as the president of the United States, who must obtain concurrence from the Secretary of Defense prior to ordering a nuclear attack.
If the authorization for a nuclear strike is valid, the NMCC will issue an Emergency Action Message (EAM) to all nuclear-capable commands. This EAM will also be transmitted by the Alternate National Military Command Center (ANMCC) and from the National Emergency Airborne Command Post (NEACP). The EAM will specify targets, weapons to be used, and Permissive Action Link (PAL) codes to unlock the firing devices on the weapons.
When two senior officers in 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 stay and survive, though under dire conditions. In Russia roughly 90 million will survive. Other consequences: infrastructure in shambles, destroyed power grids, nuclear fallout, critical shortages of water, food, and medical equipment. Americans will have to rely on Canada and Mexico for massive aid shipments, although the wall we’re currently building along our southern boundary might be an impediment to much of the aid.
America and Russia will no longer be first-rate powers. For the whole next generation following a nuclear exchange, both countries will be in reconstruction mode, just as Hiroshima and Nagasaki were in the years after World War II. In an atomic war there are no winners, only losers. See this website for more information.