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Launch Under Attack to Redress Minuteman Vulnerability? I Secretary of Defense Harold Brown has noted that even if the Soviet Union develops the capability to destroy U.S. Minuteman silos, the Soviets cannot be certain that they can therefore destroy missiles. Accordingly, the development of the ability to destroy silos does not necessarily represent any net change in the Soviet ability to destroy other targets of value in the United States or, for that matter, to reduce the amount of destruction the United States can inflict on targets of value in the Soviet Union. This lack of assurance that Minuteman missiles could in fact be destroyed could clearly be very important under certain circumstances, and it is the purpose of this paper to explore, in greater depth than has been publicly available, both technical and policy aspects of the ability to launch ICBMs "under attack" or "on impact."' On the other hand, so long as the U.S. Submarine Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBM) force is in fact invulnerable, and our cruise missiles and their carriers can penetrate Soviet air defense, whether Minuteman Re-entry Vehicles (RVs)survive to be launched may make little difference to the Soviet Union or to the United States. Each reader will no doubt have individual views on this point. Some, including the author, although advocating increasing the durability of our system of ICBM basing, have emphasized at the same time the desirability of a clear capability to launch under attack, in order to diminish in the minds of Soviet leaders any possible benefits from a massive strike at the U.S. ICBM force, and so further redye the chance that the Soviet Union would launch such a strike. Given the likelihood that no basing system for ICBMs will at all times be judged perfectly durable by all viewers (i.e., prelaunch survivability = l.O), the ability to launch under attack could further Richard L. Garwin is an IBM Fellow at the Thomas I. Watson Research Center, Yorktown Heights, New York. He is also Professor of Public Policy, Kennedy School of Government, Haruard University. A version of this paper was prepared for the New York Arms Control Seminar, sponsored by the Institute for War and Peace Studies of Columbia University. 1. Air Force definitions are approximately as follows: Launch on warning: a launch in response to sensor indication of an attack on the continental United States ("CONUS"). Launch under attack: a launch after high-confidence determination that CONUS is under massive attack. Launch on (or after) impact: Secretary Brown's term for a launch after nuclear explosions on or above ICBM fields. Launch on attack assessment: a launch after determination of the intent and extent of the attack, including the degree of threat to ICBM silos. 117 International Security I 218 reduce the probability that the Soviet Union could judge such an attack to be rewarding. Neither Soviet fears nor U.S. planning and systems should be limited to the simplisticapproach that the entire force would be launched under attack or on impact. The overall aim of launch under attack or launch on impact could be better achieved with some subset of the force so managed. Nor would it be desirable for (even a small) launch under attack or launch on impact to be the response to a small number of missiles or re-entry vehicles directed at our ICBM silos, since one takes in that way the entire risk of thermonuclear war while benefitting at best by the slightly earlier destruction of a few targets in the Soviet Union. The numbers of our ICBMs committed to launch under attack, their targets, the conditions under which they will be launched, and whether the only option should be to launch irrevocably armed, will evidently play a central role in this paper. Definitions LAUNCH UNDER ATTACK ”Launch under attack,” does not mean preemptive strike, or the launching of aircraft from their bases on warning of an attack in such a fashion that they can be recovered in case the attack does not materialize. The purpose of launch under attack or launch on impact is to deter attack on the ICBM force, not actually to save the ICBMs from...


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