‘Doomsday Trucks’ May Transport President After Nuclear Attack
WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Pentagon, as part of an effort to improve wartime command links, has built and tested a number of ″doomsday trucks″ that could be used by the president and generals to fight a protracted nuclear war, federal documents show.
Although details are secret, the program is built on the premise that a president, after fleeing to an airborne command post during a nuclear attack, may not have any major communication bases left on the ground after the first salvos.
One answer, the Pentagon believes, would be an 18-wheel tractor trailer, hardened against the effects of nuclear blast and radiation and equipped with a variety of radio and satellite communications gear. Such a truck could be transported by air or stored in areas of the country that could be expected to escape attack.
The program has been mentioned in a variety of unclassified documents dating back to 1981. It recently received more prominence, however, due to a report by NBC News. The network disclosed that TRW Inc. was the prime contractor and had built at least two prototypes for the Pentagon.
The Pentagon refused to discuss that report beyond acknowledging the program’s existence. Efforts to improve the military’s command, control and communications structure, including new ″commander-in-chief mobile command centers,″ are ″funded and on track,″ the Pentagon said Thursday.
TRW officials likewise refused to discuss specifics. Spokeswoman Edie Cartwright would say only that the company had completed ″a study program″ for the Defense Communications Agency ″in late 1983.″
It is unclear exactly how many of the doomsday trucks may have been built. William Arkin, a civilian analyst of U.S. nuclear programs and frequent Pentagon critic, wrote earlier this year the Strategic Air Command and the North American Aerospace Defense Command already had early versions of the vehicle.
A 1981 study by the Congressional Budget Office also disclosed, however, the Army was then well along in developing ″truck-mounted command centers that could be loaded on transport aircraft. ...″
The trucks, known formally as Ground Mobile Command Centers, are part of a broader program known as the World Wide Military Command and Control System, or WWMCCS. One of the first public references to the vehicles occurred in 1981 when Assistant Defense Secretary Donald C. Latham described them during a Senate hearing as ″a major new initiative.″
″That is a system of vans and communications associated with those that would be deployed in the continental United States for highly survivable command centers for battle staff, the National Command Authority (the president) and senior military,″ Latham said.
A fiscal 1984 budget document refers to a request for $20.5 million under the category of ″post-attack WWMCCS″ for ″continued development of several prototype capabilities ... including a prototype Ground Mobile Command capability.″
Another budget document subsequently disclosed a new prototype called the Advanced Development Model that would be tested for the first time ″in Joint Chiefs of Staff exercises″ in fiscal 1984. A more recent, fiscal 1986 budget document refers to a need to continue development and evaluation of ″alternative system designs and operational concepts for command centers. ...″
But the most extensive description of how the trucks would be used is contained in the Congressional Budget Office study. It states the trucks ″would gradually take over full (command) operations in the post-attack period.″
″With fuel, food and critical spare parts stored in advance in areas not expected to be targeted, ground-mobile command centers that survived an initial attack might be able to conduct sustained operations indefinitely.″
Despite the official silence, the program has also progressed to the point that some of the subcontractors have touted their efforts.
During the annual meeting of the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association here this summer, the Brunswick Corp. displayed promotional materials on ″transportation subsystems″ that were ″aircraft transportable, inconspicuous in appearance″ and survivable in a ″nuclear environment.″