In the next 10 years the Reagan administration proposes to spend $18 billion to assure that US armed forces can see and talk during and after an outbreak of nuclear war.
The program, labeled C and pronounced "C cubed," may soon break into the top 10 of military acronyms, right after AWACS and MX.
Its purpose is to improve the ability of senior military personnel and White House officials, from the president on down, to command, control, and communicate (the three C's) with all strategic systems used in the United States land, air, and sea triad of nuclear defenses.
This involves a technological feat of major proportions. But as Edward Teller, principal architect of the hydrogen bomb, emphasized during a recent symposium on C : "We are not in an arms race; we are in a race for technology, often secret technology. It is perhaps the greatest comparative advantage of the US that acts as a deterrent to the Soviets, our ability to develop secret weapons." Dr. Teller sees C as a natural evolution of current US-Soviet relations.
In a strategic crisis military commanders and the White House will be dependent on accurate information. President Reagan's proposal seeks to guarantee the two-way accuracy of this information.
An obvious purpose of C is keep a lid on possible "accidents" involving land-based missiles (including the MX), submarine-launched missiles (including the Trident), or manned bombers (including the B-1). The objective will be to ensure that no nuclear weapon can be launched without clear and direct orders from the president, regardless of the crisis.
But in thermonuclear strategy there's always more at stake than the obvious.
Besides seeking to reduce to a minimum the possibility of an accidental nuclear launch, the Reagan administration wants a communications network able to coordinate worldwide any US strategic response. It is an attempt to keep the unthinkable -- a limited nuclear war -- unthinkable.
One example of the technology involved is the improvement in missile targeting. The MX, regardless of how or where it will be based, is scheduled for development in 2 1/2 years. C will enable a commander to retarget a launched MX and each of its multiple warheads is a matter of seconds.
"C " will not only provide a credible deterrent against any Soviet pre-emptive strike, but will complicate life for them by making them spend the next 20 years trying to react to it, rather than us spending the next 20 years reacting to them. They will have to put so many resources into it they may sit down and start talking reductions," said Dr. Richard D. Delauer, undersecretary o defense for research and engineering at a national security symposium hosted by the Air Force and MITRE Corporation, a private nonprofit organization engaged in systems engineering for the Air Force.
Since it can be assumed one primary target of a limited nuclear attack would be the command and control centers of US strategic forces, "the Soviets must know they cannot decapitate the strategic defense system and have a cheap ride to victory," said Charles A. Zraket, executive vice-president of MITRE.
As policy, C is a military concept surrounded by technology.
One of its major premises can be summed up this way: Because the nuclear ganie cannot be put back in the bottle in the foreseeable future, the best way to deter the use of nuclear weapons is to convince a potential adversary that no matter what punishment may be inflicted in a first strike, the US will still have sufficient military resources to retaliate.
If those resources are to be "credible in an enemy's eyes," the US must have a "coordinated command center" that can endure the initial nuclear destruction, says Gen. Robert T. Marsh, commander of Air Forces Systems Command.
In physical terms, C can best be viewed as a conglomerate of communication systems providing for the integration of large assemblages of computers, telecommunications systems, senators, and other electronic means.
Satellites, AWACS, ground-based radar, shipboard tracking stations, airborne command centers in converted 747s flying 24 hours (E-4s) -- these are some of the major components of strategic command and control operations. The C system emphasizes mobility in its design, since military strategists assume fixed land-based radar centers can be targeted and knocked out.
Dr. Teller views supremacy in the communications technology race as critical if the US is to hold to its position of being "absolutely opposed to any first [ nuclear] strike against Soviet territory.
"We need to get the message across that we are working not on aggression, not on destruction, but primarily on defense." He sees