Beyond arms -- the lag in command-and-control

What good will America's big military buildup be if it does not have a command-and-control system to match? Strong doubts about the security and effectiveness of the present system have recently been raised both privately and officially. As Defense Secretary Weinberger offers a controversial strategic package to President Reagan this week, it is encouraging to hear that, for the first time, the improvement of command-and-control will be given as much emphasis as weaponry.

The debate over Mr. Weinberger's proposals on the MX and other equipment will extend to the whole issue of how his reported goal of US nuclear superiority would fit with efforts for arms control based on parity with the Soviet Union. But there should be no question about ensuring that, whatever the shape of America's nuclear arsenal, it can be commanded and controlled with full reliability from the commander in chief on down.

Thus the predicted priority must indeed be given to considering such measures as maintaining duplicate communications satellites on the ground to replace any disabled in space; protecting relay stations by making them mobile or putting them underground; reducing the vulnerability of transmission lines; "hardening" all four of the presidential emergency command aircraft to keep their communications equipment immune to the electromagnetic interference of an atmospheric atomic blast. (At present only one has been so modified.)

As it is, according to a recent report by the General Accounting Office, the system including radar, radio, and computer centers is vulnerable not only to large-scale direct attack but to jamming, sabotage, and secondary nuclear effects. Other analysts have noted the many alternate channels of military communications that provide considerable certainty of reacting to an attack. They recognize the capability of satellites to detect enemy missiles almost immediately after launch. But they also identify a need for a first-rate system to let the president know the number and likely destinations of the separate warheads on the way.

Any alert, of course, could be used to trigger massive retaliation with US weapons that are always ready and aimed at Soviet targets. But improved command-and-control is necessary to enable the choice of options other than an all-out response if they would be wiser in the particular circumstances. Finally, it is vital that all the nonlethal hardware be up to the mark so that America's constitutionally mandated civilian command of the lethal hardware never be interrupted.

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