America Needs a ‘Dead Hand’

America's nuclear command, control, and communications (NC3) system comprises many component systems that were designed and fielded during the Cold War — a period when nuclear missiles were set to launch from deep within Soviet territory, giving the United States sufficient time to react. That era is over. Today, Russian and Chinese nuclear modernization is rapidly compressing the time U.S. leaders will have to detect a nuclear launch, decide on a course of action, and direct a response.

Technologies such as hypersonic weapons, stealthy nuclear-armed cruise missiles, and weaponized artificial intelligence mean America's legacy NC3 system may be too slow for the president to make a considered decision and transmit orders. The challenges of attack-time compression present a destabilizing risk to America's deterrence strategy. Any potential for failure in the detection or assessment of an attack, or any reduction of decision and response time, is inherently dangerous and destabilizing.

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