Trump And The “Football”. Are We Scared Yet?

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“How can you trust him with the nuclear codes? You can’t do it.” President Obama about Trump, early November, 2016

Trusting him is a moot issue at this point but it does conjure up certain questions about the President’s ready access to the nuclear football, and the possibility of him using it.  To understand that part one has to understand what the nuclear football is, and isn’t.

According the Wiki… an Associated Press article stated that the nickname “football” was derived from an attack plan codenamed “Dropkick”.  The nickname has led to some confusion as to the nature—and even the shape—of the device, as the jacket appears large enough to contain an actual football.

Another analogy is the act of passing of the case to the next military aide per each duty shift, rotated among the military branches.  The aide-de-camp must be greater than O-4 in rank and has the maximum security clearance possible.

What’s interesting is that the bag does not contain a missile launch push-button device as Hollywood often suggests.  According to a Washington Post article, the the football is a metal Zero Halliburton briefcase carried in a black leather “jacket”. The package weighs around 45 pounds (20 kilograms).  A small antenna protrudes from the bag near the handle.

Here’s some nuclear football myths…

MYTH: It is handcuffed to the military aide.

FACT: It has a leather cinch strap that can be looped around the wrist.

MYTH: It contains nuclear launch codes.

FACT: It contains codes the president would need to order the Pentagon to launch nuclear weapons.

MYTH: It is always at the president’s side.

FACT: It must always be easily accessible but sometimes is kept nearby, in another room or vehicle, for                    example.

MYTH: There is only one football.

 FACT: There are three. The president has one, the vice president has one and a backup is stored at the                     White House.

Inside the case are identifying codes and a highly secure communications device through which the President expresses his codes for verification.  The response time to launch is 15 minutes and that includes the time the President is briefed: a super short time to consider morality, mortality, and the safety and survivability of the nation, much less pondering the potential end of life as we know it.  Just fifteen minutes in which to decide the fate of humanity.

The President’s verification is absolute as are the launch orders.  He can launch one weapon or thousands and no one can stop him.  Sounds ominous and it truly is.  While there are likely last minute overrides to rescind a launch order, that’s likely only given by the President. But… and there is a BUT… and it’s not because of some official safeguard secret operational  cancel code by, say, the Secretary of Defense or Chairman of the Joint Chiefs grabbing the phone and declaring, “Flash Override!” or some nonsense.  Remember.. it’s the President in total launch and launch cancel operational control.  He can’t be stopped.  The system is specifically designed for just that. So how might the President be overridden in the event someone perceives his decision-making is flawed or questioned?

Mutiny of the armed forces.

Now, I know some of you readers just starting thinking, “Hmmm….” As if that might be the one option against some Presidential lunatic getting an urge.  One has to imagine there could be very little time on the part of the military to convince those in the important chain-of-command to mutiny.  But here’s another moral question… there is the concept of a soldier refusing an unlawful order.  I mean, in a moral sense what could be more unlawful than helping to obliterate mankind?  The end result has saved no one and the result has no strategic value to the nation because there won’t be a nation.  Although likely there would be no one around to judge you one way or the other anyway… or would care less.

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It seems to me that when you’ve been advised that a thousand nukes are heading our way that the decision is less about whether TO launch… and more about deciding whether NOT to launch.  If we respond in kind that assures mutually assured destruction of humanity.  But if the President chooses not to respond in kind… a portion of mankind might be saved.  It’s less about losing some nuclear war to an enemy like Russia and more about losing humanity altogether.  If we let a Russian nuclear strike go unabated what difference does it make?  A thousand nukes going off in North America is going to lay waste to a lot of the world’s population anyway, if not from radioactive clouds, certainly from broken economies.  Most assuredly governments will topple and as the world economies suffer.. famine will result.. in time there will be no more Russian government.. no threat of some foreign military marching into the U.S.  We’d be just a pile of radiation and rubble anyway.  But given we didn’t respond with a thousand nukes back to Russia there might be some part of humanity left to start over.  The moral question is then, is the misconception of killing all of humanity to save democracy, when democracy will not survive the battle, a valid one?  Or, what’s more important to save, democracy or humanity?  Because if you save humanity democracy could end up coming back again in some undetermined future.

Back to our football.  I wouldn’t be surprised if the military has some super secret mutiny contingency plan or  a refusing-to-follow-an-unlawful-order plan somewhere.  I actually hope they do, but I am guessing they don’t.  Part of that problem is that our nuclear forces are trained not to respond to any recall order to stand down once launch has been initiated (the President’s voice could be faked by the enemy, yada, yada).  The mutiny plan would have to begin before launch initiation otherwise trying to talk down independent sub commanders, launch sites, and individual bombers would be difficult (consider the movies, Fail Safe, Crimson Tide, Sum Of All Fears, etc.).   Because if the President launches anything no one wins… not even democracy.

The opening of the movie, “Crimson Tide”.

Now.. I did mention earlier that the President could launch one or many.  That makes a huge difference.  Especially if you use a single low yield weapon similar to Hiroshima.  Easier to nuke a city and not disrupt the world.  Also easier to mutiny the protocol if necessary.

So.. to those of you fearful of Trump using his football… or just deciding to give the order… about all you can do is hope cooler minds prevail, and the military is there looking over his shoulder and has the kahunas to intervene if necessary.

Here’s the fun part.  There’s TWO guys on this planet to worry about with nuclear footballs.  The other one is the Russian President.  It’s called the Cheget (named after some mountain over there).  Soo.. the safety of humanity could very well hinge on the idea that one or both Presidents have plans for the weekend and are not quite ready to cancel them.  Let’s hope.

As long as the current President wants to amp up the military spending it might be more prudent to continue development of an effective anti-missile system to shoot down anything headed our way rather than worrying about retaliating in kind.  Maybe start up another “star wars” project; shoot ’em down from space when they launch.  But building more nukes gets us nowhere.

My prediction is that the next nuke that goes off will be some manpack thing in some city, somewhere outside the U.S.  But you never know.  I hope I am very wrong.  I also hope Trump forgets about the football and doesn’t want to use the “nuke option” as some leverage in doing his art of the deal somewhere.  It’s meant as a defensive deterrence, not a negotiating ploy.  Let’s hold our breath.

Carry on, America.

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10 thoughts on “Trump And The “Football”. Are We Scared Yet?

  1. For one Trump has ordered an “upgrade” of our nukes…so do not think he has forgotten them. If he is as immature as I think then he will throw all at “them” even if it is one nuke that hits. I also am thinking a “dirty bomb” rather than an all out strike….there is just too much nuke material floating around.

    That’s it…coffee time…LOL chuq

    • That’s true.. he did order an upgrade. Money would be better spent on a working anti-missile system. In that way when the NORAD screens fill up with those incoming missile tracks that are false positives we won’t hurt anything launching all anti-missiles into air.
      Although I recently heard that NORAD’s Cheyenne Mountain facility has a skeleton crew these days.. and that since the fall of the Soviets the defense detection has shifted to some surface building outside of the original facility and has a new mission name.
      I should look into that.

  2. I spent a long time in the 1960s expecting to be wiped out by atom bombs.
    Then I realised that I had to stop worrying about it, or I could never live a normal life.
    I now reside quite close to two of the biggest military airfields in the UK. So if or when it happens, I will probably just be vapourised in the first strike anyway.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    • Funny you mention that, Pete. My girlfriend grew up in the Los Angeles area.. your typical bikini surfer girl back in the day. Anyway.. when she was well into her 50’s (when we met) she told me she liked knowing that she grew up near the cluster of military installations (Vandenburg AFB, March AFB, Ft. Irwin, etc.) as she felt so protected during the Cold War. I told her.. “Protected?? You were smack in the middle of being a class A target for a lot of nukes.” She was so shocked. It was like I told her there is no Santa. I felt bad.. for about a minute. 🙂

  3. Anti-Trump fear mongering. All presidents have had access and command control of the nukes since the day the systems were implemented and so far no one has ever subjected a sitting president to a psychiatric test to see if he is capable of being nuke responsible or not. By the way there is something in place called “Fail Safe” and I am sure if ever there was a nuke launch it would not be done on a whim by a President. I believe the entire array of the various Chiefs of Staff would have to have input. Only in the event of an actual confirmed incoming strike would the nuke option be invoked and set into motion. Surely the Trump haters can find something more in line with sanity to paint him with besides some suggestion that he might go off the deep end and launch a mutually destructive nuclear strike.

    • Actually, John, it was referred to as the “failsafe point”.. meaning the farthest point where our bombers could not be recalled following a bomber launch. Maybe a similar point existed where our outgoing ICBM’s could be destroyed in an effort to recall the order… although I am sure that kind of recall option didn’t exist with ICBM’s. Seems a little impractical. Anyway, old SAC did have a bomber failsafe point. What’s interesting is that our nuclear strike deterrent has always been a mix of long range bombers AND ICBMs. Russia just has ICBM’s, on mobile launchers, as their only long range delivery system. I am guessing we are still the only nuclear nation with our nuclear missiles in hardened underground silos. Everyone else has surface-fired or mobile launchers to avoid detection.

  4. Actually Doug, I served with Strategic Air Command and I am talking about the “Fail Safe” system that required two different officers with high-level security clearances to each have a key and each work together to unlock the launch systems. No one individual had the key. To launch an ICBM required two different officers (each with a key) to work in tandem. The missiles would never be launched without an authentication code and the President never had his finger on any button capable of launching anything. He gave the order to launch after a confirmed incoming and he did it via telephone which is never far from his side. The idea that the president is sitting somewhere with his finger actually capable of pushing a button to launch a nuke strike is ludricous. —- by the way the wordpress.com mechanism is not allowing me to reply again … I have to come straight on your blog and reply directly …. which is not a problem but there is definitely a glitch between your blog and the wordpress.com notification device.

      • I know during the Cold War they had Bear and Bison bombers that were somewhat comparable to the B-52 but I am not sure how long range they were or their strike capability. But I indeed did not know about the current Tupolev.. Thanks for the update!

    • Very good, John. I was in Air Force Security under SAC.. and those key-twisters also had sidearms, for two reasons, to defend against unauthorized attempts to initiate a launch.. and to compel-by-threat the other key-twister if necessary if that person refused the an order. Pretty much like the opening scene in “War Games”.
      You are correct, as I noted in my post here, the Prez doesn’t physically launch anything, like Hollywood suggests. he just provides to the Pentagon his authorization to give the go to launch.
      Actually, the definition of fail-safe is more applied to engineering, like elevators having fail-safe braking systems in place, or some device that might cause harm having a fail-safe system to shut the thing down.. like a nuclear reactor.
      While I never served at a missile site, a number of my fellow cops did and shared some of the interesting tidbits. I spent all of my time guarding nuclear alert B-52’s (in one instance I inadvertently destroyed the current authorized access list for two alert birds and for a period of time I technically crippled our bomber response capability.. but that’s a whole other war story.)
      Thanks for the glitch update about my blog… I need to hammer WordPress on this one.

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