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Nuclear Brief December 21, 2004 (updated September 15, 2006)

U.S. Changes Name of Nuclear War Plan

The Pentagon has formally changed the name of the U.S. strategic nuclear war plan SIOP (Single Integrated Operational Plan). The new name is OPLAN (Operations Plan) 8044 Revision (FY).

The name was formally changed in February 2003 after a naming conference held at U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM). The last SIOP to carry that name was SIOP-03 Change 3, which entered into effect in October 2002. The first SIOP (SIOP-62) went into effect on April 1, 1961. The first plan to carry the new name was OPLAN 8044 Revision 03 from March 1, 2003.

Update May 17, 2005:

Butler's SIOP Nomenclature Finally Adopted?

Thirteen years after STRATCOM's first commander in chief, General George Lee Butler, told the Joint Chiefs of Staff that he had decided to rename the SIOP to National Strategic Response Plans, it appears the Chiefs have finally conceded -- sort of. In a prepared statement for the Senate and House Armed Services Committees, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Richard B. Myers stated:

"STRATCOM has revised our strategic deterrence and response plan that became effective in the fall of 2004. This revised, detailed plan provides more flexible options to assure allies, and dissuade, deter, and if necessary, defeat adversaries in a wider range of contingencies."


The effort to rename the SIOP is as old as STRATCOM itself. Shortly after the command as stood up in June 1992, then STRATCOM commander General George Lee Butler began a modernization  of U.S. nuclear war planning to make it more flexible and easier to update and change the strategic war plan. (click here for an article about this modernization)

In September 1992, Butler signed a memorandum for the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff that said he had "decided to rename the SIOP." The reason was that the nuclear war plan was more than one plan and was "involving to a collection of far more differentiated retaliatory choices, tailored to a threat environment of greater nuance and complexity" (the memorandum is available in the right-hand bar).

A background paper further explained that changes in security challenges, targets base and weapons inventory meant that the SIOP was "evolving into a more flexible, situation specific, ‘family of plans’ with an increasing emphasis on adaptive planning" (the background paper is available in the right-hand bar).

Butler decided instead to use National Strategic Response Plans "to refer to this diverse family of options." SIOP-03 would be the last plan with the old name. For reasons that are not clear, however, the name was never changed and, according to STRATCOM’s FOIA office, "there is no indication in the records why the change was never made." (STRATCOM's FOIA letter is attached to the document in the right-hand bar)

In January 2003, STRATCOM again asked for the name to be changed to reflect that "USSTRATCOM is changing the nation's nuclear war plan from a single, large, integrated plan to a family of plans applicable in a wider range of scenarios." The new name should be called OPLAN 8044.

The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff approved the request the following month, but was concerned that using the same name for the "basic" plan (OPLAN 8044) and the combat employment portion of that plan, up to that point known as the SIOP, would be confusing. Instead, the SIOP portion of OPLAN 8044 would be called OPLAN 8044 Change FY (Fiscal Year in effect).

The first plan to carry the new name was OPLAN 8044 Revision 03, which entered into effect on March 1, 2003.

STRATCOM officials privately say that it is too early to say whether formally changing SIOP to an OPLAN will work in the long run. For now, however, the SIOP era has officially come to an end.

© Hans M. Kristensen/Federation of American Scientists | www.nukestrat.com | 2004-2006

download documents:

George L. Butler, CINCSTRAT, memorandum for the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, "Subject: Renaming the Single Integrated Operational Plan (SIOP)," September 2, 1992.
Released under FOIA.

» General Richard B. Myers, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, "Written Posture Statement to SASC, HASC and HAC-D," February 16 and 17, 2005. [0.15 MB]

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  © Hans M. Kristensen