by October 12, 2002 0 comments

When India tested five nuclear devices in 1998, its technological challenges for a stable, survivable deterrent had just begun.
This is because nuclear weapons are not regular weapons; they require extraordinary care. Military professionals call this ‘command and control’ or, in techno-speak, ‘C4I2’–command, control, communication, computing, intelligence and information. 

What are the technological requirements of India’s command and control system? This is unclear since the nature of the nuclear force is itself a secret. One way of trying to estimate the technology requirements of command and control is to read the ‘Draft Report of National Security Advisory Board on Indian Nuclear Doctrine’, which was released publicly on August 17, 1999.

The Draft Report recommends that India should have a credible, survivable nuclear force that can ride out a first strike. What this means is that if India is the target of a massive surprise attack, it must have enough nuclear weapons with which to retaliate. Deterrence is achieved by the promise of a retaliatory strike that is so punishing that no one will risk an attack in the first place. The technological challenge here is to have delivery vehicles–gravity bombs and missiles–that can reach their targets from a variety of platforms, like aircraft, land-based launchers and sea-based launchers.

This is the least of India’s technological concerns. Building the bombs and vehicles, and constructing or buying the platforms, is the easy part. Command and control is, in the long-run, the more difficult part. It is also the most expensive part. In the US, command and control systems during the Cold War accounted for over 70% of the total costs of the entire nuclear program!

There is no reason to think that, with time, India’s case will be different.

The crucial C4I2 functions are: identifying that an attack is in progress in ‘real time’; communicating attack alerts to all concerned; building invulnerable command and control centers which would issue retaliatory orders and monitor India’s retaliation; ensuring a ‘24/7’ level of communication with the political leadership before and after an attack; protection of key facilities outside the C4I2 centers against electro-magnetic pulses (EMP) from nuclear explosions; and protection against accidental or unauthorized use of nuclear weapons.

What are the technological requirements of a C4I2 system along these lines? To identify and verify the launching of an attack against India as well as monitoring Indian retaliation, we will need ‘dedicated’ satellites of great discrimination that will constantly relay crucial information. We will also need radars, including over-the-horizon (OTH) equipment. If the attack on India consists of missiles, we will need software that can calculate the trajectories and predict what will be hit and when. With Pakistan, we will have warning times of between 5-10 minutes at best. This will pose an unprecedented challenge. The US and Soviets had about 30 minutes for an attack against the homeland; and they thought they had a problem!

Ensuring that we have a ‘24/7’ level of communication in peace and war between command and control centers and the civilian leadership is inescapable. In the US, the President is shadowed by personnel carrying the ‘black box’. This contains the codes authorizing nuclear use. When Ronald Reagan was shot, the black box was lost during the chaos. At some point, India, too, must invest in a foolproof device that follows the Prime Minister around. The safety of the device against attack and developing the authentication hardware and software will be a stern challenge.

EMP will cause havoc with all electronics–computers, phone lines, electrical grids. All major military systems will have to be shielded against these pulses, especially those that house the retaliatory force and command and control. Beyond this, there will be many overground and underground facilities that depend on electronics–telephones, dams, metro systems, Indian Railways, airlines in flight. The safety of millions of people who are not in the direct line of nuclear fire may be at risk if these facilities are not EMP shielded.

Finally, there is the risk of unauthorized or accidental use of nuclear weapons. Various technological devices can minimize both accidents and unauthorized use. Permissive action links (PALs), dual-key systems, and various kinds of locks, switches, and fuses must be deployed as soon as possible. These are difficult to develop. At the height of the Cold War, the US had to give PALs technology to the Soviet Union to ensure the safety of Moscow’s nuclear arsenal!

Whether you support or oppose India’s nuclearization, C4I2 is inescapable as long as the country has these fearsome

Prof Kanti Bajpai  teaches at the Centre for International Politics, Organization and Disarmament,
Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi

Don’t kick this football

Football is the most popular game on Earth. However, when the American president refers to football, he’s probably talking about the briefcase carried for him by a US Secret Service Agent. The briefcase is always handcuffed to the agent’s hand for security and is not more than 40 feet away from the President at any point of time. It contains a small computer, a keypad and a secure, jamming-resistant radio transmitter and receiver. It is encased by an extremely strong titanium-metal alloy case, which is reported to protect it even from a direct medium-intensity bomb blast. What it contains are the release codes (encrypted algorithms) for authorizing a nuclear strike. 

Normally, when a nuclear missile attack (threat) originates, it’s tracked by the central command post at NORAD (North American Aerospace Defence Command) situated deep inside the Cheyenne mountain range in Colorado. NORAD then passes on the warning immediately to the Commander-in-Chief of the US Strategic Air Command. He has two minutes or so to decide whether it’s a false alarm and give his recommendation accordingly to the President. Once the Commander-in-Chief decides on his recommendations, the Secret Service has up to 10 minutes to locate the President, wherever he may be, and brief him. Once the President is briefed, he decides whether or not to launch a counter attack in the next few minutes or so. In the case of a US counter-attack, the President transmits the codes for launching nuclear missiles, by entering his personal release code (reputed to be a secret 10-digit number similar to a credit card or bank account PIN) into the football. Once the President enters his secret code, release codes authorizing a nuclear strike are instantaneously transmitted from the computer by the secure radio transmitter in the briefcase to NORAD, which in turn sends separate release codes to different missile launch sites. The ground-level commanders are then able to launch the missiles under their control, but only if this process is initiated from the ‘football’. Russia and China are also reported to have similar briefcases for nuclear command and control.

Benoy George Thomas

Pulse ’em into the Steam Age

Among the numerous high-tech weaponry under development none has created so much excitement as EMP (electromagnetic pulse) weapons. An EMP weapon produces an electromagnetic pulse. This pulse creates an electromagnetic field that short-circuits any device with an electrical. Computers, TVs, generators, radars, electrical motors, radios, electronic and household goods, spark plugs etc, can all get literally fried in a pulse attack. The idea behind developing such pulse weapons is not to merely inconvenience the enemy but to take him back by 150–200 years, away from all the fruits of modern civilization. Of course, the weapon wouldn’t affect steam engines of James Watt vintage!

The result of a pulse attack: No lights; trains ground to a halt; emergency facilities, including critical lifesaving equipment in hospitals, burned out; all communications down and large-scale confusion all over. While pulse weapons might not work on a bleak lunar landscape such as Afghanistan, they will no doubt bring any ‘civilized’ economy to its knees.

However, pulse weapons are by no means a US monopoly. Theoretically at least (using information freely available on the Internet), even a determined terrorist could make a one-time use briefcase pulse weapon using nuclear explosion, which wreak havoc in technologically-dependent societies. Remember Oceans’ Eleven, where George Clooney, Brad Pitt and co successfully filched cash from three of the biggest casinos in Las Vegas, thanks to an artificial power outage created by a similar device. These fears have only increased after 9/11. 

Pulse blackout
US-led NATO forces used a similar principle, though comparatively low-tech weapon in Yugoslavia during the anti-Serb Balkan operations in 1999. Here, instead of beaming a electromagnetic pulse, NATO aircraft dropped munitions containing graphite strips and dust, on power lines and transformers of the Yugoslavian power grid, short-circuiting many of them irrevocably beyond repair. Even areas which were not bombed with the ‘graphite strips’ suffered as a result of the domino effect. Sudden and increased demand for electricity from the remaining grids made them trip one after another, resulting in a nationwide blackout in the Balkan country. 

Benoy George Thomas

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