Single Integrated Operational Plan

Single Integrated Operational Plan

The Single Integrated Operational Plan (SIOP) was the United States' general plan for nuclear war from 1961 to 2003. The SIOP gave the President of the United States a range of targeting options, and described launch procedures and target sets against which nuclear weapons would be launched.[1] The plan integrated the capabilities of the nuclear triad of bombers with intercontinental range, land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) and sea-based submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM). The SIOP was a highly classified document, and was one of the most secret and sensitive issues in U.S. national security policy.[2]

Montage of submerged submarine launch to the reentry of the multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles of a Trident missile

The first SIOP, titled SIOP-62, was finished on 14 December 1960 and implemented on 1 July 1961 (the start of fiscal year 1962).[3] The SIOP was updated annually until February 2003, when it was replaced by Operations Plan (OPLAN) 8044.[4] Since December 2008, the US nuclear war plan has been OPLAN 8010, Strategic Deterrence and Global Strike.[5]


Planning Process

While much of the United States' nuclear war planning process remains classified, some information on the former SIOP planning process has been made public. The planning process began with the President issuing a presidential directive establishing the concepts, goal, and guidelines that provided guidance to the nuclear planners.[6] The Secretary of Defense then used the President's guidance to produce the Nuclear Weapons Employment Policy (NUWEP) that specified basic planning assumptions, attack options, targeting objectives, types of targets, targeting constraints, and coordination with combatant commanders. The NUWEP was then used by the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) to create the "Joint Strategic Capabilities Plan (JSCP), Annex C (Nuclear)." This document established a more detailed and elaborate set of goals and conditions that included targeting and damage criteria for the use of nuclear weapons. The final stage in the planning process occurred when the Strategic Air Command (SAC) (from 1961 to 1992) or the United States Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM) (from 1992 to 2003) took the guidance from the JSCP and created the actual nuclear war plan that becomes the SIOP.

As part of SIOP planning, SAC or USSTRATCOM developed a set of plans and a series of options based on a target set known as the National Target Base (NTB). The number of targets in the NTB varied over time, from 16,000 in 1985 to 12,500 at the end of the Cold War in 1992, to 2,500 by 2001.[7] The SIOP was primarily directed against targets in the Soviet Union (later Russia) but targets in the People's Republic of China, which had been part of the SIOP until the 1970s, were added back into the plan in 1997.[8] In 1999, the NTB reportedly included targets in Russia, China, North Korea, Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Libya.[9]

United Kingdom participation

While the United Kingdom's nuclear deterrent - four Trident Vanguard class submarines - are strictly under UK national control, they had two distinct roles under the SIOP. The first was part of a UK-only retaliatory response to a nuclear attack, whether a full strategic strike, or a limited tactical strike. The second role was one in which the Royal Navy participates in the SIOP, in effect becoming an extension of the U.S. Navy's Trident submarines. This role was to be part of a NATO response to a Soviet nuclear strike.

The Royal Navy's contribution to the SIOP was small. The four Vanguard submarines could strike a maximum of 512 separate targets; equivalent to 7% of the total U.S. nuclear strike capacity.

The RAF's V-bomber fleet of nuclear weapon carrying bombers was also previously assigned to participate in the SIOP. The Avro Vulcan, Handley Page Victor and Vickers Valiant bombers based in the UK would have arrived over the USSR before any aircraft of the US Strategic Air Command (SAC).


SIOP, and its renamed successors, is most importantly an "integrated" plan that uses both Air Force and Navy delivery systems; it is "single" only in the sense that it comes out of one planning group. The "plan" actually contains multiple "attack options" that are themselves complex plans.

Early targeting after the Second World War

Strategic nuclear strike plans were developed during the immediate post-World War II period. Plan Totality targeted twenty cities with the thirty nuclear bombs available. Based on the reports of the strategic bombing operations of WWII the Joint Chiefs of Staff sought a targeting plan called Delta-Bravo-Romeo, disrupting Soviet war-making capacity, blunting their atomic warfare capabilities, and retarding the Soviet advance into Eurasia.[10] Lack of any reliable targeting information and the limited number of bombs meant plans continued to rely on striking enemy cities. Curtis LeMay's SAC Emergency War Plan 1-49 dropped the entire US arsenal of 133 devices on seventy cities over thirty days.[11]

By the 1950s around 5,500 targets were listed to receive SAC bomber strikes; these targets consisted primarily of industrial sites but included counterforce targets. These plans, primarily by the Air Force, tended to be based on selecting targets in order to use up the available weapons, rather than considering the desired effects or strategic outcomes.[12]

From a 1957 letter from John H. Moore, former director of nuclear planning, air operations branch, United States European Command, Air Force target planning methodology can be inferred "blast damage frame," with such references as "damage to concrete structures" and the requirement for a "high probability of cratering runways." He cited the "destructive and disruptive nature of nuclear weapons" with megaton yields: "the cumulative or ancillary effects may be as great or greater than primary damage." Specifically, he considered delayed radiation but not thermal effects, but called attention to the idea of "bonus" effects,[13] in which the totality of weapons effects would allow lower-yield weapons to achieve the "desired destruction." In the letter to the head of the Atomic Energy Commission, Lewis Strauss, Moore noted that the Pentagon "rigorously suppressed" this study and destroyed all copies.[citation needed]

Prior to the development of SIOP and survivable command and control, President Dwight D. Eisenhower predelegated nuclear release authority to certain senior commanders.[14] There have continued to be Continuity of Nuclear Operations Plans (COOP), which designated enough subordinates who, in the event of the National Command Authority and immediate successors being killed in a "decapitation" attack, could still retaliate. While the details have never been made public, Eisenhower's predelegation, and a Federation of American Scientists summary, give a framework.

Presidential involvement and start of civilian policy direction

In 1958, George Kistiakowsky, a key Manhattan Project scientist and Science Advisor in the Eisenhower Administration, suggested to the President that inspection of foreign military facilities was not sufficient to control their nuclear weapons. Kistiakowsky was particularly concerned with the difficulty of verifying the number, type, and deployment of nuclear-armed missiles on missile submarines, and proposed that the arms control strategy focus on disarmament rather than inspections.[15] He was also concerned with the short warning times available from Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) launches, which took away the lengthy decision time available when the nuclear threat came exclusively from manned bombers.

Atlas, a first-generation ICBM

Eisenhower sent Kistiakowsky to Strategic Air Command headquarters where he was, at first, rebuffed. At the same time as the early nuclear arms control work, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Nathan F. Twining, USAF, sent a memorandum[16] in August 1959, to the Secretary of Defense, Neil McElroy, which suggested that the Strategic Air Command be formally assigned responsibility to prepare the national nuclear target list, and a single plan for nuclear operations. Up to that point, the Army, Navy, and Air Force had done their own target planning. That had led to individual targets being multiply targeted by the different services. The separate service plans were not mutually supporting, as, for example, by the Navy destroying an air defense facility on the route of an Air Force bomber going to a target deeper inland. While Twining had sent the memo to McElroy, the members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff disagreed on the policy during early 1960. [17][18] Thomas Gates, who succeeded McElroy, asked President Dwight D. Eisenhower to decide the policy.[19]

Eisenhower said he would not "leave his successor with the monstrosity" of the uncoordinated and non-integrated forces that then existed. When Kistiakowsky was not given access, Eisenhower sent him back with a much stronger set of orders giving SAC officers the choice to cooperate with Kistiakowsky, or resign.

Kistiakowsky's report, presented on November 29, described uncoordinated plans with huge numbers of targets, many of which would be attacked by multiple forces, resulting in overkill. Eisenhower was shocked by the plans, and focused not just on the creation of the Single Integrated Operational Plan (SIOP), but on the entire process of picking targets, generating requirements, and planning for nuclear war operations. Separate operational plans from the Air Force and the Navy were combined to form the foundation of the SIOP.

The first SIOP

The first plan, following the White House policy guidance, was developed in 1960, consisting of a list of targets (the National Strategic Target List, or NSTL) and the assets to be used against each target. This first SIOP was extensively revised by a team at the RAND Corporation to become SIOP-62, describing a massive strike with the entire US arsenal of 3,200 warheads against the USSR, China and Soviet-aligned states.

The early SIOP, however, had little flexibility, treating all Communist countries as a uniform bloc. Document JCS 2056/220 expressed the concerns of U.S. Marine Commandant David Shoup that the 1961 draft was inconsistent with an 1959 NSC policy guidance paper approved by Eisenhower.[20] Shoup was especially concerned with language in the draft SIOP that said

The United States should utilize all requisite force against selected targets in the USSR--and as necessary in Communist China, European Bloc and non-European bloc countries--to attain the above objectives. Military targets in Bloc countries other than the USSR and Communist China will be attacked as necessary.

The National Security Archive commentary reports that Shoup asked USAF/SAC Commander Thomas Power "...what would happen if Beijing was not fighting; was there an option to leave Chinese targets out of the attack plan?" Power was reported to have said that he hoped no one would think of that "because it would really screw up the plan"--that is, the plan was supposed to be executed as a whole. Apparently Shoup then observed that "any plan that kills millions of Chinese when it isn't even their war is not a good plan. This is not the American way."

In 1963 the Kennedy administration ordered Robert McNamara to revise this plan, resulting in SIOP-63 — a strong counterforce strategy with a number of options. It was with SIOP-63 that the 'no first use' policy became implicit. The counterforce approach recognized three missions, sometimes called Alpha, Bravo, and Romeo after the phonetic alphabet symbols for the different goals. The specific plans included options for combining the missions:

  • Alpha: neutralize the enemy's capability to conduct an atomic attack
  • Bravo: blunt the enemy's ability to produce materials to support military operations
  • Romeo: retard the enemy's ability to move into friendly territory, primarily Western Europe

Counterforce migrates to deterrence and warfighting

Counterforce dominated SIOP plans until SIOP-5 in 1976 when the plan became a model for deterrence based on Nixon's NSDM-242 (sometimes called the 'Schlesinger Doctrine' after then-Secretary of Defense, James Schlesinger).[21] The ever-expanding target lists were split into classes of targets, with a wider range of plans matching strikes to political intentions from counterforce to countervalue, or any mix/withhold strategy to control escalation. Schlesinger described the doctrine as having three main aspects:

  1. The National Command Authority or its successors should have many choices about the use of weapons, always having an option to escalate.
  2. Targeting should make it very explicit that the first requisite is selective retaliation against the enemy's military (i.e., tailored counterforce).
  3. Some targets and target classes should not be struck, at least at first, to give the opponent a rational reason to terminate the conflict. Reduced collateral damage was another benefit of this "withhold" method.

The SIOP policy was further modified during the Carter presidency under Presidential Directive 59, a key section of which stated

The employment of nuclear forces must be effectively related to operations of our general purpose forces. Our doctrines for the use of forces in nuclear conflict must insure that we can pursue specific policy objectives selected by the National Command Authorities at that time, from general guidelines established in advance. (S)[22][23]

These requirements form the broad outline of our evolving countervailing strategy. To meet these requirements, improvements should be made to our forces, their supporting C3 and intelligence, and their employment plans and planning apparatus, to achieve a high degree of flexibility, enduring survivability, and adequate performance in the face of enemy actions. The following principles and goals should guide your efforts in making these improvements. (S)

In other words, PD59 explored a "warfighting" doctrine that suggested that nuclear plans might change during a war, and that nuclear weapons were to be used in combination with conventional weapons. Carter's Secretary of Defense, Harold Brown, emphasized selective counterforce, but also explicitly threatened the Soviet leadership themselves. Major improvements in U.S. command, control, communications and intelligence (C3I), including making elements survivable during a nuclear war, were instituted to make the PD-59 doctrine feasible.[21]

Return to counterforce, with strategic defense

During the Reagan administration, there was a return to a strong counterforce strategy through NSDD-13. This included development of strategic weapons systems that were more accurate, more survivable, or both. Some of these systems eventually took the role of bargaining chips in arms control negotiations, although some, such as the B-2 "stealth" bomber remained highly classified as potential surprises in war. The B-2 was also seen as a counter to Soviet deployment of mobile missiles, which only a manned bomber could find and attack.

In 1983, President Reagan gave a speech proposing, at the least, research and development into non-nuclear defense systems against nuclear-armed missiles.[21] The idea of effective strategic defense was a potential disruption to the existing balance of Mutual Assured Destruction, even with its "warfighting" refinements.

Renaming and refocusing

On 1 March 2003, the SIOP was renamed "OPLAN 8022", and later CONPLAN (contingency plan) 8022.[24] It went into deployment in July 2004, but it was reported cancelled in July 2007. It may have been superseded by an expanded CONPLAN 8044.[citation needed]

Another set of "Global Strike" plans include a jointly coordinated a nuclear option, intended for other than the general nuclear war situations, principally with Russia but possibly also with China, postulated in OPLAN 8022. Global Strike plans are codified in CONPLAN 8044.[25]

Executing the SIOP

In the United States, the decision to use nuclear weapons is vested in the National Command Authority (NCA), composed of the President of the United States and the United States Secretary of Defense or their successors. The President alone cannot order an attack. The ordering of use, communication of orders, and the release of nuclear weapons is governed by the two-man rule at all times.

Deputy's launch keyswitch in an old Minuteman ICBM launch control center. Commander's key was too far away to be turned by the same person.

No one person ever can take such an action. All military personnel that participate in loading, arming, or firing weapons, as well as transmitting launch orders, are subject to the Personnel Reliability Program (PRP).

If the NCA decides that the United States must launch nuclear weapons, they will direct the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (CJCS) to do so via the Nuclear Football briefcase. At the NCA/JCS level, the orders will be to execute SIOP strike options, broken into Major Attack Options (MAOs), Selected Attack Options (SAOs), and Limited Attack Options (LAOs). Individual countries or regions can be included in or withheld from nuclear attacks depending on circumstances. The CJCS in turn will direct the general officer on duty in addition to one other officer on duty in the National Military Command Center (NMCC) at the Pentagon to release an Emergency Action Message (EAM) containing an Emergency War Order (EWO) to all nuclear forces; another officer will validate that order.[26] Additionally, the message will go to the Alternate National Military Command Center (ANMCC),[27] located in Raven Rock Mountain, Pennsylvania, and also to an airborne command post, either the presidential National Airborne Operations Center (NAOC) or the military E-6 Mercury Looking Glass.[28] If the NMCC is destroyed by a first strike, either the ANMCC, NAOC or TACAMO can issue the orders to execute the SIOP.

E-6 Mercury

As the orders go down the chain of command, always subject to the two-man rule, intermediate headquarters, and eventually the nuclear delivery platforms themselves, will receive Emergency Action Messages (EAM) to arm or launch weapons. For most modern weapons, the EAM will also include codes for Permissive Action Links (PAL).

At a minimum, a PAL code will actually arm a weapon for release. The circuitry controlling the PAL is deliberately positioned inside the warhead such that it cannot be reached without disabling the weapon, at a minimum, to a level that would require a full factory-level rebuild. There may be separate PAL codes for arming and launch. Some weapons have "dial-a-yield" functions that allow the power of the nuclear explosion to be adjusted from minimum to maximum yield. Most weapons have additional arming circuitry that, even if a valid launch code is entered, will not arm the warhead unless the weapon senses that it has been released on an expected delivery path. For example, the first steps of the final arming process for a ballistic missile depend on physical characteristics of the weapon release, such as the acceleration of a rocket launch, zero-gravity coasting, and various physical aspects of hypersonic reentry into the atmosphere. A gravity bomb dropped from an aircraft will detect the altitude of release and the decreasing altitude as it falls.

Journalist Ron Rosenbaum has pointed out that the SIOP is entirely concerned with the identity of the commanding officer and the authenticity of the order, and there are no safeguards to verify that the person issuing the order is actually sane.[29] Notably, Major Harold Hering was discharged from the Air Force for asking the question "How can I know that an order I receive to launch my missiles came from a sane president?"

SIOP in Fiction

  • In Dale Brown's novel Plan of Attack, it is revealed that Patrick McLanahan is one of the most highly valued personnel in the U.S. military because of his involvement in classified projects and knowledge of the American SIOP. However, because of McLanahan's involvement in controversial highly-classified military actions, President Thorn largely ignores this fact and the warning of an imminent Russian attack until Russia launches a nuclear campaign against the United States of America.
  • In Eric L. Harry's novel Arc Light, the President decides to execute "SIOP 6-C" in a counterforce strike against Russia after a Russian general gained control of the nuclear codes and launched a massive attack against the United States. In the book, "SIOP 6-C" had six thousand nuclear warheads assigned to be used, some of which were held in reserve.
  • In William Prochnau's novel Trinity's Child, a Soviet nuclear sneak attack triggers US retaliation. There is discussion of SIOP among the unnamed US President, the military commander codenamed Alice on board the SAC Looking Glass aircraft who is advising the President, a newly sworn-in President aboard Air Force One, and his primary military advisor. After the destruction of cities on both sides, Alice and the original President battle those on board Air Force One for control of the American missile submarine fleet. At stake is the expectation that launch of the Tridents plus Soviet retaliation will raise the total death toll into the billions.
  • In What Ifs? of American History, edited by Robert Cowley, one essay ("The Cuban Missile Crisis: Second Holocaust", by Robert L. O'Connell) outlines a scenario where the Cuban Missile Crisis leads, via miscalculations, incompetence and trigger-happiness on both sides, to a two-day thermonuclear war, with horrific results in terms of both overkill and long-term effects on the world.
  • In Tom Clancy's novel Without Remorse, the U.S. intelligence community learns that United States Air Force Colonel Robin Zacharias, shot down over Vietnam and reported KIA by the Vietnamese, is in fact alive and being held in a POW camp. He is being debriefed by a Russian military intelligence officer and there is particular concern because Zacharias has been involved in strategic war plans and has knowledge of America's SIOP.
  • In Stephen Coonts' novel Final Flight, terrorists set out to steal nuclear weapons from the aircraft carrier USS United States, anchored off Naples, Italy. The crew's response to various perceived threats that arise after the assault and theft is quite severe because supposedly by virtue of their geographic location they are now "part of SIOP" and different, more aggressive rules of engagement apply.

See also


  1. ^ Freedman 2003, p. 395
  2. ^ Burr 2004
  3. ^ Kaplan 1991, p. 296
  4. ^ Kristensen 2004
  5. ^ Kristensen 2011
  6. ^ McKinzie 2001, p. 9
  7. ^ McKinzie 2001, p. 10
  8. ^ Blaire 2000
  9. ^ McKinzie 2001, p. 12
  10. ^ Kaplan 1991, p. 41
  11. ^ Kaplan 1991, p. 44
  12. ^ Moore 1957
  13. ^ Kahn 1968
  14. ^ Burr 2001
  15. ^ Keefer 1996, p. 192
  16. ^ Twining, Nathan F. (20 August 1959), Document 2: J.C.S. 2056/131, Notes by the Secretaries to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, enclosing memorandum from JCS Chairman Nathan Twining to Secretary of Defense, "Target Coordination and Associated Problems,", "The Creation of SIOP-62: More Evidence on the Origins of Overkill", National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 130 (George Washington University National Security Archive),, retrieved 2007-09-22 
  17. ^ Twining, Nathan F. (5 October 1959), "Document 3A: JCS 2056/143, Note by the Secretaries to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, 5 October 1959, enclosing Memorandum for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, "Target Coordination and Associated Problems,"", The Creation of SIOP-62: More Evidence on the Origins of Overkill, Electronic, Briefing Book No. 130, George Washington University National Security Archive,, retrieved 2007-09-22 
  18. ^ Burke, Arleigh (30 September 1959), Document 3B: attached memorandum from Chief of Naval Operations, "The Creation of SIOP-62: More Evidence on the Origins of Overkill", Electronic Briefing Book No. 130 (George Washington University National Security Archive),, retrieved 2007-09-22 
  19. ^ McKinzie, Matthew G.; Cochran, Thomas B.; Robert S. Norris, William M. Arkin (2001), "Chapter Two: The Single Integrated Operational Plan and U.S. Nuclear Forces", The U.S. Nuclear War Plan: A Time for Change, National Resources Defense Council, 
  20. ^ Shoup, David (11 February 1961), Document 25: Note by the Secretaries to the Joint Chiefs of Staff on Review of the NSTL/SIOP-62 and Related Policy Guidance, JCS 2056/220,, "The Creation of SIOP-62: More Evidence on the Origins of Overkill", Electronic Briefing Book No. 130 (George Washington University National Security Archive), 
  21. ^ a b c Cimbala, Stephen J. (September–October 1984), "War-Fighting Deterrence and Alliance Cohesiveness", Air University Review, 
  22. ^ In U.S. classified documents, paragraphs and titles may have classification markings such as (S) for SECRET, (U) for UNCLASSIFIED, (C) for CONFIDENTIAL, and (TS) for TOP SECRET. Any of these letters may be followed with one or more control markings (e.g., EYES ONLY, HANDLE THROUGH COMINT CHANNELS ONLY) or code words/nicknamesd (e.g., UMBRA, POLO STEP)
  23. ^ Carter, Jimmy (1980), Presidential Directive 59, Nuclear Weapons Employment Policy, The White House, 
  24. ^ U.S. Nuclear Weapons Guidance, The Nuclear Information Project (joint with Federation of American Scientists), 3 January 2008, 
  25. ^ Kristensen, Hans M. (15 March 2006), Global Strike: A Chronology of the Pentagon’s New Offensive Strike Plan, Federation of American Scientists, 
  26. ^ Pike, John, National Military Command Center,, 
  27. ^ "Alternate National Military Command Center", New York Times, 
  28. ^ 20
  29. ^ Rosenbaum 2011


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