The Single Integrated Operational Plan — SIOP, for short — was the non-descript label the U.S. military assigned to its doomsday plan to wage nuclear war with the Soviet Union. Born in 1961, the many-layered targeting list died in 2003, after the end of the Cold War. A key developer, Air Force Lieut. General Glenn A. Kent, died last Wednesday, April 25, at age 96.
One of the nation’s most astute nuclear strategists, Kent retired from the Air Force in 1974 after 33 years of service. He spent more than 20 years post-retirement working for the Rand Corp., where he was a senior research fellow studying new weapons and plumbing the arcana of nuclear weapons and the deterrence they were designed to embody.
Kent pushed for mutual and balanced reductions in both U.S. and Soviet nuclear arsenals, arguing that would lead to more stability in superpower relations. Beyond that, he guided the development of the Air Force’s F-15 and F-16 fighters, which remain the backbone of the service’s fighter fleet, and pushed for AWACS and JSTARS airborne command posts. His “strategy to task” method of analysis led to the Joint Direct Attack Munition, which has revolutionized aerial bombing in recent years.
Kent disdained the way some in the national-security establishment used wargames and analysis without the thinking beforehand designed to ensure their conclusions were valid.
War games, he said, “actually…are `computer simulations’, but the term ‘war games’ adds a note of realism.”
As for “analysis” – a Pentagon-bred kudzu if there ever were one – he noted:
The mystique behind analysis has been torn away. Decision-makers are beginning to realize — as well they should — that if an analysis is done correctly and presented succinctly, it should be clear to non-analysts. No longer can analysts hide behind some obscure explanation, nor can they, to close off all discussion, say to the decision-maker, “It’s really quite complicated” — with the clear implication that only card-carrying analysts should understand.
Of course, anyone who has withstood a recent briefing on the F-35 program might take issue with that.
But Kent, like a handful of people on both sides of the superpower rivalry, must be remembered foremost as the second chapter in nuclear-war strategy: he didn’t build the weapons, but he helped tame fires so that they would never be used on his watch.