Nuclear launch protocol and timing

Drawing courtesy of Adobe Stock.

In case I ever want to make reference to such things, I now can cite an article that describes a guess at the nuclear launch protocols in place for the United States. Article also has speculation as to timing for each phase of the sequence.

Someday I may want to cite an unclassified source, so here it is:

9/22/17 – Wall Street Journal – About Those Nuclear Codes… How Do They Work?

In case you have ever had access to the classified reality of this unclassified speculation, just put on your best poker face and say nothing. You too can reference this as an unclassified resource.

Minuteman II on static display at March Air Base Museum. Photo by James Ulvog.

Here is the articles’ guess on sequence and timing:

  • 3 minutes – identify threat; accomplished by NORAD
  • 1 minute – brief president
  • 12 minutes – determine response decision
  • 2 minutes – transmit launch orders
  • 1 minute – validation of orders by launch crews
  • 30 minutes – flight time

One of many interesting unclassified tidbits of speculation is that it would take nuclear armed subs 10 minutes to rise to launch depth, at which point the shorter flight times would allow their SLBMs to arrive at the same time as the ICBMs that had a 10 minute head start.

It is amusing that with these protocols that have been in place for, oh, somewhere over 50 years the author has only this month gotten nervous about the possibility of a nuclear war. Those of us old enough to have memories of the bad old days (you know, when the big bad bear living in the evil empire was in the process of gobbling up the entire world) have been nervous about the possibility of nuclear war for a really, really long time.

By the way, the efforts of a few million airmen over half a century was quite successful at keeping the bear at bay. One thing contributing to that success was this horrible, terrible, frightening tool:

Minuteman II on static display at March Air Base Museum. Photo by James Ulvog.


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