Chatham House: Nuclear weapons are vulnerable to cyber attacks

The trigger on a Royal Navy Trident-armed armed submarine
Danny Lawson

The Pentagon-led review proposes studying the possibility of a "rapid development of a modern SLCM" and the modification of an unspecified number of existing submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM) warheads to provide a "low-yield" option. Furthermore, if new designs are pursued, nuclear testing is more likely.

Wolfsthal has reviewed the NPR's first and final drafts. He said that to make that credible, the United States needed to develop two new types of nuclear warheads.

The new review also supports the acquisition of a nuclear air-launched cruise missile known as Long Range StandOff (LRSO), first approved under Obama, despite resistance from Democrat senators.

Cyber interference could also destroy industrial control systems within delivery platforms, such as submarines, causing them to malfunction, while clandestine attacks could be conducted on targeting information or operational commands, which may not be discovered until the point of launch. The Obama administration sought to phase out a similar cruise missile in a nuclear review it released in 2010, but defense officials now argue that it is necessary.

"And there is pretty good, moderate but strong language that makes clear that any attempt by Russian Federation or North Korea to use nuclear weapons would result in a massive outcome for them and I think that is actually moderate, centrist and probably very much needed".

"All of this comes on top of an existing plan to rebuild the entire USA nuclear arsenal at a cost of more than $1.2 trillion over the next 30 years". "Donald Trump is the last person who should possess the nuclear codes and the power to start a nuclear conflagration".

"Our discussion has been robust and several draft have been written", the statement said.

The plan, not yet approved by President Donald Trump, is meant to make nuclear conflict less likely.

The Pentagon is expected to release the nuclear review after Trump's State of the Union on Address on January 30, though it is not clear if the timeline has been altered by the draft's leakage.

Michaela Dodge, a defense analyst for the conservative Heritage Foundation, declined to comment on the document, citing its unauthorized leakage.

This could "infect digital components of a system at any time", which the think-tank said could lead to countries launching nuclear weapons by accident. "Make no mistake, we are in an arms race still today".

"Trump's inflammatory rhetoric has put the United States on a collision course with North Korea", they wrote.

In addition to Russia's nuclear capabilities, the draft also mentions China, North Korea and Iran as the main challenges for Washington.

Last September, Rob Soofer, the deputy assistant defense secretary for nuclear and missile defense policy, outlined an even broader range of triggers for a U.S. nuclear attack, stating that the new review was considering how Washington could use nuclear weapons to "deter new non-nuclear attacks that could have strategic effects: catastrophic mass casualties, cyberattacks against USA infrastructure, chemical or biological attacks, or attacks against U.S. critical space capabilities".

The draft NPR is more hawkish than the postures adopted by the Obama or Bush administrations. Some of them were considered and pursued.

They add: "The president has had ample opportunity to educate and humble himself to the grave responsibilities of his office".