Command and Control of Nuclear Weapons in India

Gurmeet Kanwal, Senior Fellow, IDSA

 

When the 'balloon goes up', civilian decision-makers will have to weigh the political circumstances, moral dimensions, and motives of an attack and determine the appropriate response. Military planners do not waste their time pondering ultimate national goals or the purpose of nuclear war; they concentrate on the details of executing it.

— William M Arkin and Richard W. Fieldhouse

No First Use and Minimum Credible Deterrence

In May 1998, India and Pakistan crossed the nuclear Rubicon and propelled themselves into de facto membership of the most exclusive club in the world—that formed by the five Nuclear Weapons States (NWS). Since then, the NWS, led by the United States (US) have raised the bogey of a nuclear flashpoint in the Indian subcontinent. The Kargil conflict in the summer months of 1999 has further added to international apprehensions of a nuclear holocaust in South Asia. There is no reason to believe that either India or Pakistan will act less responsibly than the other NWS, despite the October 1999 military coup in Pakistan. However, the present ambiguity regarding the command and control structure, the alert status and the institution of foolproof safety arrangements to prevent both accidental and unauthorised use of nuclear weapons, is bound to undermine international confidence in the ability of the two countries to prevent the use of nuclear weapons. When the stakes are high, the lack of transparency always leads to the lack of credibility.

Unlike Pakistan, India has clearly enunciated its nuclear doctrine. Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee had declared in a policy statement in parliament on August 4, 1998 that India's nuclear doctrine will be based on the morally justifiable concept of 'no first use' and that India will maintain "a minimum but credible nuclear deterrent."1 Minimum deterrence may be defined as "a small force of survivable nuclear weapons (that) would deter an adversary from initiating military action that would threaten a nation's vital interests."2 subsequently, the National Security Advisory Board (NSAB) of India's National Security Council (NSC) proposed the following in the Draft "Indian Nuclear Doctrine" that it was called upon to formulate.3

India shall pursue a doctrine of credible minimum deterrence. In this policy of 'retaliation only', the survivability of our arsenal is critical. This is a dynamic concept related to our strategic environment, technical imperatives and the needs of national security. The actual size, components, deployment and employment of nuclear forces will be decided in the light of these factors. India's peacetime posture aims at convincing any potential aggressor that:

l Any threat of use of nuclear weapons against India shall invoke measures to counter the threat; and

l Any nuclear attack on India and its forces shall result in punitive retaliation with nuclear weapons to inflict damage unacceptable to the aggressor.

The fundamental purpose of Indian nuclear weapons is to deter the use and threat of use of nuclear weapons by any state or entity against India and its forces. India will not be the first to initiate a nuclear strike but will respond with punitive retaliation should deterrence fail.

India will not resort to the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons against states which do not posses nuclear weapons, or are not aligned with nuclear weapons powers.

While the proposed nuclear doctrine is yet to be debated in parliament and formally adopted officially, it could be stated that a broad national consensus has emerged on a 'no first use' policy and the need to develop a 'credible minimum deterrent'. However, in the realm of command and control of nuclear weapons, there appears to be a great deal of ambiguity. Several strategists of repute have stated that with a 'no first use' policy ruling out a first strike and a doctrine of minimum deterrence confining the size of India's nuclear forces to easily manageable levels, an 'elaborate' command and control apparatus is not necessary.4 It is implied that the present system for the higher direction of war would fulfil the requirements with minimum modifications. The aim appears to be to find a low cost solution to an obviously complex challenge. Such an economics-driven approach may not only be patently flawed and technically unsound, it may also prove to be prohibitively expensive in the long term.

The aim of this paper is to analyse the factors impinging on the establishment of a viable and fail-safe command and control apparatus and to recommend a viable option for India, in the light of the agreements existing in other NWS. As Bruce Blair has written, "If command and control fails, nothing else matters."5 Specifics of India's nuclear force structure are not discussed in this paper. Also, the custody of nuclear weapons, clubbed under command and control by many analysts, is not included in this paper as the conflicting aspects about civil-military relations raised by the issue of custody need separate, detailed treatment.

Nuclear Weapons Infrastructure

An NWS would normally need to have the following nuclear weapons infrastructure in place to ensure that it has a functionally effective nuclear force to meet its national security objectives:

l Research and development laboratories and testing facilities, including for computer simulation-based testing.

l Weapons manufacturing complex to produce fissionable material for warheads and to manufacture nuclear warheads.

l The nuclear arsenal, which would include ready warheads and the delivery systems necessary for delivering them on the selected targets—SSMs, ICBMs, IRBMs, fighter-bomber aircraft and SLBMs—and the base required for the storage and maintenance of nuclear weapons, alongwith the training and supply of nuclear forces.

l An integrated satellite, aerial and ground-based surveillance system to provide information and intelligence about the activities of inimical countries and to gather data for 'targeting'.

l An early warning and attack assessment system of radars, other sensors and processing stations to detect and provide inputs of warning and categorise attacks.

l A command and control structure to analyse data, make decisions, plan, direct and control the targeting and employment of nuclear weapons, should it ever become necessary.

l A fail-safe communication system with built-in redundancy to link the surveillance, early warning and command and control systems with the nuclear forces so as to distribute warning data and ensure the timely passage of execution commands.

l And, a well-conceived and rehearsed civil-defence system to minimise damage, treat casualties and to assist the civil population to recover from the ravages of nuclear explosions.

It is obvious that effective command and control of nuclear forces cannot be organised without appropriate communications, credible intelligence capabilities, survivable surveillance and reconnaissance means and computer networks to process the voluminous inputs and present suitable options for targeting and attack. In short, what is now called a C4SR system. Nirmal Jindal has suggested the following guidelines for a viable command and control system;6

l It should be able to absorb a first strike and continue to function effectively.

l It should have real-time reconnaissance capability for the National Command Authority (NCA) to assess the damage sustained, take stock of nuclear forces still available and their deployment areas to assist in the formulation of a plan of retaliation.

l It should have adequate computer processing facilities to permit rapid re-targeting of missiles and other nuclear forces prior to launch.

l There should be continuous, fail-safe two-way communications between the NCA and the nuclear forces for an appropriate response.

l And, a channel of communication with the adversary must remain available to permit negotiations for escalation control and conflict termination.

Military Satellites

For over thirty years, space has been used for military purposes. The tasks performed by military satellites include early warning and attack assessment, surveillance and reconnaissance, communications, navigation, meteorology and geodesy. The US and Russia both maintain about 120 active satellites in orbit at all times.

Early warning and attack assessment satellites are designed to provide launch warning about ICBMs and SLBMs which have typical flight times of 30 and 10 minutes, respectively. These are usually in geo-stationary orbits and use informed sensors to detect the tremendous heat from a ballistic missile's exhaust, seconds after launch.

Surveillance and reconnaissance satellites—spy satellites—employ multi-spectral scanners (optical, infrared and radar techniques) for wide-area surveillance and high-resolution reconnaissance of specific targets. The famous Big Bird US spy satellites (now replaced by KH-11 and KH-12) were placed into low altitude (160km) sun-synchronous orbits so that they passed over the same targets at the same time each day.

Space is inexorably becoming the new high ground and Star Wars are no longer in the realm of science fiction. Physical destruction, laser blinding and electronic warfare are all likely to be employed to deny the enemy the use of his satellites and to safeguard the use of one's own satellites for their force multiplier value.

Important Aspects of Command and Control

command and control may be defined as "an agreement of facilities, personnel, procedures and means of information acquisition, processing, dissemination and decision-making used by national command authorities and military commanders in planning, directing and controlling military operations."7 Command is concerned with the conduct of military operations in order to accomplish the objectives established by the political leadership, or by higher level military commanders for their subordinates.8 In dealing with the employment of nuclear weapons, the issue of control becomes a question of 'technology and wiring' and a delegation and devolution of authority in crises.9 Osgood has described a number of components of command and control of nuclear weapons; these include: …the manufacture of weapons, custody of weapons, manning and operation of weapons, military command of weapons, planning the strategy for using nuclear weapons (their number, type, and deployment and the controlling agencies, methods and targets of their employment); the political decision to use or not to use nuclear weapons; and the political decision to govern the use of nuclear weapons in combat.10

The function of civil-military relations is civilian control of the military. The three major aspects of civil-military interaction in the sphere of nuclear weapons include strategy, force structure and operations. Strategy encompasses plan that rationalises the broad goals and means of national security. It includes the political decision whether or not to commit nuclear forces for national defence and guidelines to govern their use in combat. For example, India has opted for nuclear weapons but with a 'no first use' doctrine. Force structure deals with the number and type of nuclear weapons and their delivery means. Whether India should develop a triad or rely only on either air delivered nuclear warheads or ground based nuclear-tipped missiles and whether or not thermonuclear and tactical nuclear weapons should be developed, are all force structure related political decisions. Political decisions regarding strategy and force structure are made based on military advice. However, in the realm of nuclear operations, decisions affecting targeting, deployment, state of alert and readiness and what mix of weapons and delivery systems to use (when the use of nuclear weapons has been authorised by the political executive), are all military decisions and are best left to military professionals.

One of the major prerequisites for an effective control system is the prevention of accidental or inadvertent war. According to Paul Bracken,11 accidental war results from the technical failure of individual components of a system or from unpredictable human error. Hence, accidental, war could start "without explicit decisions by responsible leaders, perhaps through misunderstanding, equipment or system failure, or a subordinate's unauthorised action." Inadvertent war is the result of a process in which crises escape control for a variety of reasons. Inadvertent war "flows from an escalation process in which each side keeps seeking an edge until the unintended eruption occurs."

Hence, a viable nuclear command and control system should be able to "prevent accidental or unauthorised use of the strategic forces when policymakers want them leashed, and …guarantee prompt and flexible response when called upon to do so"12 The system is required to do two very different things, which, in times of crisis, may be contradictory. This is also referred to as the "Always-Never" problem.13 The system must always deliver when needed and must never fail in peace time by permitting unauthorised use. If the system is based on strong checks and balances, its internal dynamics will be dampened and it will become less responsive as well as more vulnerable. If it is made flexible enough to be extremely responsive, it would remain doubtful whether the Command and Control system would remain accident free during repeated alerts and false alarms. A scenario of "repeated alerts and false alarms" is likely to prevail in the Indo-Pak context, particularly till confidence building and risk reduction measures, which would reduce the risk of unintended or accidental nuclear war, are firmly in place.

Command and control of nuclear weapons may thus be said to comprise two fundamental but conflicting aspects: positive and negative control. "Positive control concerns the authorisation of nuclear operations. A fundamental requirement is that such authorisation can only be given by authorised decision-makers."14 On the other hand, negative control seeks to prevent "accidental or unauthorised use of nuclear weapons including possible theft by sub-state actors."15 Threats and challenges to positive control include the inability of the National Command Authority (NCA) to issue an authenticated executive order due to a "decapitating attack" on major command centres or due to the failure of communications.16 Since failure of command and control would seriously degrade the ability of a NWS to launch a retaliatory nuclear strike, it is imperative that the survival of the nuclear command and control system should receive due attention.

Credibility about the capability of a nuclear force (including the political will to exercise the nuclear option when necessary) and about the effectiveness of a nation's command and control system, is an important ingredient of nuclear deterrence. According to Shaun R. Gregory, in their major study of nuclear weapons operations, Carter, Steinbruner and Zracket support this view: "Deterrence turns on the credibility of the command system's ability to realise in practice the threats implicit in weapons and strategy."17

Overall, the command and control system must impose high level political control on nuclear forces, provide accurate and timely attack warning and categorisation, enable meaningful decision-making, provide assured communications to and from the forces in the field and offer the prospect of terminating the conflict under control.18 Another important aspect is that it must meet the requirements of the nation's selected nuclear strategy. Different types of nuclear strategy require various different levels of warning, readiness and means of retaliation. For example, some analysts are of the view that NATO's command and control structure for nuclear weapons was not designed to fully support the requirements of the strategy of "flexible response". The analysis carried out by Ball, Bracken, Charles, Kelleher, Steinbruner and Gregory "…suggests that NATO risked paralysis, chaos, loss of political control over the use of nuclear weapons and rapid nuclear escalation in the event of a serious crisis or conflict."19

Command and Control Systems of Various NWS

In all the NWS except Pakistan, command over the nuclear forces is firmly under political leaders who have the sole authority to order the use of nuclear weapons. In the US (Fig. 1), this authority is vested in the NCA comprising the President and the Secretary of Defence and "their duly deputised alternates and successors."20 The NCA could also be widened to include the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (CJCS) and, possibly, the other Joint Chiefs.21 Clearly spelt out "chains of succession" exist for the president, members of the NCA and for the CJCS. The president exercises his authority over nuclear weapons by issuing electronic codes—Emergency Action Message (EAM) or 'go codes'—to subordinate officials and commanders for further transmission to the nuclear forces.

Launch-On-Warning

Fears of a pre-emptive first strike provoked a temptation to deploy launch-on-warning systems. In such a system, the early warning satellites of one side would, if they detected the launching of enemy ballistic missiles, send signals, directly to the computers controlling that side's ballistic missiles. The computers would automatically fire the missiles so that they would be gone when the enemy missiles arrived. Launch-on-warning is the ultimate in the delegation of control of nuclear weapons.

"To leave the decision to launch the nuclear holocaust to a computer is …the ultimate in human madness."22

The NCA relies on the National Military Command Centre (NMCC) situated under the Pentagon building in Washington. The NMCC provides a full range of command and control capabilities and is linked to nuclear forces and senior US military commanders around the world. The Alternate NMCC (ANMCC), located beneath Raven Rock mountain in Pennsylvania (close to the US President's retreat at Camp David, Maryland), is hardened against nuclear attack and supports and duplicates the functions of the NMCC. In addition, an "austere" protected command post is located at Camp David.23 The US maintains a network of airborne and other alternative command centres. The National Emergency Airborne Command Post (NEACP), based at Grissom Air Force Base in Indiana, is designed to provide safety to the president and connectivity with all nuclear forces. At least one airborne command centre of the Strategic Air Command (SAC) is always in the air. This is manned by senior officers of the rank of General and above "prepared to take over the reins of the nuclear forces."24 The North American Air Force (NORAD) Cheyenne Mountain Complex (NCMC) is responsible for the nuclear defence of the continental US.

Collectively, the NMCC, ANMCC, NEACP and other principal command centres, including the SAC HQ, are known as the National Military Command System (NMCS). The US Worldwide Military Command and Control System (WWMCCS) provides strategic communications and data processing capabilities to the NCA and subordinate commands.

Each of the primary and alternate command centres are located in deep underground concrete bunkers and are designed to withstand nuclear detonations and the effect of the resultant Electro-magnetic Pulse (EMP). Permissive Action Links (PALs), or electronic looks, used in conjunction with control and launch systems which require the co-operation of several individuals, prevent accidental or unauthorised use of US nuclear weapons. Numerous procedural checks and balances need to be satisfied before release is authorised. However, despite all these precautions, it is doubtful whether the system is 100 percent foolproof.

Russia: Since the break-up of the USSR in 1991, the Russian nuclear command and control system is still in the process of evolution. In theory, ultimate control over Russian nuclear weapons lies with the President who is also the Supreme Commander. He is advised by a defence committee. Nuclear release orders would be routed through the Supreme High Command (VGK or Stavka) and passed by the general staff to the nuclear commands: Strategic Rocket Forces (SRF), air force and navy and the five Theatres of Military Operations (TVD). Russia merged the, the Space Forces and the Space Defence Troops in late-1997. A new round of re-structuring is now underway to merge together the SRF with the nuclear components of the navy and the Air Force.25 The new reorganisation has generated considerable controversy. As is always the case in such reorganisations, the disagreements are mainly centred around safeguarding individual service turfs. As per unconfirmed reports, the new force is called the Strategic Missile Force (SMF). Col-Gen Vladimir Yakovlev is the commander-in-chief of SMF.26

Ground-based command centres are hardened to withstand overpressures of up to 1,000 psi (70 kg/sq cm).27 Operational control of nuclear warheads is known to be shared between the military and the KGB. As a result, in theory, the control of nuclear weapons is of a higher order than in the US and, correspondingly, the Russian strategic nuclear forces are generally at a lower state of readiness than their US counterparts. However, in practice, due to sharp cuts in the defence expenditure,28 Russia's nuclear weapons and command and control structure are known to be in a poor state of maintenance. Also, the break-up of the USSR had led to a dilution in control from which the Russian forces never recovered and, as alleged repeatedly by General Alexander Lebed, a large number of nuclear warheads are still missing.

In the 1980s the Pentagon had estimated the Soviet theatre command and control system to be "a robust and survivable command system featuring numerous hardened, fixed and mobile command posts; a dense communications network providing redundant channels between command posts; and extensive camouflage, concealment and deception."29 However, since the break-up of the Soviet Union, inadequate resources have been provided for the upkeep and maintenance and serious problems are known to exist. The authors of the Brookings Institution 'Deep Cuts Study Group' state that "…the trends pertinent to the functioning of the (Russian nuclear command and control) system are downward in physical, organisational and human terms, casting serious doubt on its ability to endure the strain indefinitely."30

United Kingdom: The British Defence Doctrine states that "Nuclear deterrent forces, as the ultimate guarantee of national security, must be capable of threatening, and hence of delivering, an adequate level of force with a high degree of confidence. They must be highly survivable, with assured command and control."31 In the United Kingdom (UK), the prime minister exercises authority over the nuclear forces. The prime minister can order the use of nuclear weapons only with the assistance of at least one other person, possibly the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS). In fact, this two-person rule is known to operate throughout the nuclear command chain from the prime minster to the serviceman in the field. "Incomplete codes for authorising a nuclear strike are held by both individuals and only when the two sections are brought together can a fully authenticated launch order be transmitted to Britain's nuclear forces."32 The nuclear weapons release channel passes through the Ministry of Defence Headquarters in London to two main nuclear centres: Northwood, for Polaris submarines and High Wycombe, for aircraft. The primary British command centre—code named Pindar—is located beneath the ministry of defence buildings in Whitehall and is connected by underground tunnels to Downing Street. The primary alternate centre outside London is the huge underground (30 metres below the surface; 54 acres in areas)33 complex at Hawthorn near Bath. The Defence Communications Network (DCN) provides communications support.

Though the US passed on PALs technology to the UK in the 1970s, this was rejected as unsuitable and reliance was, instead, placed on organisational means to control nuclear weapons. Complex procedural arrangements, which relied on the co-operation of many individuals in the command chain, were instituted with authenticating codes to establish the validity of orders received.35 The absence of physical control over the arming of nuclear weapons implies that those who have possession of these weapons could use the weapons even if they did not have the authority to do so. This arrangement is fraught with the risks of accidental, unauthorised and unintentional use of nuclear weapons.

France: In France, the president exercises supreme command over all nuclear forces. His autonomy of decision-making is almost completely unlimited. The president's directions to the nuclear forces pass through the Centre de 1'Operation des Forces Aeriennes Strategiques (COFAS) which is located in a hardened command centre at Taverny, near Paris and is also the headquarters of the French Strategic Air Force. The Alternative National Military Command Centre is at Mont Verdun near Lyon. Two launch control centres exercise command over the land-based missiles. In addition, eight primary control centres and two secondary control contres act as back up. The French president can unlock nuclear weapons in situ by transmitting a unique code sequence (similar to PALs). Procedural arrangements such as the two-person rule and other safety and security measures are also in place.

China: In China, the Chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC) of the Communist Party would decide whether the use of nuclear weapons is necessary. At present President Jiang Zemin is the Chairman of the CMC.36 Formerly, the Strategic Missile Force (the Second Artillery) controlled China's land-based ballistic missiles, the People's Liberation Army (PLA) Air Force controlled the air delivered nuclear weapons and the PLA Navy controlled China's SLBMs.37 Yang Guoliang is the commander of the Second Artillery. The Chinese nuclear forces have now consolidated operations and training under Strategic Rocket Wing, a newly established special command. As China continues to be an authoritarian state, not much is known about the detailed linkages of the country's nuclear command and control structure.

NATO In NATO countries, although tactical weapons were integrated as part of the existing conventional force structures, control of nuclear weapons was with the US. The nuclear forces of NATO "were thought to require a uniquely designed set of organisational arrangements."38 Two types of arrangements were in place. Firstly, delivery systems and nuclear warheads were kept separately. This enabled the US to retain custody of nuclear warheads almost until the moment of use. Secondly, in systems such as Thor missiles, in which both the delivery system (missile) and nuclear warhead were integral, joint control was effected by a 'dual key arrangement'. One officer from the US and one from the concerned NATO ally each held one of two keys necessary to operate the weapon. In European eyes these arrangements suffered from a number of drawbacks. European allies had virtually no control over the nuclear weapons deployed on their own soil; the bilateral procedures established for nuclear sharing were cumbersome; and the meaning of 'control' itself was open to various interpretations. NATO's nuclear command structure was hierarchical and pyramidal in composition and, hence, subject to the vulnerablilities such as structure invariably carries.

Pakistan: Not much is known about Pakistan's nuclear weapons command and control structure. Benazir Bhutto, former Pakistani Prime Minister, has gone on record to state that Pakistan's nuclear weapons are firmly in the hands of the Pakistan army.39 That makes Pakistan the only state in which the civilian leadership has no control over weapons of mass destruction. In the past, Pakistan has claimed that it has had a 'basic' command and control system in place since the early 1990s.40 Quoting The Pakistan Observer, Shahid Ahmed Khan reported that Pakistan's General Headquarters has appointed Lt Gen S M Amjad as the "Chief of the newly created Strategic Force Command to head the nuclear forces of Pakistan."41

Even during the short interludes when Pakistan was not under direct military rule, the military leadership had continued to enjoy power without responsibility. With General Pervez Musharraf's military coup d'etat of October 12, 1999, it appears certain that Pakistan is unlikely to have a civilian government for some time to come. Though there is no reason to believe that the Generals in charge in Pakistan will behave irrationally in unleashing the dogs of nuclear war, there are bound to be misgivings in many world capitals about the concentration of decision-making powers for nuclear operations in military hands. The main reason for such discomfort is that the threshold for graduating from a conventional to a nuclear war would be considerably lower if there is no political leadership in the decision-making loop to act as a cautionary trip wire.

Higher Direction of War in India

Any discussion on the command and control of nuclear forces in India must take into account the existing system for the higher direction of war and build on the available structure. In India's cabinet system of government, based on the Westminster model, the prime minister (PM) is the chief executive even though the president is the Supreme Commander of the armed forces. The apex body responsible for all matters impinging on India's security is the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) headed by the PM (Fig.2). The CCS, constituted by Prime Minister Inder Gujral in 1997, is the modern day avtar of the erstwhile Defence Committee of the Cabinet (DCC) that failed to survive the 1962 Himalayan debacle. Members of the CCS, that is headed by the PM, include the Defence Minister, the Home Minister, the Finance Minister and the Minister for External Affairs. Other members of the Council of Ministers, the armed forces Chiefs of Staff and the secretaries of concerned ministries may be invited to attend the deliberations whenever their advice is considered necessary. This is a departure from the set up of the erstwhile DCC in which the Services Chiefs of Staff were always in attendance. It is incongruous that major decisions having a bearing on national security can be made without the presence of the Chiefs of Staff.

Parallel to the CCS and with almost the same membership, is the National Security Council (NSC). This too is headed by the PM. The only real difference between the composition of the CCS and the NSC, as constituted at present, is that the National Security Advisor (NSA) and the Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission are also in attendance when the NSC meets. The NSC is assisted by the Strategic Policy Group (SPG) and the National Security Advisory Board (NSAB). Secretariat support to the NSC is provided by the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC). During the May-August 1999 Kargil conflict the CCS was reported to have met quite often. It is not known how often the NSC was convened. It could justifiably be deduced that in practice, the CCS is now discharging the functions of political guidance and oversight in the higher direction of war.

The Chiefs of Staff Committee (COSC) is the highest professional advisory body on military matters. However, it works by consensus and is only a recommendatory body with no real executive powers. The Chairman COSC (the longest serving Chief of Staff is appointed Chairman) does not exercise 'command' over any of the services other than his own. The three Chiefs of Staff continue to be individually responsible to the Defence Minister and the Cabinet and exercise full command and control over their own service. The directorate General of Defence Planning Staff (DG DPS), an inter-services body, was established under the Defence Secretary in 1986 to assist the COSC in its policy formulation and planning functions. The Military Wing that was part of the Cabinet Secretariat till 1991 and is now under the Ministry of Defence (MoD) provides secretariat support to the COSC. At present, neither the DG DPS nor the Military Wing has the capability to coordinate and execute peacetime or wartime joint operational planning, or to assist the COSC in the execution of agreed joint operations.

Recommended Command and Control System for India

The Draft "Indian Nuclear Doctrine" prepared by the NSAB states the following on command and control:42

Nuclear weapons shall be tightly controlled and released for use at the highest political level. The authority to release nuclear weapons for use resides in the person of the Prime Minister of India, or the designed successor(s).

An effective and survivable command and control system with requisite flexibility and responsiveness shall be in place. An integrated operational plan, or a series of sequential plans, predicated on strategic objectives and a targeting policy shall form part of the system.

For effective employment, the unity of command and control of nuclear forces, including dual capable delivery systems shall be ensured.

The survivability of the nuclear arsenal and effective command, control, communications, computing, intelligence and information (C412) systems shall be assured.

The Indian defence forces shall be in a position to, execute operations in an NBC environment with minimal degradation.

Space based and other assets shall be created to provide early warning, communications, damage/detonation assessment.

There can be no doubt that the prime minister, as the head of the Cabinet, must exercise ultimate control over all nuclear weapons. In the Indian context, the PM and the CCS could be designated as the National Command Authority (NCA). The NCA would be advised by the National Security Council (NSC). It is important that in nuclear decision-making the Cabinet must get 'single point military advice'. At present, all three Chiefs of Staff render military advice to the CCS. The confusion in decision-making can be imagined if two Chiefs of Staff were to advise the CCS to desist from using nuclear weapons to retaliate against an enemy nuclear strike during ongoing conventional military operations and the third Chief, particularly the army Chief, was to insist that the retaliatory use of nuclear weapons was an inescapable operational requirement in the prevailing circumstances. Due to the inter-dependence of each Service on the other in modern warfare and because of the repercussions of the operational activities of each on the other, it is imperative that differing viewpoints among the services are resolved by military professionals themselves and that the political masters get professional military advice from only one source. Such a source can only be the Chief of Defence Staff or Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff and not the Chairman of the COSC as it is presently constituted.

India is the only major democracy in which the services headquarters are not part of the government, that is, the headquarters have not been integrated with the MoD. Experience with this system has not been satisfactory as operational requirements are sometimes not readily understood by the civilian bureaucracy and extensive delays take place in decision-making. Also, the rules of business do not permit the three services to interact directly with various ministries and government departments and even routine correspondence has sometimes to be routed through the MoD. Reforms have been long overdue and the present Defence Minister, George Fernandes, had in the first week of January 1999 promised the merger of the Services Headquarters with the MoD within 30 days. However, there has been no tangible progress on the issue since then. This long pending reform in India's defence and security threat perception, analysis, decision-making and policy implementation structure will lead to an exponential improvement in the management of national security.

Besides such integration, other salient recommendations of the 1990 Arun Singh Committee on Defence Expenditure, such as the creation of a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS—preferably, a five star post), also need to be expeditiously implemented if command and control over nuclear forces is to be meaningfully exercised. The CDS must exercise command over the three services though individual chiefs of staff may continue to enjoy direct access to the PM and the defence minister. A Vice Chief of Defence Staff (VCDS—a four star post) should also be appointed. He should oversee the functioning of a specialised tri-service joint planning staff headquarters to assist the CDS to assess long-term threats, formulate and execute joint military strategy to achieve political goals and objectives and independently evaluate budgetary and force projections made by the three services. Ideally, the Indian armed forces need to graduate to the concept of unified tri/bi-service "theatre commands" so as to optimally synergise the combat potential of individual services in the present era of strategic uncertainty that demands "capability-based" forces rather than threat-based ones. However, as a beginning, the institution of a CDS and VCDS would be adequate, as change, particularly in military hierarchies, should be evolutionary and not revolutionary. Whatever higher direction of defence structure is evolved for the command and control of nuclear weapons, it must be ensured that the structure is suitable for the entire spectrum of conventional conflicts as well.

In the proposed "Indian Nuclear Doctrine" paper, the NSAB has envisaged a land, sea and air-based 'triad' of nuclear forces for India.43 The recommendation makes eminent strategic sense, as a trial will ensure that balance is achieved along with redundancy. Hence, it is likely to be accepted by the government and parliament and implemented in a phased manner. Some analysts have suggested that a new Strategic Air Command should be raised as a new command of the IAF for India's nuclear forces.44 However, the placing of SSBNs under a Strategic Air Command would be obviously incongruous.45 While air delivered nuclear weapons, including air launched cruise missiles (ALCMs), should naturally be operated by the IAF, all types of surface-to-surface missiles (SSMs), including ICBMs, IRBMs and ground launched cruise missiles (GLCMs), should be operated by the army, as is the case in some other NWS. The army is far better placed to ensure peacetime and wartime security and provide ancillary support, including engineering and logistics support. The rail-road mobility of the missiles and their warheads and security during move can also be better ensured by the army. The dispersion and camouflage of missiles and the institution of viable deception measures are also manpower intensive activities and these issues too justify the holding of ground-based nuclear missiles by the army. It is well known that Russian nuclear missiles are grouped under 'Strategic Rocket Forces' and the Chinese nuclear missile force has for long been called the 'Second Artillery'.

Ideally, a new Strategic Force should be raised as the fifth force of the Union and equipped with the planned triad of nuclear weapons.46 It should be placed under a Chief of Strategic Forces (CSF) who should be at par with the other three Chiefs of Staff. The CSF would also report to the Chief of Defence Staff. While this arrangement would best meet the requirements of planning and coordination, safety and the prevention of un-authorised use of nuclear weapons, India can ill-afford the capital expenditure that would be necessary if dedicated new weapons systems platforms, units and bases and warning and control systems were to be created solely for nuclear weapons and then perhaps wound down after a few decades, when the logic of universal nuclear disarmament finally dawns on the great powers. Also, as in the case of the Strategic Air Command under the IAF, such a move would lead to the concentration of unacceptable power in the hands of one individual.

For the new Strategic Force, new strategic bomber squandrons would have to be raised from scratch along with all necessary ancillary support units and additional air bases, though some air bases could be shared. A new logistic and security infrastructure would also need to be created for the strategic force. Integrating the new squadrons with the existing Air Defence Ground Environment System (ADGES) and the air space management system would require additional investment to overcome the problems of hardware compatibility. In a conventional or sub-conventional war that does not escalate to a nuclear conflict, that is when nuclear deterrence succeeds as it is expected to, these expensive weapons platforms would lie idle with a force that plays only a wait-and-watch role.

In case these nuclear strategic bombers are ever called upon to deliver their deadly payloads, they would need fighter escort for air defence, specialised electronic warfare (EW) escort aircraft to counter the enemy's EW efforts and Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) aircraft to direct them to their targets. All this would require finely coordinated training between the Air Force pilots and those of the nuclear force, as also commonality of systems and equipment. The case would be similar with SSM, IRBM and cruise missile regiments of the strategic force coordinating with the Army and SSBNs armed with SLBMs coordinating with the Navy. Hence, the disadvantages far outweigh the positive aspects and it emerges quite clearly that the creation of dedicated assets for India's Strategic Force may be necessary but is unaffordable.

What is feasible in the Indian context is to earmark nuclear weapons systems and platforms and nuclear-capable assets with the three services for dual-use purpose (Fig. 3). That is, the concerned units have a conventional as well as a nuclear weapons role and are trained and equipped accordingly. However, there would still be a requirement to establish a tri-Service Strategic Forces Command under the CDS to exercise command and control over the nuclear weapons and to oversee the functioning of the surveillance, early warning, nuclear forces intelligence attack and damage assessment systems. Targeting, another major command function, is increasingly becoming more and more dynamic due to rapid industrialisation and the creation of strategic assets. Targeting could also be entrusted to the Strategic Forces Command that would receive inputs directly from the national level intelligence organisations as well as from the three Services.

Executive orders for the use of nuclear weapons, after political approval by the PM or a designated successor, should be issued by the CDS through the operations directorate of the service concerned to the nuclear force unit(s) required to execute a retaliatory strike. It should be possible to fine tune the command and control system in such a manner that the nuclear forces units act on the orders received directly from the respective operations directorates of the concerned service headquarters only after due authentication through the strategic forces command on an independent communications channel. That is, in colloquial parlance, only half the coded message authorising the use of nuclear weapons should be received from each of the two independent channels. This would not tantamount to duality of command, as command, would still remain vested in the respective service headquarters. The additional control channel would be applicable only for the release of nuclear weapons and would provide an inherent check against misuse and inadvertent use. Though this arrangement may result in a short time delay between approval and execution, such delay should be acceptable in a retaliatory second-strike mode considering the immense pay off in building in checks and balances in the system. This would also demand additional, adequately redundant fail-safe communications capable of surviving a nuclear first strike; however, the disadvantages of additional expenditure will be outweighed by the benefits of the prevention of un-authorised employment of nuclear weapons.

National Command Post There is a need for a survivable National Command Post (NCP) from which the NCA can direct future wars. The present location of the Prime Minister's Office (PMO), the Ministers of Defence and External Affairs and the Army, Navy and Air Headquarters in South Block, Sena Bhavan ad Vayu Bhavan in New Delhi are vulnerable to even conventional weapons. It hardly needs to be stated that in the event of nuclear war, however remote the chance may be, the South Block would be the ground zero of at least one to two 15 to 20 kiloton (kt) nuclear bombs. Hence, the NCA must commence functioning from an NCP during the warning period prior to the outbreak of hostilities. The NCP should be an underground facility at a distance of about 40 to 50 km from New Delhi. It must be fully equipped for command and control during war by the political leadership, the CDS and the operations directorate of the Services headquarters. It should be capable of withstanding up to a 20 kt blast from a ground burst or from a deep penetration nuclear weapon like the US B61-11 earth penetrating nuclear warhead. An alternate NCP is also necessary and must be established as a mirror image of the NCP. Suitable locations for the two command posts should be identified and construction work should commence immediately.47

It has been suggested that the PM and other members of the CCS are likely to find it politically inconvenient to operate from a NCP due to the impact their move to a safe hideout may have on their electoral prospects. It need not be emphasised that if the balloon goes up, the political masters will have to choose between the next election and the next generation. It is to be hoped that under such circumstances India will have a statesman at the helm and not a politician.

Survivability of NCA and Chain of Succession The threat of decapitation of the nuclear decision-makers make it necessary to formulate a list of 'alternates and successors'. The continuity of government at the highest level must be ensured. Alternates and successors need to be nominated for the political leaders as well as the military commanders. The alternates and successors must also be enabled to act when necessary by providing them with the codes for launching nuclear weapons, the communications necessary and regular information updates so that they can keep abreast of the situation. Carter makes a distinction between enabling and authorisation.48

"…clearly the distinction between those enabled to use nuclear weapons and those authorised to do so is fundamental to a nuclear command system. Both sets of people could change as the circumstances change from peacetime to alert to war. The picture the Soviet targeter (sic) must bear in mind is one of a military command structure extending from each individual weapon up to the President, with each layer in varying degrees and in varying circumstances enabled and authorised to act. Clearly many more are enabled than authorised, with unlock codes or fragments of them (requiring the cooperative 'votes' of several parties) distributed throughout the military chain of command. Authority can be delegated contingently."

Peter D. Feaver lists the following four issue as crucial to the civilian control of the initial decision to use nuclear weapons.49

l Physical control of nuclear weapons.

l The line of presidential succession.

l Devolution of command.

l Pre-delegation of authority.

It is necessary to have a clear line of succession in case the political leadership is decapitated by a nuclear strike or the PM is the unavailable for some reason so that decision-making is not stymied at a crucial juncture in the nation's history. Similarly, in certain circumstances, pre-delegation of authority is necessary. For example, if the entire civilian leadership is eliminated in a multi-warhead first strike (an improbable but not an impossible event), nuclear decision-making would come to a standstill unless the authority to approve a retaliatory strike had been pre-delegated to military commanders.

The following chain of succession/command is recommended:

Civilian Decision-makers Military Leadership

Prime Minister Chief of Defence Staff

Deputy PM (to be statutorily nominated Vice CDS/Commander Strategic Forces at the time of Cabinet formation)

Defence Minister Longest serving Chief of Army, Navy or Air Staff

Other Members of Cabinet Committee Longest serving Vice Chief of Army, Navy on Security (to be statutorily nominated or Air Staff. by appointment)

Minister of State for Defence Designated General, Fleet and Air Officers Commanding-in-Chief (those with nuclear forces under command)

Other Cabinet Ministers (as nominated) Designated Corps, Fleet and Air Base Commanders (if nuclear forces are placed under their command)

The chain of succession/command need not necessarily be publicly disclosed in order to ensure that those on the list do not become obvious targets. However, the list must be drawn up and formally promulgated so that in the event of war there is no ambiguity about the nuclear decision-making authority if some members of the political or military leadership are eliminated by a first strike.

Conclusion

For the time being, there appears to be "no alternative to nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles if you are to live in security and with honour."50 It is well understood that nuclear weapons with their enormous destructive potential are political weapons and not military weapons. Their real purpose is deterrence, not actual use. Hence, ultimate control over their employment must be firmly in the hands of the elected political leadership of the country. The principle of civilian control over the employment of nuclear forces is inviolable. However, at some point in the decision-making process, control may pass into the hands of the professional military men and women who serve the nation. This could be by design or by default. On such an occasion much will depend on the good judgement of the military leadership. While the nation can bank on the Indian armed forces' tradition of military obedience, the military leadership has to be trained in peacetime to shoulder the responsibility of nuclear decision-making if the opportunity ever arises in war.

"Deterrence," according to Carter, Steinbruner and Zraket, as stated earlier, "turns on the credibility of the command system's ability to realise in practice the threats implicit in weapons and strategy." What India needs is a survivable second strike force, a credible and functionally adequate command and control apparatus and fail-safe physical and electronic security measures to prevent accidental and unauthorised launch or access. It needs to be clearly appreciated that the proposed command and control system is not for nuclear warfighting. Its aim is to simply ensure that if deterrence fails, India's political establishment can take the ominous decision necessary and that India's nuclear forces will deliver the necessary atomic retribution when called upon to do so.

The cost of establishing an effective nuclear command and control structure has been estimated to be up to 40 per cent of a nuclear weapons programme.51 The cost of creating a nuclear force structure to achieve 'credible minimum deterrence' has been variously estimated to range between 0.25 t0 0.5 percent of the GDP over a period of 15 to 20 years. This cost will have to be vectored into the nation's defence budget. In matters of national security, cost alone cannot and must never be a determinant of strategies and force structures, for national sovereignty and freedom cannot be compromised under any circumstances whatsoever. Having declared India NWS, the government now needs to take hard decisions to create the necessary infrastructure and raise the required nuclear forces so that India's 'minimum deterrent' is really credible.

The nation needs to develop a language for nuclear deterrence and a grammar for that language that is readily understood by those inimical to India's interests. While India continues its efforts for the time bound elimination of all nuclear weapons, at the military level, the country must take all steps necessary to put into the required nuclear force structure and its command and control apparatus in a planned manner. As stated by Arkin and Fieldhouse, if the 'balloon goes up', the Indian armed forces must be ready to execute a punitive retaliatory strike to neutralise the nuclear threat.

 

NOTES

1. K Subrahmanyam, "Vajpayee Propounds Nuclear Doctrine", Times of India, August 5, 1998.

2. Robert L. Gallucci, "Limitting US Policy Options to Prevent Nuclear Weapons Proliferation: The Relevance of Minimum Deterrence", in Janes C. Gaston (ed.), Grand Strategy and the Decision-making Process (Washington D.C.: National Defence University Press, 1991), pp. 110-111.

3. See Paras. 2.3, 2.4, and 2.5 of "Indian Nuclear Doctrine", a Draft Paper proposed by the NSAB. (Publicly released by the Ministry of External Affairs in New Delhi on August 17, 1999.)

4. Among others, K. Subrahmanyam has propounded this view. "Nuclear Force Design and Minimum Deterrence Strategy", in Bharat Karnad (ed.), Future Imperilled (Indian Security in the 1990s and Beyond), (New Delhi: Viking Penguin India, 1994), pp. 191-192.

5. Bruce Blair, Strategic Command and Control, (Washington DC: Brookings, 1985).

6. Nirmal Jindal, War as a Political Weapon in the Nuclear Age, (New Delhi: Intellectual Publishing House, 1987).

7. Shaun R. Gregory, Nuclear Command and Control in NATO (London: Macmillan Press Ltd, 1996), pp. 3-4.

8. Martin van Creveld, Command in War (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1985), pp. 5-16.

9. Stephen J. Cimbala, Rethinking Nuclear Strategy (Wilmington, Delaware: Scholarly Resources Inc., 1988), pp. 217-231.

10. Robert E. Osgood, Nuclear Control in NATO (Washington DC: Washington Centre for Foreign Policy Research, 1962), p. 21.

11. Paul Bracken, The Command and Control of Nuclear Forces (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1983) pp. 129-178.

12. n. 7.

13. Peter D. Feaver, Guarding the Guardians—Civilian Control of Nuclear weapons in the United States (lthaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1992), pp. 3-66.

14. Stephen Twigge and Len Scott, "Learning to Love the Bomb: The Command and Control of British Nuclear Forces, 1953-1964", The Journal of Strategic Studies, Volume 22, Number 1, March 1999.

15. Ibid.

16. John Steinbruner, "Nuclear Decapitation", Foreign Policy, No.45, Winter 1981-82.

17. n. 7, pp. 5-6.

18. Ibid.

19. Ibid, pp. 194-195.

20. William M. Arkin and Richard W. Fieldhouse, Nuclear Battlefields: Global Links in the Arms Race, (Cambridge, MA: Ballinger Publishing Company, 1985), pp. 84-86.

21. n. 7, pp. 81.

22. Frank Barnaby, The Authomated Battlefield (London: Sidgwick & Jackson Limited, 1988), pp. 151-152.

23. Bruce G. Blair, John E. Pike and Stephen I. Schwartz, "Targeting and Controlling the Bomb", in Stephen I. Schwartz (ed.), Atomic Audit (Washington D.C.: Brookings, 1998), pp. 207.

24. n. 20.

25. Nikolai Sokov, "Rocket Union?", Janes Defence Weekly, February 10, 1999.

26. Nikolai Novichko, "Test Aimed at Extending Missile Life", Janes Defence Weekly", November 10, 1999.

27. Doug Richardson and others, Advanced Technology Warfare (London: Salamander Books Limited, 1985), pp. 53-54.

28. Fred Weir, "Russian Army Pit of Despair; Budgets are Radically Slashed", The Hindustan Times, February 7, 1998. Also see Free Weir, "Russian Army—More a Threat to its Own People", The Hindustan Times, December 21, 1997.

29. US Department of Defence, Soviet Military Power: 1986, quoted by Cimbala, (n. 9), pp. 229-230.

30. Harold A. Feiceson (ed.), "De-alerting Strategic Nuclear Forces", The Nuclear Turning Point (Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press, 1999), pp. 103-107.

31. British Defence Doctrine, Joint Warfare publication (JWP) 0-01, Ministry of Defence, United Kingdom, pp. 6-15.

32. n. 14, pp. 42.

33. n. 5, pp. 104-105.

34. n. 7, pp. 94-95.

35. n. 5, pp. 107-108.

36. "China's Deadly Missile Arsenal", The Hindu, November 18, 1999.

37. Scilla McLean (ed.), How Nuclear Weapons Decisions are Made, (London: The Macmillan Press, 1986), pp. 198-199.

38. n. 7.

39. In an interview with Teheran Radio in October 1999, Benazir Bhutto stated that "Pakistan's nuclear programme had never been under the control of the political leadership." She has said the same thing on several occasions in the past. "No PM Knew About Country's N-capacity: Benazir," The News International, Pakistan (Internet edition), October 24, 1999.

40. Lt Gen Pram Pahwa, PVSM (Retd), "Organisation and Concept of Strategic Rocket Forces" (National Security Paper), National Security Series—1988 (New Delhi: United Service Institution of India, 1999), pp. 263-314.

41. Shahid Ahmed Khan, "Top Pak Commander Forced to Retire", The Asian Age, October 10, 1999.

42. n. 3, Para 5.

43. n. 3, Para 3.1.

44. Air Marshall B. D. Jayal, PVSM, AVSM Bar (Retd), "India 2020: A Perspective on Air Power", Indian Defence Review, October-December 1998.

45. For a more detailed discussion on the options for grouping nuclear forces assets under various armed forces, see Lt Gen Pran Pahwa, n. 40.

46. At present, the Army, the Navy, the Air Force and the Coast Guard are the four armed forces of the Union.

47. Many analysts have written about the need for a NCP. However, no moves appear to have been made as yet. Also see K. Subrahmanyam, "Countering Missile Threats" in Brahma Chellaney (ed.), Securing India's Future in the New Millennium, (New Delhi: Orient Longman Limited, 1999), pp. 247-270 and Lt Gen Pran Pahwa, n. 40.

48. Ashton B. Carter, "Assessing Command System Vulnerability", in Ashton B. Carter, John D. Steinbruner and Charles A. Zraket (Eds.), Managing Nuclear Operations (Washington, D.C.: The Brookings Institution, 1987, pp. 555-610.

49. n. 13, pp. 36-37.

50. General K. Sundarji, "Indian Military Compulsions", in Bharat Karnad (ed.), n. 4, pp. 137.

51. Bharat Karnad, "Going Thermonuclear: Why, with What Forces, at What Cost", USI Journal, July-September 1998, pp. 310-337.