This document provides doctrine for the Air Force to use in organizing, training, equipping, and operating air and space forces for nuclear operations. This document applies to all Air Force agencies, including the Air National Guard and the US Air Force Reserve. The doctrine in this document is authoritative but not directive. Commanders should exercise judgment in applying these procedures to accomplish their missions. This document is written for headquarters, numbered air forces, Air Force agencies, and commanders responsible for employing or supporting the employment of nuclear forces. Doctrine for joint nuclear operations can be found in Joint Pubs 3-12 and 3-12.1. These provide more detailed information on the joint planning and employment of nuclear forces across the range of military operations.


Chapter 1--Introduction

General 1.1

Deterrence 1.2

Threat 1.3

Doctrine 1.4

Nuclear Weapons Employment Principles 1.5

Chapter 2--Service Responsibilities

General 2.1

Organizing 2.2

Training 2.3

Equipping 2.4

Chapter 3--Nuclear Operations

General 3.1

Forces 3.2

Command, Control, Communications, Computers and Intelligence (C4I) 3.3

Operational Environment 3.4

Planning Considerations 3.5

Employment Considerations 3.6



Glossary of Abbreviations, Acronyms, and Terms 7


Chapter 1


1.1. General. Strategic deterrence is, and has been, a key foundation of US National Military Strategy. The world is continuing to move from bipolar to multipolar, and regional actors are now more likely to acquire and employ Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD). These factors ensure that nuclear deterrence will remain a top priority for the US in the foreseeable future.

1.2. Deterrence. Although nuclear forces are not the only factor in the deterrence equation, the fundamental purpose of US nuclear forces is to deter an enemy's use of WMD and serve as a hedge against the emergence of an overwhelming conventional threat. Deterrence can be described as a state of mind created in an adversary's (or potential adversary's) leadership. Their leadership must believe the cost of military aggression against the US or its allies will be so high as to outweigh any possible gain. Deterrence requires that the US maintain: trained, capable, ready and survivable forces; a robust Command, Control, Communications, Computers and Intelligence (C4I) structure; timely, flexible, and adaptive planning capabilities; and the will to use those forces, if the National Command Authorities (NCA) requires them. Should deterrence fail, US goals shift toward attempting to limit damage to the US and its allies, controlling the escalation of violence, and ending the conflict as quickly as possible, on terms favorable to the US.

1.2.1. If deterrence does fail, the use of nuclear weapons should have definite objectives. These objectives should: 1) forcibly change the perceptions of enemy leaders about their ability to win; 2) demonstrate to enemy leaders that, if the conflict continues or escalates, certain loss outweighs any potential gain; 3) encourage negotiations; 4) preclude the enemy from achieving its objectives; 5) ensure the success of the attack by US or allied forces. The purpose of using nuclear weapons can range from producing a political decision at the strategic level of conflict to being used to directly support military operations in theater warfare. All uses of nuclear weapons will have strategic implications, regardless of the targets attacked and in all circumstances require Presidential approval. Options for employing nuclear weapons may have a greater impact on a conflict than operations involving only conventional weapons.

1.3. Threat. The disintegration of the Soviet Union has arguably reduced the nuclear threat to the United States. However, this disintegration has resulted in restructuring and political confusion. These factors increase the possibility of proliferation of nuclear material or critical components from the former Soviet Union. We must also consider the threat from current and emerging nuclear-capable countries. In the past, it was difficult for a developing nation to produce a nuclear device. Today, the advancement of technology and the proliferation of nuclear materials, components, expertise, or weapons increases the possibility that nuclear weapons may be developed or acquired by developing nations or regional aggressors. The continued proliferation of missile technology and sophistication (improved range and accuracy) increases the possibility that these weapons, once developed or acquired, may be used in a regional conflict. In addition, many current regional powers and developing nations are attempting to acquire other WMD, such as chemical and biological weapons. The destructive capability of these weapons, coupled with mobile, accurate delivery systems and space-based navigation and surveillance capabilities, represents a significant threat to US forces in a regional conflict.

1.4. Doctrine. Nuclear operations doctrine focuses on posturing and maintaining forces for deterrence, as well as on employing these forces, if required. Nuclear forces may be used to: deter the use of WMD, provide a hedge against the emergence of an overwhelming conventional threat; signal military resolve and national will through graduated, controlled increases in force readiness; and control escalation and provide a decisive war-fighting force, should deterrence fail. Nuclear forces also underwrite national arms control initiatives by providing positive and negative security assurances. The goal of nuclear operations is to maintain a stable, non-provocative nuclear posture in peacetime to deter an enemy's potential use of WMD. This will also serve as a hedge against the emergence of an overwhelming conventional threat and provide a decisive war-fighting force, if deterrence fails.

1.4.1. Peacetime posturing must convince the leadership of a potential adversary that an attack on the US or its allies will result in unacceptably violent retaliation. US strategic nuclear forces--in the form of the TRIAD--provide deterrence against an attack on the United States. Theater nuclear forces contribute to theater deterrence; are an instrument of national power in a regional conflict; and provide a war-fighting option to the NCA short of resorting to strategic nuclear forces. Additionally, peacetime forces should be sized and postured for crisis stability. This allows visible indications to signal changes in national resolve and intent (for example, bomber aircraft can be reconfigured to nuclear alert status, repositioned, dispersed, or launched under "positive control"). It may also create political incentives for escalation control and conflict resolution.

1.4.2. Nuclear operations employment doctrine focuses on denying enemy war aims through deterrence. Should deterrence fail, it controls escalation through the perception of our ability and will to conduct nuclear operations.

1.5. Nuclear Weapons Employment Principles. The authorization to employ nuclear weapons resides with the NCA. Employment of nuclear weapons should conform to the tenets established in the Law of Armed Conflict (LOAC). The LOAC has been negotiated to protect combatants and noncombatants, safeguard fundamental human rights, and facilitate the restoration of peace by limiting the amount of force and the manner in which force is applied. Neither the LOAC nor national policy sanctions devastation as an end to itself. Both recognize the need for a reasonable connection between destruction of life and property and conflict termination. The Law of Armed Conflict does not prohibit the use of nuclear weapons in a conflict; however, because they have such tremendous destructive power, their use must be carefully controlled. The use of nuclear weapons is subject to the following general principles: to achieve specific nuclear objectives specified in Annex C to the Joint Strategic Capabilities Plan (JSCP), weapons should be chosen and targeted in such a way as to minimize collateral damage and long-term nuclear effects; and civilian populations should not be specifically targeted.


Chapter 2


2.1. General. US nuclear forces have consistently been designed, organized, trained, and equipped according to the premise that the mere possession of nuclear weapons is insufficient. Potential adversaries must perceive that, even in a worst-case situation, US nuclear forces will not only survive, but also penetrate enemy defenses to retaliate. The Air Force organizes, trains, equips, and provides forces for nuclear air and missile warfare in support of this premise. These policies are further outlined in Joint Pub 0-2, Unified Action Armed Forces.

2.2. Organizing. Nuclear forces should be organized for wartime effectiveness. The Air Force unit structure is designed to harness the people, equipment, and operational methods needed to accomplish the mission. This structure emphasizes the principles of centralized control and decentralized execution. It stresses modern management techniques, as well as flexibility and versatility. However, the unique nature of nuclear operations requires special attention in several organizational areas.

2.2.1. Extraordinary precautions should be taken to assure the safety and security of nuclear weapons during storage, while mated on an operational weapon system, and during movement and maintenance.

2.2.2. Command and control structures should be especially robust, ensuring secure, timely, efficient, and survivable information exchange at all force levels. Emergency action procedures should also be stressed.

2.2.3. Disaster preparedness operations ought to be capable of handling the unique requirements of potential accidents or incidents involving nuclear materials.

2.2.4. Maintenance, operations, and logistics organizations for dual-capable aircraft or missile systems should be capable of rapidly reconstituting forces to nuclear alert status.

2.3. Training. Training for nuclear operations is critical to mission accomplishment. Mission requirements for nuclear operations require execution of well-defined procedures under critical timing criteria, with no room for error. Personnel responsible for conducting nuclear operations should be highly trained and ready to perform without hesitation when directed by the NCA.

2.3.1. Realistic training permits crews and support personnel to transition rapidly from peacetime to wartime operations. Training should include the following: rapid conversion from conventional to nuclear operations; realistic threats; command, control, and communications (C3) operations; weapon employment and weapon safety procedures; and force reconstitution. Nuclear operations and procedures should be practiced and exercised under the most realistic conditions possible. Training should be conducted in situations that require personnel to use backup or "work-around" procedures to successfully accomplish the mission, while ensuring positive control requirements are met.

2.3.2. Frequent exercises improve nuclear force preparedness. Not only should individual training be considered, but the force as a whole should train to enhance its war-fighting capability. Exercises should be conducted to enhance training and identify problems with executing nuclear war plans and associated operational and logistical operations.

2.3.3. Nuclear-capable units should be able to execute their missions in any weather, day or night. Adverse weather or darkness may actually improve the chances of mission success, since these conditions may inhibit or degrade certain enemy defense efforts. Training should also include exercises stressing wartime conditions. Potential scenarios might stress degraded communications produced by nuclear weapons or operations in simulated nuclear, chemical, or biologically contaminated environments. Cover, camouflage, and deception efforts (as well as satellite transit considerations and operational security measures) are also important aspects of unit training. These can greatly enhance mission success. In the event that air and space superiority are not attained (especially in theater), air bases may be exposed to enemy attack; thus, it is important for nuclear units to rely on tactics, procedures, weapons, and training that ensure survival and mission success.

2.4. Equipping. Nuclear forces are now being drawn down. By the end of the century the US core nuclear capability will be smaller--but more flexible and reliable. During this period, emphasis should be placed on sustainment and logistics.

2.4.1. As forces draw down, the capabilities of those remaining become more important. As the nuclear force structure continues to age, system life extension will be more important. Continued sustainability of remaining forces is imperative.

2.4.2. Logistics is the science of planning and carrying out the resupply and maintenance of forces, which is critical for aerospace nuclear forces to be successful. Nuclear logistics support structures must be organized, sized, and maintained to support all likely nuclear operations. These include: day-to-day maintenance and support operations; reconstituting bombers and ICBMs for nuclear alert in a crisis; deployment into a theater of operations, as required; and dispersal and reconstitution actions (before and after hostilities). Logistics support structures should operate effectively throughout the range of military operations including nuclear operations. For a more detailed discussion of logistics and logistics support structures, see AFDD 40, Logistics.

2.4.3. End-to-end testing is essential to develop planning factors for United States Strategic Command and regional Commanders in Chief (CINCs). Testing is also used to determine if weapon system reliability meets user criteria. Sufficient flight tests should be accomplished to validate the performance parameters of the weapon systems and provide high confidence in the planning factors that are developed. Testing should be conducted in realistic and varied environments to periodically demonstrate system capability, credibility, safety, and survivability.


Chapter 3


3.1. General. Nuclear operations can be conducted across the range of military operations, using various options, ranging from Single Integrated Operational Plan (SIOP) execution to more restricted, theater-level use. The intent is to put at risk those vital targets an adversary values, or which threaten the United States, its forces, or allies.

3.2. Forces. Nuclear forces are those systems capable of delivering nuclear weapons and the forces that support those systems. Such forces are presently composed of manned aircraft with gravity bombs and/or Air-Launched Cruise Missiles (ALCMs) or Advanced Cruise Missiles (ACMs), Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs), Sea-Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBMs), Sea-Launched Cruise Missiles (SLCMs), and the forces that support these systems. Shorter range systems such as SLCMs and dual-capable aircraft are generally considered theater support forces. Other forces form a TRIAD of flexible offensive forces which are integrated in the SIOP. The unique characteristics of each system, when combined with the others, provides insurance against technological breakthroughs or failures of other systems. Together, they form the basis of our nuclear deterrent capability.

3.2.1. Nuclear aerospace forces have the characteristics of speed, range, flexibility, precision, and lethality. These characteristics make them versatile components of military power. Aircraft provide stability and flexibility. They can be launched on warning of an attack and recalled if necessary. Their relatively slow response time is considered stabilizing, since it gives the NCA time to perform attack assessment and work through diplomatic channels. They can provide combat assessment and can select and strike secondary or tertiary targets, as directed, or provide a means of armed reconnaissance to attack relocatable or concealed targets. Aircraft also can be rapidly generated to alert status. This increased posture can be used to signal military resolve and national will. This is an important element of deterrent strategy. Changing aircraft alert posture and/or dispersing aircraft can also increase aircraft survivability. Aircraft carry gravity bombs and/or standoff cruise missiles, providing flexibility from target to target and the ability to kill the hardest, deepest targets. Aircraft can also be regenerated for multiple missions, and can quickly transition between nuclear and non-nuclear roles. However, recent arms control agreements place restrictions on co-basing nuclear and non-nuclear designated bombers; the number of conventional-only designated bombers that can, on a one-time basis, be reroled to the nuclear mission, has also been limited. ICBMs are cost-effective and capable of maintaining high on-alert rates. They also provide prompt hard target kill capability. These missiles can hold time-urgent targets at risk and can be rapidly retargeted against other targets. Continental United States basing of ICBM forces ensures that an attack on these forces constitutes an attack on American sovereign territory. This may deter hostile actions by aggressor nations.

3.3. Command, Control, Communications, Computers and Intelligence (C4I). Nuclear operations require the coordination and integration of vital communications, intelligence, and planning functions. Deterrence requires secure, highly effective, reliable, and enduring C4I systems.

3.3.1. Effective C4I procedures enhance a commander's ability to conduct assigned missions. Current threat assessment, Indications and Warning and Tactical Warning/Attack Assessment information, and effective C4I allow the NCA and theater commanders maximum time to respond to enemy actions. In order to effectively link the NCA and nuclear forces under any circumstances, C4I systems must be responsive, reliable, survivable, and at least as enduring as the forces they support. Additional information on joint intelligence doctrine may be found in Joint Pub 2-0, Joint Doctrine for Intelligence Support to Operations, and Joint Pub 2-01, Joint Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures (JTTP) for Intelligence Support to Operations.

3.3.2. Since nuclear forces are operated by multiple Services, common C4I systems and procedures are necessary. The C4I systems supporting nuclear operations should give the commander the capability to command and control assigned forces in all environments. This can be accomplished through hardening, dispersal, mobility, and redundancy. In addition, these systems should be certified as interoperable with all required information exchange systems.

3.4. Operational Environment. The tremendous energy released in a nuclear detonation exposes personnel and equipment to blast and shock, flash blindness, thermal radiation, electromagnetic pulse, and nuclear radiation (initial and residual). Nuclear weapons can also disrupt the atmosphere, leading to radar blackout and degraded performance of optical sensors and communications systems. Tactics, procedures, and equipment have been developed to protect personnel and weapon systems from such effects, to the maximum extent possible. Because aerospace systems and facilities are lucrative targets, air base personnel may encounter nuclear, biological, and chemical (NBC) weapons effects. US forces should be capable of responding to, and executing operations in, a NBC environment with minimal degradation. Implementing the principles of NBC defense--avoidance, protection, and decontamination--will help preserve the fighting capability of the forces. Further information on NBC defense can be found in Joint Pub 3-11, Joint Doctrine for Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical (NBC) Defense.

3.5. Planning Considerations. Nuclear capable aircraft exploit the characteristics of survivability, range, lethality, precision, hard target kill capability, and flexibility. Ballistic missiles have the capacity to exploit the characteristics of rapid retargeting, quick arrival, accuracy, hard target kill capability, and relative immunity to enemy defenses. Planners should consider these characteristics when planning nuclear missions.

3.5.1. As with all military operations, nuclear operations may be carried out against an enemy's military, political, informational, and economic targets. The goal is to achieve our national objectives by neutralizing or destroy the enemy's war-making capabilities and will to fight.

3.5.2. Plans for nuclear operations are prepared by nuclear-capable unified commands, in accordance with guidance provided by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (CJCS). These plans respond to NCA threat assessments, targeting directives, and policy requirements. Accurate and timely intelligence is critical to the planning of nuclear operations.

3.5.3. Nuclear operations can either be preplanned against specific targets using planned routing (as in the SIOP) or adaptively planned against emerging targets. Preplanned options maintain centralized control while minimizing impact on response time. Plans provide a variety of targeting options which allow the NCA the flexibility to achieve objectives. As circumstances change during a conflict, adaptive planning allows leadership to retarget and strike emerging, mobile, or previously unknown targets. Quick reaction by nuclear forces can prevent enemy leadership from using resources to its advantage. Large-scale nuclear employment is closely coordinated within the SIOP to combine targeting, mutual support and defense, as well as national strategies and objectives. The SIOP provides a wide range of nuclear options. Plans provide sufficient detail to ensure mutual support and defense suppression. Planning for theater level nuclear operations should be integrated into the CINC's operational plans. This will maximize the desired effects and ensure proper levels of coordination and support.

3.5.4. Planning for all offensive and defensive nuclear operations should be integrated and closely coordinated to achieve desired objectives. It will also ensure offensive and defensive efforts are interoperable.

3.5.5. Air and space control can strongly enhance nuclear operations by protecting our manned systems and space assets. It will deny enemy access to space for purposes of surveilling and targeting our forces, as well as inhibiting enemy nuclear command and control. In addition, control of the aerospace medium will allow US forces to be warned of and assess ballistic missile attacks, target enemy locations, exercise positive control of nuclear systems, conduct damage assessment, and plan follow-on operations.

3.5.6. Force enhancement capabilities are crucial to worldwide nuclear operations and should be incorporated in planning. Some critical examples are as follows: Air refueling assets extend the range of aircraft and increase the inherent flexibility of nuclear forces. Airlift enhances maintainability and sustainability of nuclear forces worldwide. Electronic combat disrupts enemy defenses and assists nuclear forces in penetrating to their targets. Space assets are essential in providing information for early warning and attack assessment of an enemy strike or nuclear detonation detection. They also provide communications, navigation, weather, and trans/post attack damage assessment support. Surveillance and reconnaissance allow commanders to see the enemy situation and target status. Timely information allows maximum exploitation of nuclear forces. Surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities assist the NCA by providing information on the enemy's status or force disposition. C4I systems should be planned to operate vertically and horizontally to allow effective control of nuclear assets and forces by the NCA at all affected levels. This will also ensure that interoperable, secure, timely, efficient, and survivable C4I systems are developed and employed.

3.5.7. Plans should be developed and then updated to reflect changes in the threat, technological advances, or national policy.

3.6. Employment Considerations. As with all military forces, nuclear forces provide a capability to achieve national and theater objectives by holding at risk those assets the adversary values. These assets may include leadership, command and control, attack assessment, WMD capabilities, general purpose and power projection forces, as well as war-supporting industries.

3.6.1. For nuclear operations to be an effective deterrent, the following principles should be considered: Credibility. An adversary must believe that the US would respond with nuclear weapons if certain conditions are met. Credibility is a key element of deterrence and in the ability to control escalation if deterrence fails. Survivability. Forces committed to nuclear operations may be primary targets for enemy attack and should be designed and deployed to maximize survivability. Procedures for the continuity of nuclear command and control ensures a continuing capability to execute and control nuclear operations. Responsiveness. Nuclear forces should be able to carry out their missions in a responsiveness manner. When emerging targets are encountered, nuclear forces should be able to strike these targets promptly. Effectiveness. This principle combines the elements of timeliness, accuracy, yield, and reliability to successfully achieve the military objectives. Nuclear Surety. Safety and security elements enhance the overall reliability of nuclear weapons and systems throughout the stockpile-to-target sequence. Nuclear surety includes all Air Force activities that are accomplished to provide maximum nuclear safety while maintaining reliability to support mission accomplishment. Safety. Safety is an absolute requirement when dealing with nuclear weapons. Nuclear units should ensure that the unauthorized deliberate or inadvertent prearming, arming, launching, firing, or releasing of nuclear weapons are prevented. Measures must also prevent nuclear weapons from producing an unintended nuclear yield thereby producing immediate physical damage and well as scattering nuclear material. Security. Nuclear weapons can not be subject to loss, theft, sabotage, damage or unauthorized use. In addition, nuclear units should ensure measures to provide the greatest possible deterrent against hostile acts. Failing deterrence, security should ensure detection, interception and defeat of the hostile force before it is able to seize, damage, or destroy the nuclear weapon(s), weapon system(s), or critical component(s).




Chief of Staff



Abbreviations and Acronyms

Abbreviation Definition

or Acronym

ACM Advanced Cruise Missile

ALCM Air-Launched Cruise Missile

CINC Commander in Chief

C3 Command, Control, and Communications

C4I Command, Control, Communications, Computers, and Intelligence

ICBM Intercontinental Ballistic Missile

CJCS Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff

LOAC Law of Armed Conflict

NBC Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical

NCA National Command Authorities

SIOP Single Integrated Operational Plan

SLBM Sea-Launched Ballistic Missile

SLCM Sea-Launched Cruise Missile

WMD Weapons of Mass Destruction


Advanced Cruise Missile--An air-launched vehicle designed to deliver a nuclear warhead in an air-to-ground mission.

Air-Launched Cruise Missile--An air-launched vehicle designed to deliver a nuclear warhead in an air-to-ground mission.

Electromagnetic Pulse--The electromagnetic radiation from a nuclear explosion caused by Compton-recoil electrons and photoelectrons from photons scattered in the materials of the nuclear device or in a surrounding medium. The resulting electric and magnetic fields may couple with electrical/electronic systems to produce damaging current and voltage surges. May also be caused by nonnuclear means. (Joint Pub 1-02)

Flash Blindness--Impairment of vision resulting from an intense flash of light. It includes temporary or permanent loss of visual functions and may be associated with retinal burns. (Joint Pub 1-02)

Intercontinental Ballistic Missile--A ballistic missile with a range capability from about 3,000 to 8,000 nautical miles. (Joint Pub 1-02)

National Command Authorities--The President and the Secretary of Defense or their duly deputized alternates or successors. (Joint Pub 1-02)

Overpressure--The pressure resulting from the blast wave of an explosion. It is referred to as "positive" when it exceeds atmospheric pressure and "negative" during the passage of the wave when resulting pressures are less than atmospheric pressure. (Joint Pub 1-02)

Sea-Launched Ballistic Missile--A ballistic missile launched from a submarine or surface ship. (Joint Pub 1-02)

Weapons of Mass Destruction--In arms control usage, weapons that are capable of a high order of destruction and/or of being used in such a manner as to destroy large numbers of people. Can be nuclear, chemical, biological, and radiological weapons, but excludes the means of transporting or propelling the weapon where such means is a separable and divisible part of the weapon. (Joint Pub 1-02)