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Encyclopedia > Launch on warning

Launch on warning is a nuclear strategy which came about during the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. With the invention of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), it became an integral part of the mutually assured destruction (MAD) doctrine. For other uses, see Cold War (disambiguation). ... A Minuteman III missile soars after a test launch. ... Mutually assured destruction (MAD) is the doctrine of military strategy in which a full scale use of nuclear weapons by one of two opposing sides would result in the destruction of both the attacker and the defender. ...

Contents

History

Prior to the introduction of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), the Strategic Air Command, and probably its Soviet counterpart, had multiple bombers flying at any given time. In the event of a nuclear strike by one of the nations, the other nation would order their bombers to fly to the other country and drop their nuclear payload on predetermined targets. In the United States, these bombers were typically either B-47 Stratojets or B-52 Stratofortresses, and there were three major flight routes. With bombers already in the air, there was an assurance that a retaliatory strike would be feasible, even if the country that was attacked could do very little otherwise. At the height of the Cold War, the United States had special Boeing E-4B airplanes equipped as control centers for the nuclear arsenal. This airplane included a military official who was authorized to order a retaliatory strike in the event that the President could not be contacted. A Minuteman III missile soars after a test launch. ... For the film of the same name, see Strategic Air Command (film) The Strategic Air Command (SAC) was the operational establishment of the United States Air Force in charge of Americas bomber-based and ballistic missile-based strategic nuclear arsenal from 1946 to 1992. ... The Boeing B-47 Stratojet jet bomber was a medium range and size bomber capable of flying at high subsonic speeds and primarily designed for penetrating the Soviet Union. ... The Boeing B-52 Stratofortress is a long-range jet strategic bomber flown by the United States Air Force (USAF) since 1954. ... The E-4B Nightwatch, formerly known as NEACP (Kneecap) and sometimes called NAOC (National Airborne Operations Center), is a Boeing 747-200 aircraft specially built to serve as a survivable mobile command post for the President during a nuclear war. ...


"Launch on warning" has its roots in U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower's "Positive Control" strategy, but really took shape with the introduction of the Minuteman missile. Since many ICBMs (including the Minuteman) were launched from underground silos, the concern arose that a first strike by one nation could destroy the ground launch facilities of the retaliating nation. The LGM-30 Minuteman is a United States nuclear missile, a land-based intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) (the other type is the LG-118A Peacekeeper, which is to be phased out by 2005). ...


MIRVed land-based ICBMs are considered destabilizing because they tend to put a premium on striking first. If we assume that each side has 100 missiles, with 5 warheads each, and further that each side has a 95 percent chance of neutralising the opponent's missiles in their silos by firing 2 warheads at each silo. In this case, the side that strikes first can reduce the enemy ICBM force from 100 missiles to about 5 by firing 40 missiles with 200 warheads, and keeping the rest of 60 missiles in reserve. It is because of this that this type of weapon was banned under the START II agreement. Wikipedia does not yet have an article with this exact name. ... In nuclear strategy, first strike capability is a countrys ability to defeat another nuclear power by destroying its arsenal to the point where the attacking country can survive the weakened retaliation. ... START II, the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty was signed by George H. W. Bush and Boris Yeltsin in January 1993, which banned the use of MIRVs and hence often cited as De-MIRV-ing Agreement. ...


Launch on warning

Once an ICBM is launched, it cannot be recalled by the launching party, so a different strategy had to be created by both the U.S. and U.S.S.R. This led to two primary options. One option, "retaliation after ride-out" would require the second-strike nation to wait until after they were attacked to launch their missiles. Some portion of the nuclear arsenal would inevitably be destroyed in such an attack. This led to both superpowers investing heavily in survivable basing modes for their nuclear forces, including hardened underground missile silos for ICBMs, and submarine-launched ballistic missiles.


The other choice was "launch on warning" - launching nuclear missiles before the other side's missiles could destroy them. With the invention of the Ballistic Missile Early Warning System in the early 1960s, the possibility of America detecting launches of Soviet missiles became real. In the 1970's, this technology came to fruition after the deployment of space-based launch detection technology on both sides. Phased array BMEWS Installation at Thule, Greenland The Ballistic Missile Early Warning System (BMEWS) was the first operational ballistic missile detection radar. ...


Once both countries had the ability to detect ballistic missile launches, both countries could at least theoretically implement a "launch on warning" strategy. It is a popular misconception that either or both superpowers actually adopted this as a standing policy. While neither country would publicly confirm or deny that they had a launch on warning policy in effect, it is likely that they did not. There are practical reasons why this policy was not feasible. The primary concern was that a false warning could easily lead to a global nuclear war. There were several false alarms on each side during the Cold War, and none of them led to a nuclear exchange.


Even if the false alarm problem were to be set aside, a practical launch on warning policy would still be too difficult to implement. Although it takes about 30 minutes for a wave of ICBMs to reach their targets, that does not mean the President of the targeted country has 30 minutes to decide what to do about the attack, for the following reasons.


The side that launches a well-coordinated first strike can pin down the retaliatory forces of the other country by launching a barrage of submarine based missiles from close range, in a fast "depressed trajectory" mode, and exploding the warheads every minute or so at high altitudes over the ICBM fields of the targeted country, using a technique called X-ray pin-down. This makes it impossible to launch the ICBMs without damaging their navigation systems for as long as the high-altitude detonations continue. This buys extra time for the wave of first strike ICBMs to complete their flights and hit their targets, which are the ICBMs that have been pinned down in their silos. This greatly shortens the effective warning time for the President to make his decision to launch a retaliatory strike while still under attack. It takes a few minutes to confirm launch detection from early warning systems, and another few minutes for ICBMs to complete their launch procedures, and then a bit more for them to clear the region of X-ray pin-down, and that squeezes the decision time from both ends of the schedule. It means that even if all of the command and control systems are working perfectly in the targeted country, the President of that country still has only about five minutes after being shaken awake in the middle of the night to decide what to do. Five minutes to decide whether to launch thousands of nuclear warheads.


This meant that launch on warning was regarded as an extremely dangerous policy with enormous practical problems to implement. That's why both superpowers deployed their nuclear forces in survivable basing modes, to maintain a credible deterrent of residual retaliatory forces that would survive a first strike. This gives military leaders the more realistic option of riding out the attack, assessing which forces remain operational, and deciding what range of retaliatory options are available.


There are nuclear strategies that fall short of massive retaliation. One of these is the proportional response. If one country launches one missile (accidentally or otherwise), a proportional response of one missile may be chosen. It's impossible to know for sure what the outcome would have been had one of the superpowers launched a small number of ICBMs at the other, but it's feasible that such an event could have led to all-out nuclear war.


The strategy of launch on warning is largely an academic one today, due to the deployment of sumbarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs). Both the United States and Russia operate a fleet of submarines carrying nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles. The purpose of these submarines is to hide in the vastness of the ocean until needed, and then launch their missiles. They allow either country the ability to launch a second-strike, regardless of what is happening at home. French M45 SLBM and M51 SLBM Submarine-launched ballistic missiles or SLBMs are ballistic missiles delivering nuclear weapons that are launched from submarines. ...


Game theory

The principle behind "launch on warning" is an element of game theory and has been studied extensively by game theorists. The nuclear arms race would best be described as a non-zero-sum game. As long as neither side launches, both countries survive. If one country launches a first strike, the other country launches a retaliatory strike (second strike), and both sides lose. The only way for either side to win is for neither side to launch a first strike. This is also known as nuclear deterrence. Game theory is most often described as a branch of applied mathematics and economics that studies situations where players choose different actions in an attempt to maximize their returns. ... Zero-sum describes a situation in which a participants gain (or loss) is exactly balanced by the losses (or gains) of the other participant(s). ... In nuclear strategy, first strike capability is a countrys ability to defeat another nuclear power by destroying its arsenal to the point where the attacking country can survive the weakened retaliation. ... In nuclear strategy, second strike capability is a countrys assured ability to respond to a nuclear attack with powerful nuclear retalliation against the attacker. ... Mutual assured destruction (MAD) is the doctrine of military strategy in which a full scale use of nuclear weapons by one of two opposing sides would result in the destruction of both the attacker and the defender. ...


The MAD doctrine between the Soviet Union and the United States throughout the Cold War represents a Nash equilibrium, where neither side is willing to escalate the confrontation due to fear of all-out nuclear war. Anti-ballistic missile systems have been criticized by some as having the potential to upset this balance of power. If one nation develops technology capable of destroying incoming missiles, that country then has the ability to launch a first-strike without having to endure a retaliatory strike. Thus, the deployment of anti-ballistic missiles by either side is likely to destabilize the Nash Equilibrium for the conflict, with unknown results. Mutual assured destruction (MAD) is a doctrine of military strategy in which a full-scale use of nuclear weapons by one of two opposing sides would effectively result in the destruction of both the attacker and the defender. ... In game theory, the Nash equilibrium (named after John Forbes Nash, who proposed it) is a kind of solution concept of a game involving two or more players, where no player has anything to gain by changing only his or her own strategy unilaterally. ... An anti-ballistic missile (ABM) is a missile designed to counter ballistic missiles. ...


See also

Mutually assured destruction (MAD) is the doctrine of military strategy in which a full scale use of nuclear weapons by one of two opposing sides would result in the destruction of both the attacker and the defender. ... Defense Condition is a measure of the activation and readiness level of the United States armed forces. ... Deterrence theory is a defensive strategy developed after World War II and used throughout the Cold War. ... Game theory is most often described as a branch of applied mathematics and economics that studies situations where players choose different actions in an attempt to maximize their returns. ... In game theory, the Nash equilibrium (named after John Forbes Nash, who proposed it) is a kind of solution concept of a game involving two or more players, where no player has anything to gain by changing only his or her own strategy unilaterally. ... Fail Deadly is a concept in military strategy which encourages deterrence by guaranteeing an immediate, automatic and overwhelming response to an attack. ... Cover of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists with the famous Doomsday Clock set at seven minutes to midnight. ... The Doomsday Clock now stands at five minutes to midnight. ... Stanislav Yevgrafovich Petrov Stanislav Yevgrafovich Petrov (Russian: Станислав Евграфович Петров) (born c. ...

External links


  Results from FactBites:
 
Eliminate Launch on Warning by Alan Phillips and Steven Starr (2829 words)
A false warning would be immediately revealed as such when the predicted time had passed for the first missiles to arrive and no detonation had been detected; and there would be no launch.
Launch on Warning and the related term "Launch under Attack" (LUA) are not always used consistently, and this has caused confusion.
The launch order is transmitted only if three conditions are simultaneously met: the preliminary authorization has been received, there has been a complete loss of communications with the NCA, and positive signals of nuclear detonations are received from the different types of sensors.
  More results at FactBites »

 
 

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