The Superpowers
The Superpowers
Socialist East vs. Democratic West

The Nuclear Triad

Mutually Assured Destruction Hindered Use

Knowing that America could respond from land, sea, or air - with devastating force after a first strike, was a powerful disincentive for the Soviets to launch a nuclear attack.

Updated July 2024
Posted February 2024

Preventing a First Strike
Mutually Assured Destruction
One of the fundamental elements of America's nuclear doctrine during the Cold War was to disperse its nuclear weapons among ground, air, and sea-based platforms - the Nuclear Triad. This ensured that America could retaliate if the Soviet Union launched a first strike against the United States.

During the Cold War, these three legs of the Nuclear Triad formed "the backbone of America's national security:"

  • Land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles carrying multiple nuclear warheads located in hardened underground silos dispersed across the United States.
  • Air Force bases around the country were stocked with nuclear bombs that could be dropped from American bombers on enemy targets.
  • United States Navy ballistic missile submarines, once carrying as many as 192 nuclear warheads, that could launch their weapons from under the sea.

Ballistic missile submarines are the most survivable leg of the nuclear triad. Their ability to hide made it highly unlikely they could be destroyed in a first strike. Operating deep under the surface of the ocean, they were equipped with technology making them almost impossible to locate.

Knowing that American submarines could survive a first strike and respond with devastating force, provided a powerful disincentive for the Soviets to launch a nuclear attack.

Often referred to as Mutually Assured Destruction - or MAD— the Nuclear Triad helped keep the Cold War from becoming a nuclear war.

RICHARD NIXON:Together, we share the capacity to destroy forever our common heritage of 4,000 years of civilization. Together, we are moving to ensure that this will not - because it must not - happen.

- President Richard Nixon, June 5, 1974

Titan Missile Silo Tucson
  • Titan Missile Silo in Tucson, Arizona

U.S. Air Force B-52 Stratofortress
  • U.S. Air Force B-52 Stratofortress

Missile Submarine USS Henry M. Jackson
  • USS Henry M. Jackson, an Ohio Class ballistic missile submarine

Missile Submarine Prop
Prop: Nuclear Submarine Missile Test Launch
  • It takes two people each using a key to launch