What Is The Nuclear Football (The Briefcase That Can Destroy The World)?

What Is The Nuclear Football (The Briefcase That Can Destroy The World)?


On the 8th of November in 2017, American secret
service agents and their Chinese counterparts were involved in a brief altercation over
the American ‘nuclear football’. While entering China’s Great Hall of the People,
a Chinese agent blocked President Trump’s aide tasked with carrying the football, only
for Chief of Staff and retired US Marine Corps General John Kelly to announce, “We’re moving
in”, and brush past the Chinese guards. A guard grabbed Kelly, who quickly shoved
the guard off, and immediately a US secret service agent tackled and subdued the Chinese
guard. Though the scuffle was over in a flash, it
highlighted the importance of this little black briefcase that must always accompany
the president no matter where he goes. But just what is inside that top secret briefcase? Hello and welcome to another episode of The
Infographics Show- today we’re asking, what is the nuclear football? The head of the Chinese security detail would
go on to apologize for the misunderstanding, as apparently the guards had not realized
that the aide carrying the nuclear football must always be within easy reach of the US
President. While some might think the American response
was an overreaction, it only takes a moment to see it from the Secret Service’s point
of view to see why they felt the need to respond immediately and with overwhelming force. The US President had just been removed from
the nuclear football while within a foreign nation, and a nation to boot who is a potential
nuclear adversary. Were something to happen to the US President
while he was away from the football, and China launched a preemptive first strike against
the US, there would be no way for America to respond in time with its own weapons. A far-fetched scenario to some, but US Secret
Service agents must constantly entertain the most extreme possibilities as potential realities
every single day, for that is the only way to avert a potential, and surprise, catastrophe. Thus it is standard operating procedure that
the nuclear football never be removed from the immediate physical vicinity of the US
President. So just what does the nuclear football do
exactly, and what’s inside it? This nuclear command and control tool is officially
known as the President’s emergency satchel, and is an aluminum briefcase encased in black
leather. Details are difficult to ascertain given the
extreme secrecy of the device, but it is widely believed to be bulletproof and resistant to
explosive damage. It weighs approximately 45 pounds (20 kg)
and is equipped with powerful satellite communication gear to ensure the president is always in
contact with the Joint Chiefs of Staff. As nuclear arsenals grew in the Soviet Union
and the US, it became clear that the nation to launch first would have an immediate and
possibly war-winning advantage. Such a first strike might even render the
defending nation unable to launch its own nuclear counter-attack, making the possibility
of a nuclear first strike extremely attractive to the aggressor. With ICBMs moving at thousands of miles an
hour, it became vital that the President of the United States be able to order an immediate
nuclear counter-attack in the case of sudden war. Yet after the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962,
President John F. Kennedy posed several questions to his staff, doubting the effectiveness of
the current nuclear command system. His most pointed question however was, “How
would the person who received my instructions verify them?” This one question led to a complete rethinking
of how the US President was to order a nuclear attack or retaliation, and highlighted a major
flaw in the systems set in place for the President to do so while out of the White House. Thus the modern iteration of the nuclear football
was born. A mobile device, the nuclear football contains
satellite communications gear that lets the President be in contact with the Joint Chiefs
of Staff no matter where in the world he is. It also contains four individual items: The Black Book as it is known, contains all
retaliatory options available to the President. This can include a full-scale nuclear response
against one, or all of America’s enemies, or a limited response which might be just
a single cruise missile strike with a low yield warhead. It is rumored that attack plans also include
an option to launch a no-harm nuclear strike high above a nation in the atmosphere, delivering
an electromagnetic pulse that wipes out most of a nation’s electrical infrastructure. If you’re a fan of conspiracy theories, it
might also include a plan to nuke the Reptilian aliens hiding out on the dark side of the
Moon. A second book contains a listing of classified
presidential shelter locations, or places that the President could be taken to in case
of a major nuclear emergency. These are typically hardened locations deep
underground that can survive direct nuclear strikes. A manila folder with eight or ten pages that
give a description of the procedures to initiate and use the Emergency Alert System, both for
early warning and for post-strike communications with the nation. Lastly, a three-by-five-inch card with printed
authentication codes. These codes ensure to the Joint Chiefs of
Staff that the person ordering a nuclear attack is indeed the US President, and while they
typically stay within the football, some US Presidents such as President Reagan actually
preferred to physically carry his in his pocket. During the assassination attempt against Reagan,
when he was rushed to the hospital not only was he physically separated from the football,
but as his clothes were cut off in surgery, the nuclear codes were haphazardly discarded
by medical staff and later found stuck in his shoe. But just how does the football actually work,
what process would the President have to undergo to launch a nuclear strike or retaliate against
one? Firstly, only the current President of the
United States is authorized to launch any form of nuclear attack- whether that’s as
a retaliation, or an escalation during the middle of a full-blown war. Should the President be incapacitated or killed,
that responsibility falls to the Vice-President, and so on down an established chain of command. Second, the President is patched in to a conference
call with his top civilian and military advisors, whom all recommend a course to follow. If enemy launches are detected, this call
can last as short as 30 seconds. Communications between the President, his
advisors, and top military leadership are all relayed via the US’s Milstar satellite
network- a highly jam-resistant constellation of satellites that keeps US forces linked
together around the world. As a redundancy or in the aftermath of a nuclear
attack, US military forces could still use the TACAMO airborne communications system
to stay in contact- basically a fleet of airplanes packed with communications gear that is also
extremely resilient to jamming, the TACAMO communications system was designed to keep
a nation ravaged by nuclear war in contact with its military forces around the world Once an attack plan has been decided on by
the President, the senior officer in the Pentagon war room must authenticate the President’s
identity by issuing a challenge code using the military alphabet, such as Charlie November. The President then references his authentication
codes card, known as “the biscuit”, and reads the appropriate response. An Emergency War Order is then broadcast to
all US nuclear alert forces via several communications networks, to ensure receipt. The order is typically about 150 characters,
or the length of a twitter message, and contains the specific war plan to execute, launch time,
and authentication codes needed to unlock the missiles before firing. Seconds later, crews around the world based
in missile silos, alert hangars, and submarines deep under water all open locked safes which
contain sealed authentication-system, or SAS, codes which are prepped by the National Security
agency. They compare their SAS codes with those contained
within the launch order to verify the authenticity of the launch order. Any discrepancies whatsoever will result in
a no-go, or no launch/release of nuclear weapons. When launched from a submarine the Captain,
executive officer, and two other senior officers authenticate the order. About 15 minutes later, the missiles are ready
for launch. Land-launched ICBMS are housed in underground
silos with five launch crews each controlling up to 50 missiles. Each launch crew is made up of two officers
and the individual teams are housed miles apart from each other in highly secure underground
complexes to ensure their security. Each team receives their orders and compares
their SAS codes with those sent by the war room. Once authenticated, the crews enter the war
plan number into their launch computers which re-targets the missiles from their peacetime
targets in the middle of the ocean to their war time targets on land. At the designated launch time, the crews all
turn their launch keys simultaneously which sends five “votes” for launch to the missiles. Because the missiles need just two “votes”
to launch, failure to authenticate or mutiny by three other crews will not stop the launch
of all 50 missiles. Missiles launched from airborne platforms
follow a similar method, with their individual SAS codes being verified against those sent
by the war room. During the Cold War the US and Russia both
kept nuclear alert forces in the air at all times, 24/7, 365 days a year- and these crews
would then immediately proceed on a vector to their assigned targets. Once SAS codes are authorized, missiles are
immediately fired. Anywhere from five minutes to 15 minutes after
a Presidential order is given, intercontinental ballistic missiles will be blasting off into
the sky to rain death down on their assigned targets, and once released there is no way
to recall them, disarm them, or reprogram their trajectories. The responsibility of carrying the nuclear
football is staggering, as is the responsibility of the man entrusted by the US to use it properly. While many have criticized the entire system,
and one senior American general was even discharged for asking, “How do I know the President
giving me the order to fire my weapons is sane?”, it remains the best system for ensuring
continued nuclear deterrence. Think you could handle the responsibility
of handling the nuclear football? Should there be some way of ensuring the current
US President is actually sane enough to order a nuclear strike? Also, be sure to check out our other show
USA vs The World – Who Would Win? Thanks for watching, and as always, don’t
forget to like, share and subscribe. See you next time.

About the Author: Garret Beatty

100 Comments

  1. A nuclear football – so important yet so oversized and impractical… Seems to me there are better and safer technological solutions already in place…

  2. To think the power of wiping out civilizations & possibly the human race lies on the hands of some self absorbed psychos we call politicians.

  3. Literally if any nuke were ever launched, it would benefit no one, as everyone would be radioactive ash anyways

  4. What is actually inside the nuclear football briefcase? How does the president of the united states use the nuclear football? Does the army or the military control the nuclear football or is it only the president?

    This nuclear command and control tool is officially known as the President's emergency satchel, and is an aluminum briefcase encased in black leather. Details are difficult to ascertain given the extreme secrecy of the device, but it is widely believed to be bulletproof and resistant to explosive damage. It weighs approximately 45 pounds (20 kg) and is equipped with powerful satellite communication gear to ensure the president is always in contact with the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

    As nuclear arsenals grew in the Soviet Union and the US, it became clear that the nation to launch first would have an immediate and possibly war-winning advantage. Such a first strike might even render the defending nation unable to launch its own nuclear counter-attack, making the possibility of a nuclear first strike extremely attractive to the aggressor. With ICBMs moving at thousands of miles an hour, it became vital that the President of the United States be able to order an immediate nuclear counter-attack in the case of sudden war.

  5. Best answer to this video is Carl Sagan's quote : The nuclear arms race is like two sworn enemies standing waist deep in gasoline, one with three matches, the other with five.”…

  6. Sounds to me like the entire concept of the "nuclear football" is an elaborate hoax to mislead our adversaries about how our nuclear systems and strategies actually work. It's what I'd do.

  7. How does the Senior Officer in the Pentagon War Room know if the readback the president gives is correct? Does he also have access to the nuclear codes? If so, does he also have the capability to launch nuclear weapons

  8. If I had a dollar for every "nuclear football being a sport" joke, I… still wouldn't have enough money to get out of debt…

    I'd be close though.

  9. I just wish, from here on out, that this goes away in my lifetime. Every time I see 11:11, this is what I will think of for a split second.

  10. regarding a first strike on Russia, it would be relatively pointless. it may disable a few ICBM's, however the Russians have a device called the "dead hand" i believe. regardless of what it's called, it will fire its ICBM's even if no one is alive to order it. Kind of scary, a malfunction of the system would cause nuclear winter, and a lot of casualties since the us would respond with nukes even if the Russians claim it was an accident. and to scare you even more, the device is at least 30-40 years old. Sleep well! lol

  11. Isn't there a two man authentication system so after the president gives the order. Someone like the DDCI has to confirm that he is sane?

  12. Actually the National security council can override his orders with a vote of all members that are present with the president and when that happens the national security adviser has full control of the military for 72 hours.

  13. What is a nuclear football? Answer – something trump should never be allowed to have his hands on!!

  14. Wow, I never knew it would be that easy to completely nullify America’s nuclear capabilities. Simply take the briefcase while he’s overseas. That is so flawed! Also….Trump….wow. All our lives hang under the sword Damocles.

  15. Dude I mean if the Chinese or whoever wanted to all out nuke the us when potus visits their country, couldn’t they just take his case with force? As strong as secret service is, they can’t escape an battalion right?

  16. S/o to YouTube for double ads. this platform is on its way to having commercials like cable tv. I get that there’s no sub fees etc but come on man this gonna keep going until you have to wait through like 5 ads without the option to skip, I’m sure it’s all planned out over a couple years to “ease” viewers into it.

  17. Jajajaj you americans are dumb russia has better 6th generation icbm misiles that could hit in 5 minutes

  18. that's what a team work is called, the co-operation, the rhythm, the confident, a backup plan. America has that all. " reason why it's the most powerful nation among all.

  19. I love how everyone has to badmouth their own president. Change the video picture and encourage growth and connection

  20. I spent 7 years on ssbn subs we had 24 icbm with up to 10 mirvs to launch you get a eam then the capt. xo read it the weapons officer and 1 other officer check it then they open the safe inside a safe to get the steam generator keys them missile compartment takes the keys to the missile steam generators and then it is launched 1 at a time.

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