- Nuclear triad
Nuclear weapons Nuclear-armed states
A nuclear triad refers to a nuclear arsenal which consists of three components, traditionally strategic bombers, ICBMs and SLBMs. The purpose of having a three-branched nuclear capability is to significantly reduce the possibility that an enemy could destroy all of a nation's nuclear forces in a first-strike attack; this, in turn, ensures a credible threat of a second strike, and thus increases a nation's nuclear deterrence.
While traditional nuclear strategy holds that a nuclear triad provides the best level of deterrence from attack, in reality, most nuclear powers do not have the military budget to sustain a full triad. Only the United States and Russia have maintained nuclear triads for most of the nuclear age. Both the US and the Soviet Union composed their triads along the same lines, including the following components:
- Bomber aircraft capable of delivering nuclear bombs (carrier-based or land-based; armed with bombs or missiles).
- Land-based missiles (MRBMs or ICBMs).
- Ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs). Nuclear missiles launched from ships or submarines. Although in early years the sea leg was carrier aircraft based.
The triad also gives the commander the possibility to use different types of weapons for the appropriate strike:
- ICBMs allow for a long-range strike launched from a controlled or friendly environment. If launched from a fixed position, such as a missile silo, they are vulnerable to a first strike, though their interception once aloft is substantially difficult, Some ICBMs are either rail or road mobile.
- SLBMs, launched from submarines, allow for a greater chance of survival from a first strike, giving the commander a second-strike capability. Some long-range submarine-launched cruise missiles are counted towards triad status, this was the first type of submarine-launched strategic second-strike nuclear weapon before ballistic missile submarines became available.
- Strategic bombers have greater flexibility in their deployment and weaponry. They can serve as both a first- and second-strike weapon. A bomber armed with AGM-129 ACM missiles, for example, could be classified as a first-strike weapon. A number of bombers often with aerial refueling aircraft kept at safe points would constitute a second-strike weapon. Some lighter aircraft can be used as either a first-strike weapon or if dispersed at small airfields or aboard an aircraft carrier can reasonably avoid a counterstrike giving them regional second-strike capacity, aircraft such as the Mirage 2000, F-15E, A-5 Vigilante, Sea Harrier, or FB-111 are or were tasked part or full time with land or sea-based strategic nuclear attack missions. An aerial refueling fleet supports intercontinental strategic operations both for heavy bombers and smaller aircraft; it also makes possible around the clock airborne standby of bombers and command aircraft making these airborne assets nearly impossible to eliminate in a first strike.
Tactical nuclear weapons are used in air, land and sea warfare. Air-to-air missiles and rockets, surface-to-air missiles, and small air-to-ground rockets, bombs, and precision munitions have been developed and deployed with nuclear warheads. Ground forces have included tactical nuclear artillery shells, surface-to-surface rockets, land mines, medium and small man-packable nuclear engineering demolition charges, even man-carried or vehicle-mounted recoilless rifles. Naval forces have carried nuclear-armed naval rocket-assisted and standard depth charges and torpedoes, and naval gunnery shells. Tactical nuclear weapons and the doctrine for their use is primarily for use in a non-strategic warfighting role destroying military forces in the battle area; they are not counted toward triad status.
Triad nuclear powers
The following nations are considered triad nuclear powers. They possess nuclear forces consisting of land-based missiles, ballistic or long-range cruise missile submarines, and strategic bombers or long-range tactical aircraft.
- United States The US operates Minuteman ICBMs from underground hardened silos, Trident SLBMs carried by Ohio class submarines, it also operates B-1, B-52, B-2 strategic bombers, as well as land- and carrier-based tactical aircraft, some capable of carrying strategic and tactical B61 and large strategic B83 gravity bombs, ALCM, and AGM-129 Advanced Cruise Missiles. While the US no longer keeps nuclear armed bombers on airborne alert it has the ability to do so along with the airborne nuclear command and control aircraft with its fleet of KC-10 and KC-135 aerial refueling planes. The US Navy also retains reserve stocks of undeployed nuclear warheads to equip existing Tomahawk ship or submarine-launched cruise missiles. Previous to development of submarine-launched ballistic missiles the US Navy strategic nuclear role was provided by aircraft carrier–based bombers and for a short time submarine-launched cruise missiles. With the end of the cold war, the US never deployed the rail mobile version of the Peacekeeper ICBM or the road mobile Midgetman small ICBM. The US destroyed its stock of road mobile Pershing II IRBMs and ground-launched cruise missiles in accordance with the INF treaty.
- Russia Russia inherited the arsenal of all of the former Soviet states, it consists of silo-based as well as rail and road mobile ICBMs, sea-based SLBMs, strategic bombers, strategic aerial refueling aircraft, and long-range tactical aircraft capable of carrying gravity bombs, standoff missiles, and cruise missiles. The USSR destroyed its stock of IRBMs in accordance with the INF treaty which Russia abides by.
Emerging triad nuclear powers
- People's Republic of China:37,202 Unlike the US and Russia where strategic nuclear forces are enumerated by treaty limits and subject to verification, China, a nuclear power since 1964, is not subject to these requirements but may have a triad structure of some sort. China's nuclear force is much smaller than the US or Russia and is closer in number and capability to that of France or the UK. This force is mainly land-based missiles including ICBMs, IRBMs, and tactical ballistic missiles as well as cruise missiles. Unlike the US and Russia, China stores many of its missiles in huge underground tunnel complexes; US Representative Michael Turner referring to 2009 Chinese media reports said “This network of tunnels could be in excess of 5,000 kilometers (3,110 miles), and is used to transport nuclear weapons and forces,”, the Chinese Army newsletter calls this tunnel system an underground Great Wall of China . China has one inactive Type 092 submarine, after its twin was lost at sea and is working on several new Type 094 submarines carrying SLBMs although the reliability of the new type is also in question  in addition the single type 94 boat has not received its SLBM's . There is an aging bomber force consisting of Xian H-6s with an unclear nuclear delivery role as well as several tactical aircraft types that could be equipped with nuclear weapons.
- India—India maintains a "no first use" nuclear policy and is developing a nuclear triad capability as a part of its "minimum credible deterrence" doctrine. India's nuclear-weapons program possesses surface-to-surface missiles such as the Agni II and Agni III, surface-to-air missiles like the Akash and supersonic cruise missiles like the BrahMos. Indian state-owned defense contractor, DRDO, is also working on a submarine-launched ballistic missile version of the Agni-III missile, known as the Agni-III SL. This missile is expected to provide India with a credible sea-based second-strike capability. According to Indian defense sources, Agni-III SL will have a range of 3,500 km. In addition, the 5,000 km range Agni-V ICBM is expected to be tested by 2010-11. India has nuclear-capable fighter aircraft such as the Dassault Mirage 2000H, Sukhoi Su-30 MKI (a variant of the Su-30MK and comparable to Sukhoi Su-35), MIG-29, and the indigenously built HAL Tejas. India is very close to completing a nuclear triad  with the induction of the Arihant class submarine by 2012. The submarine was officially launched on 26 July 2009.
- Pakistan— The Pakistan Air Force (PAF) is believed to have practiced "toss-bombing" in the 1980s and 1990s, a method of launching weapons from fighter-bombers which can also be used to deliver nuclear warheads. The PAF has two units (No. 16 Black Panthers and No. 26 Black Spiders) operating around 50 of the Chinese-built Nanchang A-5C, believed to be the preferred vehicle for delivery of nuclear weapons due to its long range. These units are major part of the Air Force Strategic Command, a command responsible for battling the weapons of mass destruction. The others are various variants of the Mirage-III and Mirage-V, of which around 156 are currently operated by the PAF. The PAF also operates some 63 F-16 fighters, the first 32 of which were delivered in the 1980s and believed by some to have been modified for nuclear weapons delivery.It has also been reported that an air-launched cruise missile (ALCM) with a range of 350 km has been developed by Pakistan, designated Hatf 8 and named Ra'ad ALCM, which may theoretically be armed with a nuclear warhead. It was reported to have been test-fired by a Mirage III fighter and, according to one Western official, is believed to be capable of penetrating some air defence/missile defence systems.The Pakistan Navy was first publicly reported to be considering deployment of nuclear weapons on submarines in February 2001. Later in 2003 it was stated by Admiral Shahid Karimullah, then Chief of Naval Staff, that there were no plans for deploying nuclear weapons on submarines but if "forced to" they would be. In 2004, Pakistan Navy established the Naval Strategic Forces Command and made it responsible for countering and battling naval-based weapons of mass destruction. It is believed by most experts that Pakistan is developing a sea-based variant of the Hatf VII Babur, which is a nuclear-capable ground-launched cruise missile. With a dangerous stockpile of plutonium, Pakistan might be able to produce a variety of miniature nuclear warheads which would allow it to nuclear-tip the C-802 and C-803 anti-ship missiles as well as being able to develop nuclear torpedoes, nuclear depth bombs and nuclear naval mines.
Non-triad nuclear powers
- France—A former triad power, the Force de frappe possesses sea-based and air-based nuclear forces through the Triomphant class ballistic missile submarines deployed with M45 intercontinental SLBMs armed with multiple warheads, and nuclear capable Dassault Mirage 2000N fighter aircraft which replaced the long-range Dassault Mirage IV supersonic nuclear bomber. France had S2 and S3 land-based IRBMs, the S3 with a 3,500 km range, but these have been phased out of service since the dissolution of the USSR. France operates aircraft with a nuclear strike role from its aircraft carrier.
- United Kingdom—Possesses sea-based nuclear forces through its Royal Navy Vanguard class ballistic missile submarines, deployed with Trident II intercontinental SLBMs armed with multiple warheads. The Royal Air Force operated V-bomber strategic bombers throughout the Cold War. The planned UK silo-based IRBM, the Blue Streak missile, was canceled as it was not seen as a credible deterrent, considering the population density of areas in the UK geologically suited for missile silos. The tactical Corporal surface-to-surface missile was operated by the British Army. The intermediate Thor missile was operated briefly by the RAF. Previously having a nuclear strike mission for carrier-based Buccaneer attack aircraft and later Sea Harriers, the UK no longer deploys nuclear weapons for delivery by carrier-based naval aircraft or any other means other than the Vanguard submarine-launched Trident SLBM.
- North Korea (DPRK)—North Korea has claimed to have indigenous nuclear weapons technology since a large underground explosion was detected in 2006. The DPRK has both aircraft and missiles which may be tasked to deliver nuclear weapons. The North Korean missile program is largely based on domestically produced variants of the Soviet Scud missile, some of which are sufficiently powerful to attempt satellite launch. The DPRK also has short-range ballistic missiles and cruise missiles. Western researchers believe the current generation of the DPRK's suspected nuclear weapons are too large to be fitted to the country's existing missile stock.
- South Africa—From the 1970s through the end of white minority rule, South Africa developed and deployed a small number of atomic weapons (perhaps up to six devices). These were intended to be delivered by the RSA's Canberra bomber force. South Africa also developed advanced ballistic missiles and a satellite launch vehicle which could have carried nuclear warheads. Before majority rule was introduced the RSA gave up its nuclear weapons.
Suspected triad nuclear powers
- Israel—Israel has been reported in congressional testimony by the US Department of Defense of having aircraft-delivered nuclear weapons as early as the mid 1960s, and a demonstrated missile-based force since the mid 1960s, an IRBM in the mid 1980s, and an ICBM in the late 2000s, the suspected second-strike capability arrived with the Dolphin class submarine and Popeye Turbo submarine-launched cruise missile. Israel's alleged nuclear weapons program Israel is suspected of using their inventory of nuclear-capable fighter aircraft such as the long-range F-15E Strike Eagle, F-16, and formerly the F-4 Phantom, Dassault Mirage III, A-4 Skyhawk, and Nesher. Israel has several long-range tanker aircraft and aerial refueling capacity on many of its long-range fighter-bomber aircraft, this capacity was used in the 1985 long-range conventional strike against the PLO in Tunisia. Jane's Defence Weekly reports that the Israeli Dolphin class submarines are widely believed to be nuclear armed, offering Israel a second-strike capability with a demonstrated range as long as 1500 km in a 2002 test. According to an official report which was submitted to the American congress in 2004, it may be that with a payload of 1,000 kg the Jericho 3 gives Israel nuclear strike capabilities within the entire Middle East, Africa, Europe, Asia and almost all parts of North America, as well as within large parts of South America and North Oceania, Israel also has the regional reach of its Jericho 2 IRBM force. The existence of a nuclear force at all is hinted at often blatantly, evidence of an advanced weapons program including miniaturized and thermonuclear devices has been presented, especially the extensive photographic evidence given by former Israeli nuclear weapons assembler Mordechai Vanunu. There have been incidents where Israel has been suspected of testing, but so far Israel for diplomatic reasons and international pressure has not openly admitted to having operational nuclear weapons, and so is only a suspect triad state.
Other nuclear delivery systems
There is nothing in nuclear strategy to mandate only these three delivery systems. For example, orbital weapons or spacecraft for purposes of orbital bombardment using nuclear devices have been developed and silo deployed by the USSR from 1969 to 1983, these would not fit into the categories listed above. However, actual space-based weapon systems used for weapons of mass destruction have been banned under the Outer Space Treaty and launch ready deployment for the US and former USSR by the SALT II treaty. Another example is the US, UK, and France do or have previously included a strategic nuclear strike mission for carrier-based aircraft, which especially in the past were far harder to track and target with ICBMs or strategic nuclear bombers than fixed bomber or missile bases, permitting some second-strike flexibility; this was the first sea-based deterrent before the SLBM. The US and UK jointly explored an air-launched strategic ballistic nuclear missile, the Skybolt, but canceled the program in favor of submarine-based missiles. In 1974 a Lockheed C-5 Galaxy successfully tested an air launch of a Minuteman ICBM; this system was not deployed, but was used as a bargaining point in the SALT treaty negotiations with the USSR.
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