Global Risk

STRATCOM Cancels Controversial Preemption Strike Plan

07.25.08 | 8 min read | Text by Hans Kristensen

The controversial preemption strike plan CONPLAN 8022 has been canceled and the mission instead merged with the main U.S. strategic war plan.

By Hans M. Kristensen

The U.S. military has canceled a controversial war plan designed to strike adversaries promptly – even preemptively – with conventional and nuclear weapons. The strike plan was known as Concept Plan (CONPLAN) 8022 and first entered into effect in the summer of 2004 to provide the president with a prompt, global strike capability against time-urgent and mobile targets.

CONPLAN 8022 was the first attempt to operationalize the “Global Strike” mission assigned to U.S. Strategic Command in January 2003. The mission was triggered by new White House guidance following the terrorist attacks in September 2001 and fear of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

Lack of leadership and definition has since placed Global Strike in limbo, with little progress and prompt effects instead being incorporated into other existing strike plans. “Global Strike” is now described as a much broader mission synonymous with the “New Triad” first articulated by the Bush administration’s 2001 Nuclear Posture Review.

CONPLAN 8022’s Short Life

Like its mission, CONPLAN 8022’s life was prompt and brief. STRATCOM completed the first version of the plan in November 2003, based on White House and Pentagon guidance issued in response to 9/11. The requirement was to develop a plan that could be used to strike high-value and mobile weapons of mass destruction (WMD) targets quickly with conventional or nuclear weapons before they could be used against the United States and its allies.

The Global Strike mission was formally assigned to STRATCOM in January 2003 and, in June 2004, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and CJCS General Richard Myers issued the “Alert Order” that ordered STRATCOM to put CONPLAN 8022 into effect. In July 2004, STRATCOM commander General E. Cartwright reported to Congress that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had “just signed the Interim Global Strike Alert Order, which provides the President a prompt, global strike capability” (see Global Strike Chronology for more details).

Figure 1:
STRATCOM Command Change

One of General James Cartwright’s (left) first acts after taking over as commander of STRATCOM in July 2004 was to withdraw CONPLAN 8022, developed by his predecessor Admiral James Ellis (right).

Shortly after CONPLAN 8022 was brought up to full operational status, however, General Cartwright “withdrew” the plan in the fall of 2004, according to a document provided by STRATCOM in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. It is still murky what the term “withdrawn” implies, because several public documents and personal communication with STRATCOM continued to refer to CONPLAN 8022 after the fall of 2004. Cartwright has since declined to explain why he “withdrew” the plan, but his public statements in 2004-2006 suggest that he was concerned that the only actual prompt weapons in the plan were nuclear, and that this was not a credible posture.

As a concept plan, moreover, CONPLAN 8022 was not intended to be in effect continuously but designed to be brought into effect if necessary. After the plan was brought up to full operational status in 2004, it is possible that CONPLAN 8022 was “withdrawn” or returned to concept status once more. As of March 2006, STRATCOM told me, the plan “was still in its original version, with no revisions.”

But a year later, in July 2007, STRATCOM informed me that CONPLAN “8022 doesn’t exist.” When asked if the plan had been canceled or just deactivated, the officer said “there is no such plan anymore.” It “was underway, but didn’t go anywhere.”

Figure 1:
Slow Aircraft as Global Strike

Even slow bomber deployments, like this B-2 deploying to Guam in 2006, are described as “Global Strike.”

Global Strike Confusion

After cancellation of CONPLAN 8022 there has been significant confusion about what Global Strike actually is. After initially being “sold” as an urgent, unique and separate mission for limited, short-duration, quick-strike options against high-value and mobile targets not covered by other existing plans, Global Strike is now described as many things, ranging from Special Operations Forces raids (boots on the ground) to the traditional nuclear posture of long-range strategic nuclear weapons. Even slow bomber deployments are called Global Strike these days (see Figure 1 and 2; for an example of a recent Global Reach mission described as Global Strike, go here).

Some call it Global Strike, others call it Prompt Global Strike, while others again call it Conventional Prompt Global Strike, depending on who is talking and what weapon program is being promoted. General Cartwright sometimes tried to clarify the structure by saying Prompt Global Strike was a conventional subset of Global Strike, which was a subset of the strategic war plan. But his efforts seem to have had little impact on the debate.

Figure 3:
B-52 Global Strike Exercise

Slow B-52 bomber have conducted several Global Strike exercises, such as this quick-launch practice at Minot AFB in 2007, even though the platform is clearly not a prompt weapon.

A recent GAO report found that the different Services and agencies have very different understandings of what Global Strike means. The varied interpretation of Global Strike, GAO concluded, “affects their ability to clearly distinguish the scope, range, and potential use of capabilities needed to implement global strike and under what conditions global strike would be used in U.S. military operations.” In response to the GAO findings, STRATCOM agreed to “develop a common, universally accepted concept and definition for ‘Global Strike’.”

Congress has been generally reluctant to fund new exotic weapons for the Global Strike mission. Future Years Defense Program (FYDP) planning has identified, according to GAO, 94 program elements that would provide funding for 135 programs, projects, and activities having possible application for Global Strike. But for now, more than five years after STRATCOM was assigned the Global Strike mission, the Department of Defense concedes that “global strike, as a validated and executable concept, has not matured to the point that it is an extant executable capability….”

Unfortunately, the GAO report only discusses the conventional aspects of Global Strike, even though it was the nuclear option that originally triggered Congressional interest in the mission. After I disclosed in 2005 that preemptive global strike options were being incorporated into a revision of the Doctrine for Joint Nuclear Operations (JP 3-12), more than a dozen members of Congress – including Ellen Tauscher and Jack Reed – objected in a letter to the president to what they considered to be a dangerous change of U.S. nuclear policy. Yet the nuclear option today remains the only executable prompt component of Global Strike.

“Global Strike” or just global strike

Despite the cancellation of CONPLAN 8022 and confusion over the Global Strike mission, however, planning for quick-reaction, short-duration strikes against high-value and fleeting (mobile) targets has continued at STRATCOM, officials confirm.

Instead of a separate CONPLAN, the Global Strike mission is being incorporated into the existing strategic war plan known as OPLAN 8044, offered to regional combatant commanders, and can probably also be found in the new Combat Weapons of Mass Destruction plan known as CONPLAN 8099. The combat employment portion of OPLAN 8044, previously called the SIOP (Single Integrated Operational Plan), was renamed in 2003 to reflect that the “single” top-heavy SIOP has been taken apart and converted into “a family of plans.” Compared with the SIOP, OPLAN 8044 includes “more flexible options” for potential use in a “wider range of contingencies,” according to military documents.

The “family of plans” is the result of a reorganization that has been underway since the early 1990s, when STRATCOM began to create “adaptive planning” missions tailored against rogue states armed with WMD. Back then, the first STRATCOM commander General George Lee Butler described how the SIOP was “evolving to a collection of far more differentiated retaliatory choices, tailored to a threat environment of greater nuance and complexity.”

The Bush administration adopted “tailored” as a central planning objective in its 2001 Nuclear Posture Review that ordering the development of a “New Triad” with more strike capabilities and options. Curiously, the offensive leg of the “New Triad” with its nuclear, conventional and non-kinetic strike capabilities has now become synonymous with Global Strike. Before CONPLAN 8022 was withdrawn, the Pentagon’s Strategic Deterrence Joint Operating Concept, for which STRATCOM was the lead agent, portrayed Global Strike as separate from nuclear strike capabilities (although it wasn’t). In the updated version from December 2006, however, Global Strike is portrayed as synonymous with the offensive leg in the New Triad (see figure 1).

Figure 4:
“Global Strike” Synonymous With Offensive Leg of “New Triad”

“Direct Means” list (2004):
– Force projection
Nuclear strike capabilities
– Active and passive defenses
Global Strike
– Strategic deterrence information
– Inducement operations
– Space control
“Direct Means” list (2006):
– Force projection
– Active and passive defenses
Global Strike (nuclear, conventional, non-kinetic)
Strategic communications
Nuclear and non-nuclear offensive weapons have been merged under Global Strike in the 2006 STRATCOM-led Joint Operating Concept. The 2004 version, by contrast, listed the capabilities as separate. In the 2006 revision, however, the Global Strike mission description begins with nuclear and appear synonymous with the offensive leg of the “New Triad.”

To implement, maintain and execute the Global Strike mission, STRATCOM established the Joint Functional Component Command for Space and Global Strike (later changed to Joint Functional Component Command for Global Strike and Integration, JFCC GSI). The Concept of Operations document for the new command shows that its responsibilities reach far beyond Global Strike to all strategic strike planning for OPLAN 8044. Through JFCC GSI, STRATCOM is transforming its formerly secluded strategic nuclear strike enterprise into an integrated planning and strike service for national-level and regional combatant commanders. For JFCC SGI, that means integrating STRATCOM’s global strike capabilities into theater operations. A separate CONPLAN 8022 and OPLAN 8044, by contrast, would have constituted separation of planning.

STRATCOM’s current fact sheet on JFCC GSI – all that has survived from several pages previously posted on the command’s web site – shows a component command that has responsibility for the full range of strike capabilities in a planning architecture with Global Strike intertwined with traditional deterrence.

Some Implications

The Global Strike mission was launched with much fervor on the heels of a new preemption strategy following the 2001 terrorist attacks. But it is hard to take seriously the claim that Global Strike – meaning unique prompt strike capabilities other than those already in the inventory – is essential for national security when, more than five years after the mission was established, the Pentagon still hasn’t developed an executable capability or even a succinct definition for what Global Strike means.

In hindsight it seems that rather than developing a unique preemptive plan, planners have instead incorporated the concept into the remnants of the strategic war plan. This “integration” has become the guiding principle for military planning despite its slow start, and has reinvigorated the strategic planning community by creating requirements for an increased number of strike options and contingencies.

Mixed in with this morass of increasingly diffuse global strike capabilities are nuclear weapons, which ought to be clearly and unequivocally identified as a last resort that is separate from the dynamic Global Strike mission. The GAO report notes that “nuclear systems would be part of the portfolio” but doesn’t examine this part of Global Strike. Hopefully Congress’ Strategic Posture Review Commission and the next administration’s Nuclear Posture Review will.

Background information: Global Strike Chronology | Global Strike Concept of Operations | GAO: Strengthen Implementation of Global Strike