If current news reports are any evidence, most Americans are concerned about conventional military operations in the Middle East, in Africa, and in other geographic areas where US interests are threatened. However, little attention is paid to possible nuclear confrontations, either regionally (North Korea and Iran) or across continents (Russia, China). Despite this, war planners will do a good thing knowing how to launch a nuclear war, if the need arises.
The United States’ 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 traditional means of delivering nuclear weapons. However, the number of aircraft available for such missions has decreased since the mid-1960s, due to the improvement in surface-to-air missiles by both the United States and Russia. However, there are targets after the attack suitable for these aircraft.
Intercontinental ballistic missiles (Minuteman III) have overcome the borders of long-range bombers; however, the locations of missile silos are known and targeted.
Submarines (Trident 2) overpower the restrictions imposed on both launchers and ground missiles because the submarines operate in stealth mode, making them out of reach, if not impossible for the enemy.
The three weapons delivery systems are collectively known as the Trinity. Their goals are illustrated in what was previously called the SIOP, for a short period. It went into operation on 1 July 1961 and was intended to ensure that capabilities were carefully matched with objectives and that there was no overlap between the components of the Trinity. In 2003, SIOP became part of the OpPlan 8044 General War Plan. In 2012, the OpPlan 8010-12 became Strategic Deterrence and Force Recruitment. Although SIOP is not currently technically speaking, most senior officers know exactly what this means.
The procedures for command and control of nuclear weapons are explained in detail, the most important of which is the judgment of the two men. On board the launchers, in the missile silos, and on the missile submarines, two prominent persons must document the launch orders issued by the National Military Command Center (NMCC). The two men’s judgment also applies to the President of the United States, who must obtain approval from the Secretary of Defense before ordering a nuclear strike.
If the license for a nuclear strike is valid, the NMCC will issue an Emergency Action Letter (EAM) to all nuclear-capable orders. This EAM message will also be sent by the Alternate National Military Command Center (ANMCC) and the National Airborne Emergency Command Center (NEACP). EAM will define targets, weapons to be used, and PAL codes to unlock weapons shooting devices.
When two senior NMCC officers simultaneously manage the keys to launch the EAM, 100 million people, 50 million on each side, will perish. But in the U.S., 250 million will still be alive and survive, albeit in desperate circumstances. In Russia nearly 90 million will survive. Other implications: infrastructure in disarray, devastating electricity grids, nuclear fallout, acute shortages of food, water and medical supplies. Americans will have to rely on Canada and Mexico for massive aid shipments, although the wall we are building now along our southern border may be an obstacle to much of this aid.
The United States and Russia will not be among the first powers. For the entire next generation after the nuclear exchange, both countries will be in a state of reconstruction, just as they were in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the years after World War II. In the atomic war, there are no winners, only losers.