Strategic Weapons:

Nuclear Weapons Targeting Process

NSIAD-91-319FS: Published: Sep 27, 1991. Publicly Released: Oct 7, 1991.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided an unclassified description of the Department of Defense's process for formulating its strategic nuclear weapons targeting policy and translating that policy into a nuclear war plan, the Single Integrated Operational Plan (SIOP), focusing on the: (1) relationship between the strategic nuclear targeting process and the determination of requirements for nuclear weapons and related delivery systems; (2) level of civilian oversight; and (3) categories and types of targets.

GAO noted that the strategic nuclear weapons targeting process consists of: (1) broad guidance from the President, including the requirement for a range of attack options, the types of forces desired, general targeting objectives, broad categories of targets, the requirement for survivable command, control, and communications systems, and the requirement for a secure reserve force; (2) guidance from the Secretary of Defense, which provides basic planning assumptions, attack options, targeting objectives, types of targets within various categories, targeting constraints, and coordination with theater commanders; (3) guidance from the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, which provides the requirement plans for specific employment options, the requirement for a secure reserve force, and damage criteria to be used for targeting; and (4) SIOP, which consists of plans and attack options. GAO also noted that: (1) the targeting process is designed to develop a plan that provides the President with a range of options for using U.S. nuclear weapons in response to any level of aggression; (2) the four broad categories of targets include nuclear forces and supporting command and control, military and political leadership, other military forces and supporting command control, and war-supporting industrial and economic factories; (3) the relationship between the strategic nuclear weapons targeting process and the determination of nuclear weapon force level requirements and budgets is indirect; and (4) the Office of the Secretary of Defense provides civilian oversight of the targeting process and the war plan.

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