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Permissive Action Links

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posted on Mar, 27 2004 @ 10:10 PM
So what are they for?

To protect against a rogue officer pissed off at the world, and armed with the keys to world destruction?


Apparently there are many reasons, including controls over ally nuclear countries.

The exact details are hazy, but the broad contours are clear: the inspection team found the control of the forward-based nuclear weapons inadequate and possibly illegal. In Germany and Turkey they viewed scenes that were particularly distressing. On the runway stood a German (or Turkish) quick-reaction alert airplane (QRA) loaded with nuclear weapons and with a foreign pilot in the cockpit. The QRA airplane was ready to take off at the earliest warning, and the nuclear weapons were fully operational. The only evidence of U.S. control was a lonely 18-year-old sentry armed with a carbine and standing on the tarmac. When the sentry at the German airfield was asked how he intended to maintain control of the nuclear weapons should the pilot suddenly decide to scramble (either through personal caprice or through an order from the German command circumventing U.S. command), the sentry replied that he would shoot the pilot; Agnew directed him to shoot the bomb.

France's history has not been characterized by the same orderliness of political succession and civil-military relations as Great Britain's. Indeed, there have even been moments of instability in the nuclear age. During the revolt of the generals against De Gaulle in 1960, for example, the government ordered the detonation of a nuclear device in Algeria so that it would not fall into the hands of the military.

A PAL -- a "Permissive Action Link" -- is the box that is supposed to prevent unauthorized use of a nuclear weapon. "Unauthorized" covers a wide range of sin, from terrorists who have stolen bombs to insane American military officers to our allies who may have some of their own uses for bombs that are covered by joint use agreements. It's supposed to be impossible to "hot-wire" a nuclear weapon.

Now, I recall reading a few weeks ago that someone in our armed services who is in the nuclear chain of operation raised the question at an orientation session as to how they could be sure that the order to launch a nuclear strike in point of fact came from the President. After that, the person was removed from the program completely....

How do the people down the chain of command, who are the recipients of the Presidential order, know that the order, in fact, has come from the President, rather than an impostor?

Admiral Miller: We have incorporated in the release process not only the order to do the job, but an elaborate, highly secure, coded authentication system, where you not only get the order, but you get an authentication that the order is valid.

That prevails all the way down the line, actually almost to the weapon itself. In some instances, that technique exists right at the weapon.

[Edited on 27-3-2004 by smirkley]

posted on Mar, 27 2004 @ 11:17 PM
A little more background info, of the deployment of PAL's, as well as applications in different divisions of the military.

The U.S. military resisted PALs for a long time. Eventually, they were persuaded because of the greater freedom it gave them: in times of tension, they could disperse nuclear weapons to block easy destruction or capture, while still retaining control over their use.

PALs are supplemented by "coded switch systems". These are devices that prevent the release or launch of an armed nuclear weapon. For example, when B-1 bombers are on alert, the PALs in their weapons are unlocked before takeoff. But the crew can't use those weapons until they receive an authorization code. (In some planes, the crew can communicate with the PALs from the cockpit. This feature was omitted in the B-1, apparently as a cost-saving measure.)

Given this, it is not surprising that Navy weapons are not protected by PALs. In their normal environment, there is relatively little risk of capture, no foreign nationals have custody, and communications with (especially) submarines is somewhat problematic. Only when the weapons are brought ashore is a PAL activated, and then only for things like nuclear depth charges [B93, SF87]. In place of PALs, an elaborate set of procedures, involving the PA system, several different keys, and the participation of most of the crew is necessary for a nuclear submarine to launch its missiles [C87c]. All that notwithstanding, a use control system, apparently similar to the coded switch systems, has recently been added to the submarine fleet.

I find this interesting as it implies a leased-out armorment to other countries, but the electronic keys remain with the title owner.

Basically any nuclear ally with a SOFA agreement, does not control any US owned nuclear weapon that is on their soil.

The Nuclear weapon is there in another country, and not necessarily guarded by the US military, but is useless to the holder without US authorisation.


[Edited on 27-3-2004 by smirkley]

posted on Apr, 11 2004 @ 08:49 PM
On an SSBN, all the keys to launch missiles are locked up, and they don't have the combo's to the safes until sent by message telling them to launch.

posted on Apr, 11 2004 @ 09:06 PM
Another use for PALS could be to control another countries use of nuclear weapons,
US controls Pakistani Nukes

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