Military & Aerospace

A Nuclear Command and Control System for India
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 17 Jul , 2017

The recent missile tests have brought to the fore, once again the talks on south Asian nuclear arms race and scenarios. It is imperative to understand that mere capability in terms of Agni V or any other nuclear delivery capability does not signify step-change in nuclear postures. The overall nuclear capability requires integration of delivery systems, technology, doctrine, and command and control (C2) system, that a nation has in place. The C2 system becomes the glue that converts disparate elements of potential into usable strategic capability to deter others. In this regard, we explore the key elements of a command and control system (C2) and propose a high-level structure of a national nuclear C2 system.

Command and Control (C2) is defined as the exercise of authority and direction by a properly designated commander over assigned forces in the accomplishment of a mission. The C2 functions are performed through an arrangement of personnel, equipment, communications, facilities and procedures which are employed by a commander in planning, directing, coordinating and controlling forces and operation in the accomplishment of the mission. The command system include sensors, communication links and command centers that form the physical network as well as the plans, procedures, organizations and widely shared assumptions that allow the parts to work together coherently. In essence C2 affects the human interface with mechanical/electronic, in fact the physical structures, that allows weapons to be deployed and utilized in real operations.

In a research thesis published in 1994 titled Command and Control in New Nuclear States: Implication for Stability, Foley D. C. , described the key elements of Nuclear C2 Networks as follows.

Decision Requirements while designing National C2 Network

Positive versus Negative Control- Any nation while designing its National Command and Control System for employment of Strategic (nuclear) weapons needs to decide whether, it needs positive or negative control over its nuclear forces. The positive control implies the state’s ability to effectively deploy such forces at its discretion, while negative control implies a state’s ability to deny unauthorized use of its nuclear forces. With positive control, the control of nuclear forces needs to be delegated to a large number of persons who can launch the weapons at their discretion, if the situation demands. With negative control, a select few who are in direct communication with Central Authority are in possession of nuclear weapons. These few launch only after the Central Authority command. However, with positive control the probability of accidental and unauthorized use increases, while with negative control the State’s nuclear forces are vulnerable to adversary’s first pre-emptive strike.

Delegated versus Assertive C2- In Delegated C2, State leaders might feel compelled to provide lower – echelon commanders with the legal authorizations to release their nuclear weapons should central or National Command Authority (NCA) be neutralized by a decapitate strike or what is called the First Strike. In this case intrusive mechanisms would be in place to prevent use without specific authorization from above. While an Assertive C2 system would depend less on subordinate loyalty by procedures requiring multiple personnel to be present every time nuclear warheads were accessible.

C2 Failure Modes – It is mentioned while deciding upon the C2 Failure Modes, that C2 systems that are more delegated in their orientation are likely to fail “deadly” because fearing a pre-emptive loss of force or decapitation, they will assume a “hair trigger” posture and be prepared to launch on warning. Low-echelon commanders, in the midst of crises, might deploy the nuclear weapons under their control due to misperception, inaccurate intelligence or accidental/temporary loss of communications with National Command Authority. With Assertive systems, the physical, intrusive safeguards take time to overcome before the weapons can be used. Such circumstances would prove unfavorable to the state under actual nuclear attack, i.e., the C2 will fail “Impotent”. However, a relatively slower, less reactionary C2 system might prove a god send in the case where a perceived strike turned out to be a false alarm.

Thus, an assertive C2 structure may prove to be a more stabilizing system than a delegated one in a confrontation between two nuclear armed rivals.

Determinants of Delegated or Assertive C2 Structure

There are two important factors which have an impact upon a new nuclear state’s C2 decision – (i) Civil – military relations and (ii) Time-urgency i. e. , arsenal is ready for immediate and rapid use.

Civil-military relations are further broken into two categories:

•  Stable: States having experienced a stable pattern of relations between the civilian government and the military, in which governance has been separate from the military, typically results in a greater delegation of authority.

•  Volatile: If the military has played a greater role in running the country (periodic coups, power sharing etc.) and the civilian government is weak, the pattern of civil-military relations is volatile and increases the need for more assertions by government leaders

Time Urgency: New Nuclear states are likely to have

•  Small arsenals and limited number of delivery systems

•  Lack the geographic size to widely disperse their weapons

•  Regional rival

Therefore, there will be a challenge of pre-emptive, surgical strike against their arsenals combined with extremely brief realign time. This gives an incentive to use the arsenal early in a conflict before the enemy destroys it. Close proximity between nuclear armed rivals can exert pressure on the C2 structure to be delegated and maintain an aggressive “Use it or lose it” posture. A state may not be volatile in regard to military forces but by other divisive elements such as separatist movements, mass protest groups, terrorist organization or cultural hatreds. In times of massive unrest and widespread civil disobedience, concern for the safety and security of Nuclear weapons is at the highest.

Three unpleasant possibilities could be envisioned

  • Some nuclear warheads are seized by organized crime and spirited away to be held for ransom or sold in the black market to the highest bidder. For example, Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is highly prone to such a possibility (please see the previous article)
  • Accidentally launched or detonated in place: Learning of the detonation through intelligence, the rival may perceive that its opponent had attempted to launch one weapon, which failed and that it indicates more would be on the way. Thus, a hasty nuclear strike would be in order.
  • Nuclear rival would seek to exploit the perceived C2 weakness and conduct a pre-emptive strike while the state embroiled in unrest struggled to regain domestic order.

Table 1: Parameters and factors affecting Strategic C2

Table 1, gives the parameters and factors affecting Strategic C2 Network.

Characteristics of Stable C2 Network

Table 2 gives a checklist that identifies major potentialities for C2 vulnerability and related instabilities that can be explored in greater detail. The checklist for stable C2 has been divided into two areas of evolution – Hardware, i. e. Physical Structures of C2 and Software i. e. procedural concerns.

Table 2 : The Checklist For Stable C2

C2 Systems of Poor and Wealthy Nuclear States

Understanding particular states resource constraints will enable C2 analyst to investigate the vulnerabilities to which that group’s C2 is prone. Table 3 gives the characteristics of Poor and Wealthy Nuclear States Weapon Systems.

Table 3 Characteristics of Poor and Wealthy Nuclear Weapon States

Connection Between types of C2 and stability level

Table 4, gives the connection between various type of C2 and Stability.

STRATEGIC C2 FOR INDIA – Proposed System Characteristics

Table 4 Connection between C2 and Stability

Taking into account, the above requirements, the Indian C2 system should be made centralized with high technological sophistication with high procedural complexity. Given the cost of the requirements to accomplish these missions, Indian C2 system should be built in an incremental manner by incorporating the specific requirements. A national C2 system for our country should be centralized, with large number of feedback mechanisms, redundant and robust communication system, hardened C2 nodes and Early warning systems. There is a need for personnel reliability screening, regular system exercises, codified procedures, multi-person control and training.


Once the strategic C2 in consultation with civilian C2 has decided to seek permission for use of nuclear weapons it is communicated to the highest authority of the nation. The Strategic C2 network for military operations and civilian C2 network provides information, intelligence and status reports to the nuclear C2 network which controls the nuclear forces. The nuclear C2 network consists of a National Command Authority (NCA) consisting of specified number of members of government. The NCA gets information from conventional Military C2 network and civilian C2 networks through Politico Military Decision Centers (PMDC). The NCA based on PMDC reports decide regarding the usage of nuclear forces. These decisions are communicated to specific nuclear delivery systems through multiple and redundant strategic forces command posts. The proposed National level command control network consists of following networks.

  • Strategic Command and Control Network for conventional military operations
  • Civil Command and Control Network for collecting strategic information and analysis from civil agencies
  • Strategic Command and Control Network for Nuclear Operations

The proposed C2 Network for Nuclear Decision Making consists of following elements

  • Politico Military Decision Center(s) (PMDC)
  • National Command Authority (NCA)
  • Strategic Forces Command Post (SFCP)
  • Strategic Nuclear forces sites/systems

Politico Military Decision Center(s) (PMDC)

The PMDC receives strategic information from strategic and civil C2 network on a regular basis. The PMDC evaluates the request for use of nuclear weapons from strategic commanders and conveys it to the NCA.  PMDC also prepare plans for nuclear strike. The alternate nuclear strike plans are pre-decided. The pre-decided plans consist of nuclear weapons to be launched, nuclear delivery system which will be involved, enemy target to strike and likely conditions under which the plan will be chosen. To minimize the possibility of first strike loss multiple PMDCs are maintained in hardened shelters.

National Command Authority (NCA)

The NCA should comprise of somepre-decided members. If a certain number, say x% of the NCA members, decide to launch, the nuclear launch commands are sent to the SFCP. The NCA has to make two major decisions – whether to use Nuclear weapons and choice of the appropriate plan. In case the decision is taken to launch Nuclear weapons, the head of the State/Prime Minister may have the power to veto the decision.

Strategic Forces Command Post (SFCP)

The SFCP has to convey the nuclear decisions to the specific nuclear weapon sites (i. e. Fixed and mobile missile sites, SSBNs, Bomber Aircraft etc. ) under the specific plan chosen by the NCA. At least four SFCP areneeded- One airborne (will get airborne as the crisis starts), one based on naval submarine, mobile land based, and one fixed land based command post.

KEY Pointers

It can be seen that with the modern-day advancement in technology and the current military dynamics prevailing in the neighboring countries, a National Command and Control (C2) system which is robust, can share information globally and can help in rapid decision making is a must for any country, especially for India.

•  Due to the current economic constraints and also due to the present command structures a framework based on Assertive Command Structurefor our national C2 Network will be more useful. This Assertive network needs to be aCentralized C2 system with high degree of security, multiple-man control but still should not fail impotent.

•  To enhance the reliability of such a command structure the major attributes the system should have are – Mobile and Airborne Command Centers along with deep and hardened bunkers for top level decision makers, Secure communication lines which are EMP-hardened and have sufficient redundancy so as to ensure a viable network in any eventuality and trained personnel.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Navneet Bhushan

worked as a Defence Scientist from 1990-2000. He is the founder director of CRAFITTI CONSULTING ( – an Innovation and Intellectual Property Consulting firm focused on co-crafting Innovation in global enterprises. He is the winner of Indira India Innovation award for Entrepreneurship and Innovation Leadership for 2012. He is the principal author of Strategic Decision Making- Applying the Analytic Hierarchy Process published by Springer-Verlag, UK, as part of the Decision Engineering Series. Navneet Blogs at He can be contacted at He is currently working on his next book titled Crafting New Choices.

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