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US Conducts Nuclear Weapons Use War Games Amid Continuing Tensions With Russia Over Ukraine

© AP PhotoThis photo provided by the Defense Department's Missile Defense Agency, taken Jan. 28, 2016, shows a long-range ground-based interceptor is launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.
This photo provided by the Defense Department's Missile Defense Agency, taken Jan. 28, 2016, shows a long-range ground-based interceptor is launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. - Sputnik International, 1920, 30.01.2022
As Ukraine-related tensions between the US and Russia continue, a Republican senator and member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Roger Wicker, recently suggested in several interviews that the US might get involved militarily in case of a conflict, including through the use of nukes against Russia.
The US Strategic Command, which controls American nuclear armaments and everything related to their use (including strategic communications) has launched Global Lightning drills designed to test the branch's readiness to engage in nuclear warfare.
While the war games themselves have long been planned and are routine for the force, their timing, according to reports, is hardly the best. The US is constantly expressing concerns about an alleged Russian invasion of Ukraine and contemplating retaliatory options. The last Global Lightning drills in April 2021 involved the US using nuclear weapons as deterrence in a hypothetical standoff with Russia.
An F/A-18E Super Hornet lands on the flight deck of the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson as the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Lake Champlain (L) and the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Wayne E. Meyer transit the western Pacific Ocean May 3, 2017. - Sputnik International, 1920, 04.08.2021
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This year, however, Global Lightning focuses on a response to a potential nuclear conflict with China. The drill itself does not involve any nukes or even launches or bombings. Instead, the US Strategic Command checks nuclear command and control circuits, incorporates last year's innovations into previous tactics, and tests decision-making in accordance with a nuclear war plan.
The latter was last updated in 2019, but the first scarce information about the changes emerged only recently via a Freedom of Information Request.

New Plan, New War Games

The new US nuclear war plan reflects a transition that NATO has been experiencing over the past few years – a shift from fighting terrorism and a return to "great power competition". The shift and the latest additions to the US nuclear arsenal reportedly had their effect on the way Washington expects a nuclear conflict to unfold.
The new plan no longer relies on a doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) – something that served in the past as a significant deterrent to using nuclear weapons (and something that still does in other countries' doctrines, including Russia). Nowadays, the Pentagon expects some US forces to survive a hypothetical first strike by Russia or another nuclear state, and then subsequently recover, strike back, rinse and repeat until the enemy is defeated or there is no one left alive on Earth to fight. This new approach is being tested during this year's Global Lightning war games.
Pershing II missiles  - Sputnik International, 1920, 28.01.2022
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America's new nuclear war plan also includes the introduction of additional conventional weapons into the US strategic force, as it grows ever more reliant on technology other than nuclear, including air defence, cyber warfare, and anti-jamming equipment. In addition to that, new "protected communication" technology was introduced into the force, so-called Family of Beyond the Line of Sight terminals (FAB-T).
Like other lines of communication used by the US Strategic Command, FAB-T was developed to function even in tough conditions of nuclear war that can destroy other means of communication. Its main function is to allow the president and the top military brass to communicate with operators of their nuclear weapons, and let the latter respond. FAB-T needs to function seamlessly with other systems used by the force and hence underwent a "stress test" during the current Global Lightning drills.
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