The views and opinions expressed or implied in WBY are those of the authors and should not be construed as carrying the official sanction of the Department of Defense, Air Force, Air Education and Training Command, Air University, or other agencies or departments of the US government or their international equivalents.

Whatever Happens, Happens: Deterring Russia’s Threat of Nuclear Weapons through Non-Nuclear Means

  • Published
  • By Mr. Patrick S. Warren


Deterring nuclear adversaries such as Russia will continue to provide challenges to the United States during the remainder of the twenty-first century. While the United States and Russia (formerly the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics or Soviet Union) signed multiple arms control and reduction treaties limiting the number and type of nuclear munitions, the danger posed by these weapons remains the same. The United States’ February 2019 withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty due to Russia’s decision to develop new nuclear weapons complicates relations between the two nations. Because of these events, the United States needs to explore methods for countering this threat without appearing belligerent to the international community. Rather than invest in new Intermediate-Range weapons, the United States may develop a strategic advantage by investing in emerging technologies such as Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA), Hypersonic Ground-based Interceptor (GBI) and Space-based Interceptor (SBI) systems. This research product will employ the problem/solution framework to analyze how these emerging forms of deterrence can counter the threat of nuclear weapons.

Background/Research Question

 How can emerging deterrence strategies such as Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA), Hypersonic Ground-based Interceptor (GBI) and Space-based Interceptor (SBI) systems mitigate the threat of Russia as a nuclear adversary? The problem of nuclear deterrence, defined as the doctrine that a competitor will be deterred from using nuclear weapons as long as they face destruction as a consequence, has been foremost in the minds of US strategists since the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki ended World War II. Since that time, the United States and its competitors have been engaged in a race for advantage through technological innovation. Initially, that race focused on nuclear technology. Scientists such as Dr. Edward Teller, assigned to the Manhattan Project, took pride in the knowledge that their contributions helped end that war. While the United States and Soviet Union developed war plans for dealing with each other, these wartime allies became adversaries more quickly than anticipated. During the war, the refining process for uranium and plutonium took several years to produce enough material required for a bomb. As such, President Truman, military leaders, and scientists at the Atomic Energy Commission believed they would maintain a monopoly on nuclear weapons for years to come and could postpone worrying about the threat of a Soviet atomic bomb.

US leaders were surprised to discover that, Soviet spies, such as Klaus Fuchs, worked on the Manhattan Project and provided the USSR with important information about the bomb’s design and technical specifications required to create its own atomic bomb program. 1 It came as a shock to the United States when the Soviet Union announced the successful testing of their own atomic bomb in 1949, several years ahead of intelligence projections. The loss of a nuclear monopoly had a decisive impact on US diplomacy and military policy; it was one of the stimuli for an interagency report, NSC 68 (14 April 1950), which recommended massive military spending to offset the political and military impact of Stalin's bomb.2 President Eisenhower, like many of his World War II contemporaries, understood the dangers of nuclear weaponry and how it could escalate future conflicts.

In his Atoms for Peace speech before the United Nations (UN) General Assembly on December 8, 1953, President Eisenhower sought to solve this terrible problem by suggesting a means to transform the atom from a scourge into a benefit for mankind.3 In his vision, he wanted the UN to devise methods where this fissionable material would be allocated to serve the peaceful pursuits of mankind.4 Unfortunately for the world, the Soviet Union under Premier Nikita Khrushchev chose to continue its nuclear weapons program rather than heed Eisenhower’s call. Instead of presidential administrations focusing solely on improving US prosperity through the “peaceful atom,” they now found it necessary to expand and improve nuclear stockpiles to counter the growing “Red Menace.” The United States sought to deter the Soviet Union from using their nuclear weapons in future wars.

Although the United States had assumed the role of a global superpower, the Soviet Union as a near-peer adversary, challenged this supremacy by threatening to use nuclear weapons. The October 1961 detonation of the 50 megaton “Tsar Bomba” by a Tu-95V Soviet long-range bomber over the island of Novaya Zemlya, and Soviet placement of missiles near to the United States in the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962. 5,6 The United States has since largely relied upon its nuclear triad elements (i.e., intercontinental ballistic missiles [ICBM], submarine-launched ballistic missiles [SLBM], and long-range bombers) as a traditional deterrent force. However, alternative, non-nuclear forms of deterrence have since become more feasible as counter to nuclear threats. Indeed, the United States has historically pursued “offset strategies,” that maintain an advantage over adversaries while preserving peace.

Today United States technological advantages create an opportunity for non-nuclear forms of deterrence. Examples of technologies with potential to offset Russian nuclear weapons include advances against SCADA attacks which may interrupt communication with missile silos, strategic messaging; by testing ballistic missile-defense systems such as hypersonic GBIs and SBIs in the future. Humans for the most part resist change if something already works, and this may explain the hesitation to think outside the box. This research examines how nontraditional (non-nuclear) technologies namely, SCADA, GBI, and SBI might supply the necessary capabilities for credible deterrence, to consider viable options other than nuclear retaliation.

During the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union maintained a delicate balance of power. Both countries acquired thousands of nuclear weapons that threatened the survival of life on Earth. The doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction or (MAD) stated a nuclear strike would result in the destruction of the attacker and defender. Since US and Soviet leaders understood the consequences of nuclear war, they chose to use nuclear weapons as propaganda tools to deter counterparts. After more than 40-years of competition with the United States, the Soviet Union collapsed due to several contributing factors, including political corruption, economic reversals, failed military campaigns, and nuclear accidents. Russia emerged from the ashes of the Soviet Union, and forced the United States to develop a new method of addressing regional nuclear powers. These events surprised the United States and prompted the need to reevaluate deterrence methods. Rather than the United States relying on the size of its nuclear arsenal to deter near-peer adversaries, the new paradigm forced US planners to aggressively counter these nations prior to nuclear weapon employment. This research study investigates several methods that may contribute to deterring Russia through an offset strategy designed to provide an asymmetric advantage, thereby mitigating the threat of nuclear war.

Then Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel in 2014 proposed a “Third Offset Strategy” that would use Robotics (drones), Big Data (cyber), and 3-D printing (part replacement) as non-nuclear deterrence measures. Previous offset strategies provided a model for the US Department of Defense to develop and refine this strategy. Much like President Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Deterrence Initiative (SDI) program in 1983 caused a cash-poor and slowly collapsing Soviet Union to dedicate scarce resources to match the United States, a mixture of SCADA, GBI and SBI technology can potentially exhaust Russia’s national treasure, forcing it back to the negotiation table. 7 In his “Blueprint for America,” former Secretary of State George P. Shultz notes, “Given a reliably uncertain future, America cannot adopt one preclusive form of warfare. The paradox of war is that our enemies will always move against our perceived weakness. Thus, our strategy must not – and must never – say what we will not do: no enemy should be reassured in advance that we won’t employ ground troops, or that we will not fight beyond a certain date, or that we won’t engage in certain types of fights.”8

SCADA systems provide a nontraditional opportunity for deterrence by denying access to Russian cyberattacks or by launching asymmetric offensive attacks on an adversary’s computer-managed infrastructure. They are crucial for industrial organizations since they help maintain efficiency, process data for smarter decisions, and communicate system issues to help mitigate downtime. Virtually anywhere in today's world, there is some type of SCADA system running behind the scenes: maintaining the refrigeration systems at the local supermarket, ensuring production and safety at a refinery, achieving quality standards at a wastewater-treatment plant, or even tracking your energy use at home.9 With the success of the Stuxnet computer virus attack against Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility in 2013, and the cyberattack on the Target Corporation through unprotected computer systems in 2013, the possibility of a future SCADA attack on the United States appears very likely. Rather than wait for an adversary to conduct another SCADA attack on the United States, the military should evaluate methods to construct better secondary and tertiary defenses to minimize the chances of accessing information through an unsecured system, as well as offensive capabilities. Currently, the infrastructure to identify and react to this type of attack is in its infancy and needs funding to improve public and private security measures. Failure to deny an adversary could increase the risk of an attack on US SCADA systems and limit potential response options.

In the same way as a strong SCADA defense deters a potential cyberactor from conducting an attack, ground and space-based missile interceptor systems deter near-peer adversaries from attacking the United States. By testing and refining the GBI system as a hypersonic glide vehicle and studying the potential for a SBI, the United States projects a strategic posture and signals the ability to repel an attack (see fig 1). Through public capability testing of the Ballistic Missile Defense System (BMDS), the United States cautions near-peer adversaries against attacking, much in the same way the sound of a rattlesnake’s rattle deters predators.

Comparison of Options





Can This Improve the Third Offset Strategy Now?




Could This Deter an Adversary from a nuclear first strike?




Is this Option Worth Pursuing?




Could This Prevent Proliferation?




Do Peaceful Applications Outweigh Potential for Misuse?




Figure 1. Comparison of Options for the Third Offset Strategy. Source: Table constructed by the author from assessment of thesis discussion.

This research will add to the knowledge required to maintain nuclear deterrence through the development of new technologies in the twenty-first century and further enhance the ability of United States Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM) to combat adversaries. Deterring nuclear wars is, of course, preferable to fighting them. However, deterrence only works when forces are adequate for the task.10 With an increased focus on investing in the nuclear triad, it is imperative funds are distributed to the area(s) most likely to achieve the desired results. This study include research collected from qualitative sources involved in nuclear deterrence. Qualitative approaches can be innovative and work more within researcher-designated frameworks.11 Additionally, this specific research may influence strategic nuclear policy and impediments to nuclear war for the next several decades.

The Third Offset Strategy

During the 70-plus years since the end of the World War Two, the United States and Russia each amassed enough weapons to destroy life on Earth’s surface several times over. Like duelists at a showdown in the old West, each waited tensely for the other to draw. Unlike this popular theme in American Western movies, the United States and Russia realized regardless of who fired the first shot, it would cause the destruction of both nations. Rather than initiate open hostilities, President Eisenhower proposed building up the nuclear stockpile to counter or offset the cost involved to match Soviet conventional forces. Following the US departure from Vietnam, US leaders recognized Soviet technology was catching up with the United States. This prompted a second offset strategy and fostered the development of new materiel such as the Abrams Main Battle Tank, B1 Lancer, and the first generation of stealth aircraft. Since the end of the Cold War, the United States and Russia struggled with the problem of staring each other in the eye and “reholstering” without causing an accidental discharge or looking weak in the eyes of other near-peer adversaries. The Third Offset, announced in 2014, proposed building on the existing deterrence efforts reimagined to counter twenty-first-century threats (see fig. 2).

Figure 2. Comparison of US Department of Defense Offsets. Source: Table constructed by the author from information provided by Tyler Knox, “The US Military: A Crisis of Innovation,” Wharton School of Public Policy, University of Pennsylvania.

Since the end of the Cold War, the United States and Russia reduced the number of nuclear weapons in their inventories down from a peak of approximately 70,300 in 1986 to an estimated 14,485 in mid-2018.12 Despite the recent withdrawal of the United States from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty and the dangers involved by this action, no one can deny the actions taken over the past 30 years to reduce the number of weapons in the nuclear inventory. During a lecture at Harvard University’s Institute of Politics in November 2018, General John Hyten, Commander of USSTRATCOM, stated the number of United States deployed nuclear weapons is approximately1550, which creates strategic stability (i.e., an adversary cannot undermine a nuclear deterrent). 13 Maintaining roughly the same number of deployed nuclear weapons maintains the peace with Russia. When asked about the future of nuclear weapons, Gen. Hyten expressed an interest in further reducing the number of weapons in the future if Russia complies with the New START treaty. By the United States and Russia reducing their nuclear weapon stockpiles, they can calm global tensions before they exhaust all deterrence options. Additionally, nuclear treaties between the United States and Russia provide nations such as China, India, and Pakistan an example of how they can decrease their own nuclear arsenals (see fig. 3). How well this plan works depends largely on whether the Third Offset Strategy can deter Russia from considering nuclear weapons as a viable option.

Figure 3. 2018 Estimated Global Warhead Inventories. Source: Table constructed by the author from information provided by the Arms Control Association 2018 Estimated Global Warhead Inventories.

The Offset Strategies

The United States believed that to stay ahead in the arms race with Soviet Union, by developing offset strategies to sustain the ability to negotiate with the USSR from a position of strength. By fielding an increasingly capable arsenal of nuclear weapons both at home and in forward-deployed locations, the United States effectively ‘offset’ the advantages of numerically superior Soviet conventional forces and arguably helped deter Soviet aggression and adventurism in Europe.14 To address this issue, President Eisenhower commissioned a senior-level review of defense policy based on two principle: “First, we must provide armed forces of sufficient strength to deter future Communist aggression and, secondly, such forces must be maintained without undermining the economic health of the Nation.15 This effort is widely considered to have been the “First Offset” (i.e., nuclear weapons).

During the 1950s and early 1960s, US conventional military forces continued to train and conduct exercises using tactics developed from World War II battles in Europe. Believing the United States could win a future war with the Soviet Union, the military conducted exercises involving the taking and holding of territory following an exchange of tactical nuclear weapons. While this deterrence method of signaling the US intension of fighting and winning on a nuclear battlefield was effective for several years, the Soviet Union proved their capability to develop and test increasingly larger weapons to match the US program. During the 1961 “Tsar Bomba” test over the island test site of Novaya Zemlya, the Soviets detonated a 50 megaton weapon to show the United States they were nuclear equals. In comparison, this far exceeded the 15 megaton Castle Bravo test conducted by the United States in 1954. Unlike the Tsar Bomba test, Castle Bravo was a technical failure since it exceeded the expected yield. Scientists did not realize the “dry” source of fusion fuel, lithium deuteride with 40 percent content of lithium-6 isotope, would contribute so greatly to the overall yield of the detonation.16 Following the Russian test, the international community asked if it was necessary to detonate bombs to prove their designs worked. Largely due to concern about fallout generated by above-ground tests such as Castle Bravo, the two nations successfully negotiated the Limited Test Ban Treaty signed in 1963, which required that all tests be conducted underground.17 The concern also led to the nuclear nations except China to sign a moratorium banning testing in the atmosphere and in space to avoid increasing global radiation levels. The 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis also exposed the dangers of nuclear weapons when the Soviet placement of missiles in Cuba brought the United States and USSR extremely close to war. Both sides wanted to avoid the fate described in “The Guns of August,” in which Barbra Tuchman presented an analysis of the entangled military and political alliances that avalanched toward the armed clashes at the start of the First World War in August 1914. 18,19 Arms races fuel insecurity among all parties in a dynamic known as a security dilemma because many of the ways in which states try to increase their security have the unintended consequence of decreasing the security of others.20 Efforts to enhance security also threaten others who take their own measures, escalating a spiral of insecurity.

By the 1970s, Moscow’s strategic nuclear advances, and its strength in conventional (ground and air) forces, led to concerns in Washington that US capability to deter Soviet aggression was degrading.21 A Second Offset Strategy was the US response to the need to surpass the Soviet Union’s growing parity with US conventional forces. These forces numbered several million men, since every male between 18-35 years old served as a conscript. While the United States and its North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) partners knew they could never defeat a Soviet ground offensive, they could improve their odds by focusing on improving technologies such as Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS), missile defense, and precision munitions which could delay Soviet armies until NATO and US forces could establish a defensive perimeter and counterattack. This action deterred the Soviet Union by suggesting they might win a conventional war but, it would prove a pyrrhic victory for them by expending more soldiers and equipment than they could afford to lose. Faced with the prospect of a war ending in a stalemate or escalating into a nuclear conflict, Premier Gorbachev and President Reagan realized the value in reducing nuclear stockpiles. During the 1980s both leaders met on several occasions to discuss nuclear arms reduction and how to achieve it without suffering a loss of respect from their countrymen. Following the most recent series of talks resulting in the 2012 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty or (New START) signed in 2012, the United States realized the need to encourage Russia’s compliance, as well as future reduction of worldwide nuclear stockpiles.

The vision of former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, the 2014 Third Offset Strategy provides a new focus on incorporating commercial technological advances with military infrastructure. Secretary Hagel realized continued fiscal pressure will likely limit the US military’s ability to respond to long-term challenges by increasing the size of the force or outspending potential adversaries on current systems, so to overcome challenges to US military superiority, the United States must change the way the military innovates, operates, and does business.22 Similar to the way the US military sought to outspend the Russians on defense initiatives in the 1980s, the Third Offset Strategy intended to convince Russia that the United States possessed superior technologies to act as nuclear deterrents and they must invest to keep up. Just as convincing armies to switch from fighting with swords and shields to muskets required a paradigm change, so too will this next step in the evolution of warfare and what constitutes a weapon.

Since paradigm shifts take time, the United States must safeguard the nuclear stockpile (i.e., updating storage facilities) before pursuing alternative technologies. Deterrence must combine a strong com­mitment to maintaining a modern, safe, secure, reliable, and effective US nuclear deterrent with a continuing commitment to reducing the numbers of, and reliance on, nuclear weapons.23 To accomplish this endeavor, the US plans to modernize the nuclear enterprise to ensure the stockpile remains safe and well maintained. This requires modernizing nuclear weapons with updated safety features, building new nuclear storage facilities at US Air Force bases, ensuring delivery systems (aircraft, submarines, and missile silos) meet future requirements, and retired weapons complete demilitarization operations. Kingston Reif, Director for Disarmament and Threat Reduction Policy at the Arms Control Association states:

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) published a major report in October 2017 that estimates the nuclear weapons spending plans President Donald Trump inherited from his predecessor will cost taxpayers $1.2 trillion in inflation-adjusted dollars between fiscal years 2017 and 2046. This amounts to about 6 percent of all spending on national defense anticipated for that period, as of President Barack Obama’s final budget request to Congress in February 2016. When the effects of inflation are included, the 30-year cost would approach $1.7 trillion.24

While this cost may seem high compared with other defense spending, it includes total lifecycle costs for these programs (see fig. 4). Rather than focus on the ‘sticker shock’ of these programs, US leaders need to ask whether they will successfully deter adversaries today and in the future. In an August 2016 report by the Frame Works Institute, part of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, participants were asked their thoughts regarding nuclear weapons. Many individuals expressed the view that to keep peace and avoid disaster, no one can disarm, otherwise an enemy may perceive vulnerability and decide to strike.25

Figure 4. Estimated Costs for Nuclear Triad Modernization. Source: Table constructed by the author from information provided by Estimated Costs for Nuclear Triad Modernizations, US Navy, US Air Force, Center for Strategic and International Studies, NNSA, DOD Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation office.

Surprisingly, many lay individuals, advocates of nuclear arms control, and proponents of the nuclear triad share similar thoughts about deterrence. While groups such as the Arms Control Association, a nonpartisan membership organization, may disagree with the principle of employing nuclear weapons, they acknowledge the United States must defend itself. Former Secretary of State George P. Shultz explains this principle in the book, “The War That Must Never Be Fought: Dilemmas of Nuclear Deterrence.”

Deterrence would not vanish in such a world; it would merely change in character. Conventional US military forces would still have the capability to threaten risks and impose costs that would outweigh the benefits an adversary might hope to achieve from conventional aggression and would thereby deter the aggression in the first place. Some adjustments would be needed, to be sure. The United States would have to devote adequate resources to its conventional forces, and allies would likely have to contribute something more toward their own defense. But the safety of a world without nuclear arms compares favorably to the risks the United States and the world will run if nuclear weapons remain.26

Rather than focus their energy toward the elimination of all nuclear weapons, antinuclear advocates should consider exploring and suggesting strategies that mitigate the need for them. Additionally, the Department of Defense may benefit from new ideas these organizations bring to the discussion. While this study considers SCADA, GBIs, and SBIs as three forms of non-nuclear deterrence, researchers should stay alert for other new and emerging strategies as well. Unlike previous offset strategies, the United States cannot afford to increase the current mix of joint power projection capabilities.27 To remain competitive with near-peer adversaries, the United States could invest in new ideas that deter the use of nuclear weapons and lead to future arms reduction initiatives.

How Can SCADA Improvements Enhance the Nuclear Triad and Protect the United States?

To capitalize on new ideas involving nuclear deterrence, the United States should invest in military applications of SCADA systems. Advancements in computer technology and how they influence industrial control systems (ICS) and Distributive Denial of Service (DDOS) attacks allow the United States a unique opportunity to enhance asymmetric warfare capabilities and provide improvements to the Third Offset Strategy. SCADA’s physical environment could be a power plant, power-distribution network, water-treatment plant, manufacturing floor, petroleum refinery, or any other physical environment that requires control and data acquisition.28 The US Congress recognized SCADA’s important role during the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act. They emphasized that the United States should, to the greatest extent practicable, prioritize the defensibility and resiliency against cyberattacks and malicious cyberactivities to protect US interests. 29 While not as glamorous as traditional warfare, information warfare, like propaganda operations, influences everything from how the United States fights a battle to policy on fighting a war. ICS and SCADA systems provide real-time, two-way data flow between sensors, workstations, and other networked devices throughout a system.30 Because of the two-way data flow, an adversary can attack a weak point in a system very easily and compromise a network’s infrastructure with a minimal risk of discovery. Kerry L Sparks explains these vulnerabilities in her article, “Six tips for remote HMI/SCADA users to protect plant operations, drive cost savings”31 (see fig. 5).

Figure 5. Paths to the Control Network. Kerry L. Sparks, Eaton, “Six tips for remote HMI/SCADA users to protect plant operations, drive cost savings,” Plant Services.

If the United States identifies a vulnerability in Russia’s or another adversary’s computer network, then the initial effort could occur through a SCADA attack that cripples multiple systems rather than a traditional shooting war. Conversely, targeting an adversary’s SCADA systems may inadvertently launch a war neither side is prepared to fight. In this event, the opponent that maintains the better defensive and counteroffensive (i.e., strategic reserve) capabilities has a distinct advantage.

With greater emphasis placed on SCADA systems, this effort can further reduce the need for larger nuclear stockpiles. While nuclear weapons take approximately 30 minutes to reach a target, SCADA attacks can happen at the speed of the internet. While the prospect of countries retaining nuclear weapons will remain for the foreseeable future as a foreign policy tool, they may have a less-important role in warfare. For comparison, nations employed the medieval crossbow as a strategic weapon that could remove key leaders, as well as the common soldier from the battlefield. Like nuclear weapons, religious leaders wished to ban the crossbow because it proved so deadly in combat. Eventually, the crossbow gave rise to newer weapons such as the musket and possibly the same will happen with nuclear weapons. With the vast possible applications of SCADA technology, countries like the United States and Russia may attempt greater advocacy in these areas and significantly reduce the funds allocated to maintaining the nuclear triad. As Sun Tsu observed, “To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill.”32 While the weapons of war change, the strategy for winning them remains more relevant than ever in today’s ever-changing environment.

Two recent SCADA attacks are indicative of potential threats to nuclear deterrence. The 2013 security breach of the Target Corporation exposed personal identifying information (PII) of their customers spending habits to hackers who gained access to an unsecure heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system. This was analogous to installing a state of the art security system for a home while leaving the back door open. For example, by analyzing the spending history of someone with Top Secret clearance, a hacker may demand information in exchange for keeping quiet about their personal habits. The Stuxnet worm cyberattack that disabled Iran’s centrifuge also gained notoriety when an unsuspecting employee connected an infected universal series bus (USB) drive to an internal system. Both attacks moved slowly and surprised cybersecurity officers who failed to notice the attacks in time to react and mitigate the damage they caused. Both instances provide lessons-learned and opportunities for considering the Third Offset Strategy. Additionally, the United States may want to evaluate how nonkinetic aspects of SCADA can influence or interrupt Russian commanders so they become distracted and fixated on something other than the current conflict.

SCADA Attack on Target

The 2013 SCADA attack on the Target Corporation exposed how easily cyberactors can infiltrate an organization. In this instance, Target’s firewall protected the front-end of their business; however, this protection did not extend to the more vulnerable aspects such as their HVAC computer system. A third-party business operated and managed the HVAC system, which they perceived as a low risk. While true in the 1980s and 1990s, this perception changed as technology matured and interdependent operating systems such as smart appliances (refrigerators, toasters, televisions) coalesced to create the Internet of Things (IoT). This situation allowed hackers to access corporate information through a backdoor and grant them customer PII. Because Target assigns each customer a number, hackers gained information such as their location at any given moment, how someone shops in the store, and their spending habits. Wanting to take advantage of this information, hackers assumed the identity of these shoppers and purchased items with stolen PII. Target was alerted its systems might have been compromised by credit card processors who had noticed a surge in fraudulent transactions.33 If hackers timed these thefts during their victim’s normal shopping schedules and made smaller purchases, this breech could have gone undetected for a much longer time.

While damaging to a company like Target, this type of attack provides an important lesson to the US government regarding the security of computer networks connected to the systems. Most government and military installations rely on their local communities to provide power and communication capabilities but have no governance over who protects these companies from attack. While only costing Target $252M dollars or 2 percent of their sales for the year these attacks can erode the trust of consumers. 34 The United States should formulate a plan to ensure these systems the population relies on will not fail at a critical time.

The Stuxnet Worm

The case study of the 2010 SCADA attack on the Iran’s centrifuge facility at Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility offers a unique example of how a nation or nonstate actor can carry out an operation and deter a nuclear weapons development program. Prior to the attack, the United States viewed the enrichment as a growing concern to the stability of the Middle East. If Iran succeeded in enriching uranium, they could begin developing nuclear weapons and threaten their neighbors. Natanz is Iran's primary enrichment facility and houses both the commercial Fuel Enrichment Plant (FEP) and the Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant (PFEP).35 One of the essential determinants of a centrifuge’s performance is the constant speed of rotation.36 To get the necessary degree of enrichment, the enriched output of one set of centrifuges will be input to another set of centrifuges for further enrichment. Each set of centrifuges enriches the uranium more than the previous until the desired enrichment is achieved.37 If the speed of the centrifuges became off balance, like a washing machine, it could potentially destroy them and severely impact program progress by setting back their nuclear program several years.

Since the centrifuges at the Natanz nuclear facility operated on a specific type of Siemens software, the Stuxnet computer worm used in the attack only targeted a narrow range of functions. Much like the seasonal flu virus, the Stuxnet worm appeared to mutate slightly so when cybersecurity specialists mitigated one aspect of malicious content, it served as a catalyst to initiate the next phase of the attack. As the worm slowly worked its way into systems across the world and continued to cause problems, it forced Siemens to reevaluate how to protect its component from future cyberattack. Rather than risk further damage to the facility, Iran took it off-line and spent eight years repairing the damage. In the future, cyberattacks could compromise nuclear planning or delivery systems, interrupt critical communications, lead to false warnings of attack, or potentially even allow an adversary to take control of a nuclear weapon.38

SCADA as a Weapon

On the surface, SCADA applications for improving the Third Offset Strategy may appear to have nothing in common with deterring a nuclear strike. DDOS attacks present an emerging threat difficult to defend against. DDOS can be achieved by thwarting access to virtually anything: servers, devices, services, networks, applications, and even specific transactions within applications.39 If a DDOS impacts a nuclear command, control, and communication (NC3) system, it can cause potentially catastrophic effects in the event an adversary launches a first strike.

While SCADA and DDOS each provide a variety of military applications, there is a special role in non-nuclear deterrence for targeting of the adversary’s nonmilitary assets and activating nonmilitary forms of influence.40 During a recent seminar at USSTRATCOM, Dr. Robert E. Hamilton explained how Russia will routinely lie or present misleading information about a topic to damage the United States’s reputation.41 When the United States confronts Russia with evidence to the contrary, their reaction is nonplussed and they proceed on with their next false assertion. Because Russia conducted DDOS attacks in Estonia, the United States could expect similar attacks and could prepare ways to promote countermessaging rather than retaliate with nuclear weapons.

As with the attack on Target’s HVAC, if the United States gains access to computers systems within Russia, it could use the IoT devices that are connected to infiltrate multiple network platforms and remain hidden. 42 Once imbedded within Russia’s IoT network, the United States could employ a variety of non-nuclear methodologies to subtly influence Russia, such as adding pro-American subliminal messages to programing, fomenting distrust between ethnic Russians and Muslim Russians, and their ever-present distrust of China. According to Dr. Hamilton, individuals exposed to this messaging program would then encourage their like-minded friends to view future broadcasts and eventually create a seemingly spontaneous movement for the government to change positions on an issue. Since the advent of video-sharing websites like YOUTUBE, this type of attack seems more likely. As former KGB agent Yuri Bezmenov explained, “The most striking thing about ideological subversion is that it happens in the open as a legitimate process.”43

The US intelligence community concluded that Russia interfered in this way with an influence campaign in the 2016 election.44 Russia conducted a multi-tiered attacks against social media in an effort to gain private information from computer hard drives. Cyberactors accomplished this by identifying a target’s interests, sending a request to join the community of interest, and then befriending the target online and gaining access to their computer’s distinct internet protocol (IP) address. The cyberactors could then create bots on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms of social media to spread false information or true information that would incite social division. The true extent of this attack may take years to fully discover and protect against in the future.

These cyber and cyber-enabled incidents prompt, the question, ‘Is it legitimate for the United States to respond in kind with similar attacks?’ In addition to subtly exposing Russians to positive American influences by promoting Western products, the United States must decide whether to employ tactics that are not direct kinetic attacks or take the moral high ground.

The projection is that by 2025 the average person is going to have about 4,000 interactions a day with the IoT.45 Unlike computers and smart phones, many of these items, such as smart appliances, may not receive regular updates, which leave them vulnerable to hacking. If they are too complicated or expensive to implement, they will often be ignored unless some regulatory pressure exists to enforce manufacturers to update them.46 With so many items, it is easy to dismiss the odds of a hacker targeting a specific individual’s devices. Following President Obama’s inauguration, many news outlets discussed the encryption technology added so he could continue working on his smartphone. Future attacks may consist of state-sponsored hackers gaining control of an individual’s smart appliances such as televisions, refrigerators, ovens, and HVAC systems could theoretically start a fire in a target’s home and make it look like an accident involving faulty wiring. It is possible to imagine what might happen if a cyberactor gained control of a power production station or hydro-electric dam and demanded a ransom in exchange for not causing a mass casualty incident. Since similar events occurred during the Russia’s cyberattack against Estonia, the United States should be prepared. Attacks against hospital networks occur regularly and can potentially interfere with such things as electronic pumps that provide specific doses of medication to patients. During an actual war, an enemy may initiate hostilities by conducting SCADA attacks that overload commercial power grids or attack water-treatment plants in an effort to keep their target off balance and unable to fully retaliate. The Ukraine electric system cyberattacks occurring in December 2015 confirmed the potential for cyberattacks to inhibit and disrupt electric system operations.47

With this information, the military should evaluate how SCADA advancements can protect the United States. US Cyber Command addresses these potential threats daily and asserts that no target remains static; no offensive or defensive capability remains indefinitely effective; and no advantage is permanent.48 Given the threats presented by SCADA attacks, this reinforces the importance of making cybersecurity one of the Third Offset Strategy goals. By forcing Russia to devote more time and financial resources to managing SCADA systems, it may reduce funding spent on nuclear weapons. As asserted previously, it remains unlikely SCADA systems will remove the need for all nuclear weapons but the threat of a SCADA attack against nuclear launch systems may convince Russia to further reduce their stockpile.

How Will Future GBIs Deter an Adversary?

Deterring Russia’s use of GBIs/SBIs provides another opportunity for the Third Offset Strategy. Under the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM) (1972-2002), the United States and Russia agreed to suspend development of missile systems designed to shoot down incoming ICBMs. If a nation could shoot down incoming nuclear warheads, they could in theory launch a first strike and “win” a nuclear war. When President Bush withdrew from the treaty in 2002, this allowed the United States to develop a new ABM. Viewed by some in the antinuclear community as adding to world tensions, GBIs and SBIs raise serious questions regarding whether they promote peace or encourage war. Senior leaders should consider how effective a national missile defense should be to provide high-confidence protection against small accidental or unauthorized attacks, or how effective a theater missile defense must be to defend US allies from theater ballistic missiles armed with weapons of mass destruction?49 While still in their infancy, the concept was considered for more than 30 years during the Cold War. As one of the contributing factors to ending the Cold War, this technology may prove itself again as a method for transitioning from war to peace.

The early 1980s included a renewal of tensions between the United States and Soviet Union, as each side conducted proxy wars. Motivated by their temporarily successful interventions in Afghanistan and Central America, the Soviets believed they could defeat NATO forces on a nuclear battlefield. This caused President Ronald Reagan to evaluate how the United States could revise the decades-old MAD doctrine to stay relevant. In 1983, President Reagan addressed the American public and the world about the SDI Program. During his speech, President Reagan described a comprehensive, layered ballistic missile-defense program designed to protect the United States and its allies from a threat that had concerned it for more than 20 years.50 The SDI concept purported the United States could launch and destroy incoming Soviet missiles (see fig. 6).

Figure 6. Global Deterrence Initiative

Reagan’s SDI was a demonstrably moral, rational, and responsible research program to determine the technical improvements and feasibility required to assure a far more moral and stable alternative deterrence choice than one based on abandoning the American people and the world to a MAD “balance of terror.”51 Despite President Reagan’s assertion SDI could stop incoming warheads, achieving a deliverable product proved challenging. US researchers knew this technology would take several years to test and deploy, let alone bring on line. Likewise, Soviet specialists who qualified SDI plans as technologically unfeasible, explained the US initiative as an intentional distraction to impose an arms race on the Soviet Union and thus weaken it strategically toward future war.52 Despite the warnings provided by experts to the contrary, Premier Andropov believed the American SDI posed a credible threat to the Soviet Union and demanded Soviet scientists develop their own SDI system. This desire to close the perceived gap with the United States added to the already unsupportable Soviet defense budget (see fig. 7).

Figure 7. Comparison of US and USSR Military Spending. Max Roser and Mohamed Nagdy, “Military Spending,” Our World in Data. University of Oxford.

Soviet determination to create their own SDI program while attempting to keep pace with the United States by building new warships, first generation stealth airplanes, and advanced tanks contributed to how quickly the Soviets reached a point where they overextended themselves economically. While welcomed in the West, this sudden event forced the military to reevaluate the necessity of programs in development and whether they still required funding or could be eliminated from future budgets. Interestingly, US defense spending nearly doubled from $379B in 1992 to $700B in 2018.53

Are Hypersonic Weapons the Way of the Future?

After every war, the United States reduces programs perceived to be unnecessary, even if the programs proved to be highly successful. Following the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991, the United States believed this would lead to lasting peace in the world and it no longer required an SDI program. With a renewed focus on reducing nuclear arms between the United States and the newly formed Russia, cutting funding to SDI seemed like a good idea. In 1999 the US Congress recognized the need for dedicated funding for an effective National Missile Defense system capable of defending the territory of the United States against limited ballistic missile attack (whether accidental, unauthorized, or deliberate).54

In addition to ICBMs, the United States also needs to address the threat of air-launched cruise missiles. They are designed to fly low to the ground and evade most radar systems until they destroy their target. As part of the 2019 Missile Defense Review, The Pentagon is planning to create a missile shield to protect the United States from low-flying Russian and Chinese cruise missiles using a mix of interceptors, fighter jets, satellites and radars.55 Much like the military spending initiatives under President Reagan, this revised missile shield may deter not only Russia but other near-peer nuclear adversaries such as China. Consequently, protecting against accidental, unauthorized, and inadvertent ballistic missile attacks is a problematic rationale for a limited US national missile defense because it is complex to determine how much benefit to expect from different levels of defense, making policy trade-offs virtually impossible.56 Similar to problems encountered on a World War I battlefield, a commander must decide which sections of trench require in-depth defenses as opposed to unreinforced positions. To reply to Congressional concerns, in early 2000’s, the Missile Defense Agency, in conjunction with the military, constructed a mixture of defensive capabilities. Forty GBIs are deployed at Ft. Greely, Alaska, and four at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.57 Additionally, the Army developed and deployed Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) batteries as a mobile countermeasure. The United States possesses seven THAAD batteries, including one in Guam and one in the Republic of Korea.58 These systems operate similarly to existing multi-stage ICBMs and identify warheads while still in flight. Once complete, these systems will force nuclear adversaries to reevaluate their strategies because the United States will gain the ability to intercept ICBMs and decide whether or not to retaliate.

Currently, the US Hypersonic Weapons (HSW) program, consisting of glide vehicles or cruise missiles that exceed five times the speed of sound per second, may provide new capabilities that deter Russia and other nations from utilizing nuclear weapons. Hypersonic cruise missiles are similar to existing cruise missiles that sustain themselves by aerodynamic lift, like an airplane, and are powered throughout the entire flight.59 Maneuverable reentry vehicles are launched like ballistic missiles, but where a ballistic missile arcs high above the atmosphere, maneuverable reentry vehicles are put on a trajectory that allows them to reenter the atmosphere quickly before gliding un-powered, like a hang glider.60

Unlike existing BMDS which use explosives to destroy an incoming warhead, HSWs rely entirely on achieving kinetic impacts. As Richard H. Speier from the RAND Corporation explained, “Hypersonic missiles travel at least at the speed of one mile per second or up to five times the speed of sound. They are able to evade and conceal their precise targets from defenses until just seconds before impact. This leaves targeted states with almost no time to respond.”61 If the United States detects an ICBM launch from Russia, it could, in theory, employ an HSW to target and destroy it while still in the initial launch phase. This could remove the threat from a missile but, may cause unforeseen problems in the future. The pursuit of this emerging technology is creating warnings that it could lead to new escalation dangers in a nuclear conflict, and that interested countries are not sufficiently considering the potential for a dangerous arms race.62 ICBMs currently take approximately 30 minutes to reach their target. HSWs on the other hand, greatly reduce reaction time if a country detects a missile launch. During the Cold War, several instances occurred where missile detection equipment malfunctioned and provided operators with false positives. One such event occurred when Soviet satellites reported incoming American ICBMs and the officer on duty at the reporting station, Lt. Col. Stanislav Petrov, had to decide whether to trust his equipment or his feelings. Going partly on gut instinct and believing the United States was unlikely to fire only five missiles, he told his commanders that it was a false alarm before he knew that to be true. Later investigations revealed that reflections of the sun off cloud tops had fooled the satellite into thinking it was detecting missile launches.63 Thankfully, none of these events culminated in retaliatory strikes. If similar scenarios happened with HSWs, commanders may not possess the necessary time to evaluate between an attack and a rocket carrying a satellite payload. To prevent similar incidents from happening again, nuclear nations announce when they plan to conduct missile tests so peaceful tests are not misinterpreted.

Today, the GBI system appears to offer the best solution for mitigating Russia’s nuclear ambitions. While the Russians may publicly condemn the construction of GBI sites, if the roles were reversed, they would want a similar system to protect the motherland. This may not encourage the Russians to pause on their own GBI development program, but allows them an additional avenue to negotiate with the United States. The United States could initiate separate dialogues with China and Russia on stability and escalation concerns and on developing confidence-building measures to reduce the potential for misunderstandings.64 Since the Russian mindset views compromise in negotiation as a sign of weakness, it is important for the United States to emphasize the ability to follow through with an attack by HSWs if the Russians threaten a nuclear strike. Pursuing such solutions in an integrated manner could provide policy developers direction, as well as offer the diplomatic community an informed base for integration into international regimes for arms control and deterrence.65 While HSWs might cause more proliferation of nuclear weapons than deterrence, it could provide the best course of action for achieving a new and lasting arms control treaty by mandating annual reductions of nuclear inventories. As the Russians and Chinese develop their own HSWs, the United States may need to explore alternatives to ground-based systems. The next chapter explores whether or not SBIs yield more potential deterrence options in the long run.

Will SBIs Deter an Adversary?

Unlike GBIs which provide a current example of the next generation of warfare, the true potential of how SBIs might change the considerations of nuclear deterrence may take years to mature. Presently, the United States has limited ability to protect its space assets or to deny the actions of others in space, which has made “space superiority” only a concept and not an operational reality.66 Unlike their terrestrial counterparts, SBIs cause consternation because they weaponize space and could violate the intent of the Outer Space Treaty of 1967. The substance of the arms control provisions is in Article IV. This article restricts activities in two ways:

First, it contains an undertaking not to place in orbit around the Earth, install on the moon or any other celestial body, or otherwise station in outer space, nuclear or any other weapons of mass destruction.

Second, it limits the use of the moon and other celestial bodies exclusively to peaceful purposes and expressly prohibits their use for establishing military bases, installation, or fortifications; testing weapons of any kind; or conducting military maneuvers.

After the Treaty entered into force, the United States and the Soviet Union collaborated in jointly planned and manned space enterprises.67

Written at a time when tensions between the United States and Soviet Union were critical, the drafters of the treaty failed to envision when several thousand satellites orbiting the Earth might cause potential complications for daily operations. Without satellites, many of the modern amenities people take for granted would not exist. As Dale Hayden, expertise, states:

Space asset usage has become a commonplace occurrence for the average American over the past 50 years. An example is our blind acceptance of the technology of television. When we turn on the TV, we simply expect the picture and sound to be there; no one speaks with awe about how the video and audio waves appear. Many of us will start our day by driving to work in an auto with a graphic display depicting our present location and directing us across town to a predetermined destination. We can gas up using a credit card and then remove money from our account using an automated bank teller machine in a different bank in another part of the country. We will think nothing about the technological wizardry, but these transactions—location, directions, and link to credit card and banking accounts—are all made possible by instantaneous access to multiple satellite constellations, something we all take for granted. 68,69

With more than 21,000 objects in orbit around the Earth, control stations may experience difficulty in determining if an adversary satellite exhibits hostile intent or if it is off-course before an attack takes place.

The exploitation of space provides a missile-defense posture that is more effective, resilient and adaptable to known and unanticipated threats.70 Less defined however, is what constitutes an unanticipated attack in space. During a speech a November 2018 speech at Harvard, Gen. Hyten discussed what the militarization of space meant to him as the USSTRATCOM Commander. From his perspective, “space is already weaponized” since satellites can crash into each other. 71 He used the analogy, “a vehicle by itself is harmless but, in the wrong hands can be turned into a weapon that kills people.”72 Using these criteria, SBIs could seem more palatable as a more appropriate asset to the Third Offset Strategy.

Reviewing the original SDI multitier defense plan, SBIs could be integral in deterring a potential attack from Russia. It could defend against missile attacks in each phase of a ballistic missile’s flight, particularly in the boost phase when a ballistic missile is most vulnerable and has not released its warheads and decoys, enabling an alternative to retaliation-in-kind nuclear responses.73 The original version of SDI program from the 1980s, proved too expensive at $1 trillion or $2.23 trillion in 2019 dollars.74 The cost of the current program is $200 billion to allow improved launch capabilities and make the establishment of the SBI system more palatable to Congress.75 Just because the technology exists at this time, does not mean the United States should proceed without carefully evaluating certain factors.

Rather than focus on a unilateral mission of intercepting missiles, the role of the SBI should remain versatile to address emerging threats, in addition to those existing today. This situation requires forecasting and evaluating what threats may occur during the lifecycle of the system and engineering appropriate capabilities to address those missions. Such additional missions include early warning, space domain awareness, antisatellite detection and interdiction, detecting nuclear-test detonations, tactical intelligence, monitoring treaty compliance, and tracking the activities of potential proliferators.76 Space-based sensors, for example, can monitor, detect and track missile launches from locations almost anywhere on the globe; they enjoy a measure of flexibility of movement that is unimpeded by the constraints that geographic limitations impose on terrestrial sensors, and can provide ‘birth to death’ tracking that is extremely advantageous.77 In January 2019, the DOD published the latest version of the Missile Defense Review, which outlined the long-term plan for the SBI. If implemented, the SBI program could manage additional duties as required allowing it to remain relevant for several decades and minimize long-term costs.

Can the Military Partner with Commercial Technology to Deter Program Costs?

One of the contributing factors that kept the United States from launching an SBI system was the cost of launching multiple satellites into orbit. Since Congress passed the funding to develop SBI platforms, it seems reasonable for the DOD to partner with commercial companies. Instead of paying for trial research prior to the first test launch like the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) did in the 1950s, the DOD can contract with existing and emerging technologies, while minimizing risk. As directed by Congress, the DOD will identify the most promising technologies, and estimated schedule, cost, and personnel requirements for a possible space-based defensive layer that achieves an early operational capability for boost-phase defense.78 In an effort to accelerate the process, Congress directed DOD to experiment and prototype new technologies using nontraditional contracting methods with less bureaucratic detail, but the bulk of military procurements must follow an arcane review process.79 Rather than select the best product meeting their requirements, the DOD had to select three vendors providing similar products and present their findings to a review board who would approve their product selection or select a lesser grade product if it cost the government less. Since cutting-edge technologies seldom have three vendors to select from, this caused numerous work flow stoppages to otherwise promising programs. During the last 15 years, several private companies financed their own plans to build rockets and put satellites into space. This would allow NASA to focus on the human space flight mission rather than the additional mission of launching satellites. By collaborating with private companies like SpaceX or Blue Origin, the DOD can meet the intent of Congress, while enhancing public support. For example, a launch by SpaceX only costs NASA $89,000 per kilogram of cargo, whereas it would have been about $272,000 per kilogram if NASA developed its own cargo system. 80 At the Air Force Association’s 2018 Air, Space, and Cyber Conference, Gwynne Shotwell, Chief Operating Officer at SpaceX, stated the company, “would launch a weapon to defend the US” By partnering with commercial companies to launch SBIs, it encourages healthy competition and constant improvements to the burgeoning space economy.81

Will SBIs Make a Difference?

Despite these technological advancements, many within the arms control community worry SBIs may not provide a viable defense against Russia or another near-peer adversary. A less volatile, less expensive, and potentially more successful strategy to deter hostile actions and obtain space superiority would be to use the entire spectrum of diplomatic, information, military, and economic capabilities to develop a defense-in-depth construct for US space operations.82 Thomas Roberts, program coordinator and research assistant for the Aerospace Security Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said such a system would be seen as overt weaponization of space.83 In the event of a large-scale Russian attack against the United States, hundreds of ICBMs would launch and overload an SBI as it attempted to assign interceptors to each one. Roberts argued having multiple interceptors in position to defend against multiple missiles would mean thousands of interceptors in orbit and the cost of such a system is estimated at $67 billion to $109 billion.84,85

Just because the United States can launch an SBI program does not mean it should. Being the first to weaponize space could confer no new capability or advantage to the United States, but rather invite adversaries to develop their own space weapons.86 Instead of unintentionally raising tensions, the United States should consider which actions will force Russia and other nations to reconsider options and prevent a misunderstanding. A benign defense system to the United States might appear highly aggressive to Russia leading to an unintentional escalation. As a former USSTRATCOM Commander and astronaut, General Kevin Chilton possesses a unique perspective on weapons in space and emphasized that the US military can function without access to assets in space: “Those who might contemplate such attacks in a future conflict need to understand three things: their efforts to deny us access to our military space assets will likely fail, our military forces are ready and able to fight effectively and decisively without such access if necessary, and we possess the means and the will to ensure that they would pay a price incommensurate with any benefit they seek to attain through such attacks.87 In this instance, the United States may achieve a strategic victory in the space domain without actually fielding a system, much like the SDI experience. Demonstrating the intent to implement space deterrence might prove advantageous in the long run and further contribute to the Third Offset.

If these efforts are successful, the US could repurpose the technology required to field an SBI system in the event an asteroid or other object in space came too close to Earth. For example, a meteorite exploded over the Russian city of Chelyabinsk in 2013 causing hundreds of injuries. While impossible to know if an SBI system could have stopped it, such a system may protect Earth from future calamities. A study by Aerospace Corp. said that small asteroids (15-30m in diameter) could be disrupted with a kinetic impactor that would shatter them at an altitude high enough (100-2,700km) that no individual fragment could penetrate low enough to create a ground-burst. Because of the extremely high closure velocities, a kill vehicle as small as 100kg packs the sufficient “minimum energy needed for disruption” for a 20m asteroid.88 The United States and Russia should remember the words of President Reagan’s 1987 UN speech when he reflected, “perhaps we need some outside, universal threat to make us recognize this common bond” between our nations.89 Instead of weaponizing space, the United States and Russia should work together to find a solution with which each feels comfortable. At a time when the United States and Russia both seek to establish a permanent presence in outer space, it seems inappropriate to continue policies that strain relations unnecessarily.

Comparison of Options

This study reviewed three potential options for addressing the Third Offset Theory and how the United States could proceed with strategic deterrence in the twenty-first century (see fig. 7). Comparison of Options for the Third Offset Strategy). While this discussion explored defending against SCADA, relying on GBI’s, and installing SBI’s, they are not the only options to achieve a reduction in the nuclear stockpiles. As technology advances, it promises to provide the United States with new opportunities to maximize interrelationships with Russia. Rather than consider one option over another, a combination of the three may suggest the best long-term results for an ever-changing world.

As people entrust computers to manage more information, the risk for SCADA-related attacks increases. Recent multiple security breaches resulting in the release of PII impacting businesses, service providers, and consumers alike. This situation requires companies to spend more time and resources updating computer systems to protect against SCADA attacks. These improvements will be costly, but adding layers of security to these systems will keep adversaries from causing greater harm to commercial and military networks. Much like traditional military contingency plans, the DOD should develop a family of plans which can respond to specific SCADA attacks once they identify the attacker. Protecting these networks from SCADA attacks complicates Russia’s chances to successfully impact US infrastructure.

The GBI program also furnishes a significant nuclear deterrent to Russia and forces their leadership to consider the consequences. With one GBI location established at Ft. Greely, Alaska and more sites under consideration for construction, this situation forces Russia to evaluate whether an attack on the United States could succeed. It places the Russians in the precarious position of potentially expending weapons without hitting any targets and worrying about a US response. If the Russians view an attack against the United States as untenable, this might encourage them to negotiate a new treaty, further curtail their existing weapons stockpile, and limit the number of the next generation of nuclear weapons currently in production. Due to Russia’s historic mistrust of the West, the hope they could become an ally one day remains unlikely. As Dr. Robert E. Hamilton’s, suggests, “the best we can hope for is that Russia will become indifferent to the US and the West.”90 This would allow for improved relations between both nations and open the possibility for new partnerships.

Unlike SCADA or GBIs, SBIs remain a work-in-progress for the United States. While the system promises to add an extra layer of deterrence, it may unnecessarily complicate the relationship between the United States and Russia, as well as other nations using outer space. By weaponizing space, this may start a new US and Russia arms race that threatens a new domain. Even if the United States chooses not to launch an SBI network, it can still be available as a bargaining option in future negotiations. It allows the United States to negotiate from a stronger position and demonstrate their willingness to give something up in exchange for Russia and other nuclear powers acting in good faith and reducing their stockpiles.

Each option creates a certain amount of deterrence contributing to the Third Offset strategy. However, when utilized together, they optimize the likelihood of success and may lead to a lasting peace. As much as the United States would prefer finding a quick resolution to the issue of nuclear deterrence, moving forward too quickly may result in details getting overlooked. By evaluating requirements carefully, the United States and Russia can avoid the need to revisit future controversial issues regarding deterrence.

Recommendations/Final Thoughts

This study compared several options for dealing with nuclear deterrence. Just as nuclear material can make weapons or create power, they also provide peaceful applications such as power. By applying SCADA, GBIs, and SBIs to the Third Offset Strategy, the US opportunities improve greatly for reducing the risk of foreign attack while mitigating the threat of nuclear. Additionally, once nuclear deterrence reduces the threat to a manageable level (i.e., each nuclear nation reduces their stockpiles to 50 weapons or less), these options also provide greater opportunity for peaceful applications. For example, a police officer always keeps their side arm with them at all times during their career. Most officers will never fire a shot in anger as they deter criminals from escalating a situation. Nuclear powers also feel a need to retain their weapons that provide a sense of safety. Following the completion of the officer’s career, it takes time for them to adjust to the absence of their side arm without feeling more vulnerable. The same axiom holds true for deterring nuclear weapons. In time, it may provide enough security for a nation to know the world is safer than the way it was. While this will not keep wars from occurring in the world, it provides more peace of mind to know one misstep will not lead to the end of life on Earth. While this seems unrealistic today with the INF treaty collapse, leaders such as Eisenhower and Khrushchev would have found it hard to believe the Cold War would end without either side initiating nuclear war.


Determining the best methodology for achieving a feasible strategic deterrence solution will continue to challenge leaders in the United States and Russia. As of February 2019, the US withdrawal from the INF Treaty concerned many deterrence advocates. With all options acknowledged, this event may provide an opportunity for nuclear nations to agree to terms addressing modern issues. Regardless of whether the United States decides on SCADA, GBIs, SBIs, or a mixture of the three, one thing remains certain; these decisions are complex, involve sacrifice, are affected by great uncertainties, concern matters in which much is unknown and much else may be impacted by secrecy and, above all, they entail a new image of ourselves in a world of persistent danger.91 By ignoring these dangers, the United States does so at its own peril.

Patrick S. Warren

Mr. Patrick Warren works at United States Strategic Command as a logistics management specialist and recently graduated from Air Command Staff College. He is a retired Army officer and completed his undergraduate studies at the University of Georgia.




1 “Soviet Atomic Program - 1946,” Atomic Heritage Foundation, 5 June 2014,

2 William Burr, “U.S. Intelligence and the Detection of the First Soviet Nuclear Test, September 1949,” National Security Archive, 22 September 2009,

3 Dwight Eisenhower, “Atoms for Peace Speech” (speech, 470th Plenary Meeting of the United Nations General Assembly, New York, 8 December 1953),

4 Ibid.

5 “Tsar Bomba,” Atomic Heritage Foundation, 8 August 2014,

6 Ibid.; and “Nuclear Close Calls: The Cuban Missile Crisis,” Atomic Heritage Foundation, 15 June 2018,

7 Armen Rosen, “A Newly Declassified CIA Paper Details a Tense Subplot in the Cold War Arms Race.”

8 George P. Shultz, Blueprint for America (Stanford, CA: Hoover Institution Press, 2016), 144.

9 “What Is SCADA?,” Inductive Automation, 12 September 2018,

10 Shultz, Blueprint for America, 149.

11 John W. Creswell, Educational Research: Planning, Conducting, and Evaluating Quantitative and Qualitative Research (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson, 2007), 21.

12 Hans M. Kristensen and Matt Korda, “Status of World Nuclear Forces,” Federation of American Scientists, May 2019,

13 Gen John Hyten, Stratcom Commander Describes Strategic Deterrence, video, 2018,

14 Joseph Felter, “It’s Not Just the Technology: Beyond Offset Strategies,” Strategika 39 (15 March 2017),

15 Robert Martinage, “Toward a New Offset Strategy: Exploiting U.S. Long-Term Advantages to Restore U.S. Global Power Projection Capability,” Strategy & Policy report (Washington, DC: Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, 27 October 2014), 3,

16 Ariana Rowberry, “Castle Bravo: The Largest U.S. Nuclear Explosion,” Up Front (blog), 27 February 2014,

17 Ibid.

18 Barbara Tuchman, The Guns of August (New York: Penguin, 2014).

19 Charles D. Ferguson, “President’s Message: The Nuclear Guns of August,” Federation of American Scientists, 21 August 2014,

20 Robert Jervis, “Arms Control, Stability, and Causes of War,” Political Science Quarterly 108, no. 2 (Summer 1993), 245,

21 Felter, “It’s Not Just the Technology.”

22 Chuck Hagel, “Reagan National Defense Forum Keynote, Secretary of Defense Speech” (speech, National Defense Forum, Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, Simi Valley, CA, 15 November 2014),

23 Robert Einhorn and Steven Pifer, “Meeting U.S. Deterrence Requirements: Toward a Sustainable National Consensus” (report, Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, September 2017), 33,

24 Kingston Reif, “U.S. Nuclear Modernization Programs,” fact sheet, Arms Control Association, August 2018,

25 Marissa Fond et al., “An Unthinkable Problem from a Bygone Era: How to Make Nuclear Risk and Disarmament a Salient Social Issue” (report, Washington, DC: FrameWorks Institute, August 2016), 19,

26 George P. Shultz and James E. Goodby, The War That Must Never Be Fought: Dilemmas of Nuclear Deterrence (Stanford, CA: Hoover Institution Press, 2015), 83.

27 Martinage, “Toward a New Offset Strategy,” 16.

28 Sidney C. Smith, “A Survey of Research in Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA),” 2014, 1,

29 Mac Thornberry, “Text - H.R.5515 - 115th Congress (2017-2018): John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019,” 13 August 2018, Section 1636. (c),

30 Scott A. Weed, US Policy Response to Cyber Attack on SCADA Systems Supporting Critical National Infrastructure, Perspectives on Cyber Power, no. 7 (Maxwell AFB, AL: Air University Press, 2017), 1,

31 Kerry L. Sparks, “Six Tips for Remote HMI/SCADA Users to Protect Plant Operations, Drive Cost Savings,” Plant Services, 4 June 2015,

32 Sun Tsu, “The Art of War,” Chapter III: Planning Offensives. 3. 177.

33 Jim Finkle and Dhanya Skariachan, “Target Cyber Breach Hits 40 Million Payment Cards at Holiday Peak,” Reuters, 18 December 2013, sec. Technology News,

34 Robert Hackett, “How Much Do Data Breaches Cost Big Companies? Shockingly Little,” Fortune, 27 March 2015,

35 David Albright, Jacqueline Shire, and Paul Brannan, “IAEA Iran Report: Enrichment at Natanz Improving; Entire LEU Tank Moved to PFEP; No Progress on Weaponization,” ISIS Report (Washington, DC: Institute for Science and International Security, 18 February 2010),

36 Ivan Oelrich and Ivanka Barzaska, “How a Centrifuge Works,” Federation of American Scientists, 2013,

37 Ibid.

38 Page Stoutland, “Growing Threat: Cyber and Nuclear Weapons Systems,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 18 October 2017,

39 George V. Hulme, “DDoS Explained: How Distributed Denial of Service Attacks Are Evolving,” CSO Online, 13 February 2020,

40 Dmitry Adamsky, “Cross-Domain Coercion: The Current Russian Art of Strategy,” Preparation Papers (Institut Français des Relations InternationalesSecurity Studies Center, 2015), 33,

41 Robert E. Hamilton and Parker L. Frawley, “US and RUSSIA: Deterrence in the Era of Hybrid Warfare and the Strategic Problems Facing Europe,” (presentation, USSTRATCOM, 7 February 2019).

42 Beau Woods, in “Hacking and the Internet of Things,” Council on Foreign Relations, 17 January 2019,

43 Paul Ratner, “34 Years Ago, a KGB Defector Chillingly Predicted Modern America,” Big Think, 18 July 2018,

44 “Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections,” Intelligence Committee Assessment (Washington, DC: Office of the Director of National Intelligence, January 6, 2017), ii,

45 Ibid.

46 Smith, “A Survey of Research,” 6.

47 Colleen Glenn, Dane Sterbentz, and Aaron Wright, “Cyber Threat and Vulnerability Analysis of the U.S. Electric Sector” (Idaho Falls, ID: Idaho National Laboratory, December 20, 2016), 6,

48 US Cyber Command, “Achieve and Maintain Cyberspace Superiority: Command Vision for US Cyber Command” (Fort Meade, MD: US Cyber Command, 14 June 2018), 4,

49 Dean Wilkening, “How Much Ballistic Missile Defense Is Enough?” (working paper, Stanford, CA, Center for International Security and Cooperation, 1998), 2,

50 Edwin Feulner, “The Strategic Defense Initiative at 34,” Heritage Foundation, 22 March 2017,

51 Sven F. Kraemer, Inside the Cold War From Marx to Reagan: An Unprecedented Guide to the Roots, History, Strategies, and Key Documents of the Cold War (Lanham, MD: UPA, 2015), 297.

52 Dmitry Adamsky, “The 1983 Nuclear Crisis – Lessons for Deterrence Theory and Practice,” Journal of Strategic Studies 36, no. 1 (1 February 2013): 4–41,

53 National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018.

54 National Missile Defense Act of 1999, Section 2.

55 Marcus Weisgerber, “Missile Defense Review Calls for Protecting US From Cruise Missiles,” Defense One, 17 January 2019,

56 Wilkening, “How Much Ballistic Missile Defense,” 7.

57 2019 Missile Defense Review, X. 13.

58 Ibid.

59 James M. Acton, “Hypersonic Weapons Explainer,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, April 2, 2018,

60 Ibid.

61 Richard H. Speier, “Hypersonic Missiles: A New Proliferation Challenge,” RAND Blog (blog), 29 March 2018,

62 Kingston Reif, “Hypersonic Advances Spark Concern | Arms Control Association,” Arms Control Today, January/February 2018,

63 Max Tegmark, “A Posthumous Honor for the Man Who Saved the World,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (blog), 26 September 2018,

64 Ibid.

65 Mark J. Lewis, “Global Strike Hypersonic Weapons,” AIP Conference Proceedings 1898, no. 1 (November 15, 2017), 6,

66 Dale Hayden, “Space Strategic Deterrence: Achieving Space Superiority” in Thinking about Deterrence: Enduring Questions in a Time of Rising Powers, Rogue Regimes, and Terrorism, ed. Adam Lowther (Maxwell AFB, AL, 2013), 217,

67 Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, Including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies. Signed at Washington, London, Moscow, January 27, 1967. Entered into force October 10, 1967.

68 Hayden, “Space Strategic Deterrence,” 219

69 Ibid.

70 Missile Defense Review, IX. 14.

71 General John Hyten, Interview.

72 Missile Defense Review, XII.

73 Henry F. Cooper et al., “Missile Defense: Challenges and Opportunities for the Trump Administration” (working paper, Washington, DC, Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis, 2016), 13,

74 Juliana Geran, “Strategic Defense: How Much Will It Really Cost?,” Heritage Foundation, October 1987,

75 Kingston Reif, “Current U.S. Missile Defense Programs at a Glance,” fact sheet, Arms Control Association, August 2019,

76 Cooper et al., “Missile Defense,” 26.

77 Missile Defense Review, IX, 16.

78 Ibid. XIV.

79 Sandra Erwin, “Industry Heartened By DoD Space Talk, But Actions Speak Louder,” Space News, 21 January 2019, 28,

80 Dom Galeon, “The NASA-SpaceX Partnership Saved NASA Hundreds of Millions,” Futurism, 15 November 2017,

81 Gwynee Shotwell, interview with author, Air Force Association Air, Space, and Cyber Conference.

82 Hayden, “Space Strategic Deterrence,” 239.

83 Sandra Erwin, “New Report Slams Idea of a Missile Defense Shield in Space,” Space News, 21 December 2017,

84 Ibid.

85 Ibid.

86 Ryan Fedasiuk and Kingston Reif, “The Perils of Space-Based Missile Defense Interception,” Arms Control Now, 20 March 2018,

87 Gen Kevin Chilton and Greg Weaver, “Waging Deterrence in the Twenty-First Century,” Strategic Studies Quarterly 3, no. 1 (Spring 2009), 38,

88 Peter Garretson, “Now We Can Start to Defend Planet Earth,” Over the Horizon, 27 July 2018,

89 Pres. Ronald Reagan, “Address to the 42d Session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York” (speech, 42nd Session of the UN General Assembly, United Nations, New York, 21 September 1987),

90 Hamilton and Frawley, “US and RUSSIA.”

91 Albert Wohlstetter, The Delicate Balance of Terror (Santa Monica, CA, 1958), 17,

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