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The United States military uses a number of terms to define the magnitude and extent of nuclear incidents.


United States Department of Defensemarker directive 5230.16, Nuclear Accident and Incident Public Affairs (PA) Guidance, [366721] Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Manual 3150.03B Joint Reporting Structure Event and Incident Reporting, and the United States Air Force Operation Reporting System, as set out in Air Force Instruction 10-206 [366722] detail a number of terms for internally and externally (including press releases) reporting nuclear incidents. They are used by the United States of America, and are neither NATO nor global standards.



Pinnacle is a Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff OPREP-3 (Operational Event/Incident Report) reporting flagword used in the United States National Military Command Center (NMCC)/National Command Authority structure. The term "Pinnacle" denotes an incident of interest to the Major Commands, Department of Defense and National Command Authority, in that it:
  • Generates a higher level of military action.
  • Causes a national reaction.
  • Affects international relationships.
  • Causes immediate widespread coverage in news media.
  • Is clearly against the national interest.
  • Affects current national policy.

All of the following reporting terms are classified Pinnacle, with the exception of Bent Spear, Faded Giant and Dull Sword. AFI 10-206 notes that the flagword Pinnacle may be added to Bent Spear or Faded Giant to expedite reporting to the NMCC.

Bent Spear

Bent Spear refers to incidents involving nuclear weapons, warheads, components or vehicles transporting nuclear material that are of significant interest but are not categorized as Pinnacle - Nucflash or Pinnacle - Broken Arrow. Bent Spear incidents include violations or breaches of handling and security regulations.

A recent Bent Spear example is the August 2007 flight of a B-52 bomber from Minot AFBmarker to Barksdale AFBmarker which unlawfully carried six cruise missiles with live nuclear warheads.[366723]

Broken Arrow

Pinnacle - Broken Arrow refers to an accidental event that involves nuclear weapons, warheads or components, but which does not create the risk of nuclear war. These include:
  • Accidental or unexplained nuclear detonation.
  • Non-nuclear detonation or burning of a nuclear weapon.
  • Radioactive contamination.
  • Loss in transit of nuclear asset with or without its carrying vehicle.
  • Jettisoning of a nuclear weapon or nuclear component.
  • Public hazard, actual or implied.


Examples of Broken Arrow events are:


Pinnacle - Nucflash refers to detonation or possible detonation of a nuclear weapon which creates a risk of an outbreak of nuclear war. Events which may be classified Nucflash include:
  • Accidental, unauthorized, or unexplained nuclear detonation or possible detonation.
  • Accidental or unauthorized launch of a nuclear-armed or nuclear-capable missile in the direction of, or having the capability to reach, another nuclear-capable country.
  • Unauthorized flight of, or deviation from an approved flight plan by, a nuclear armed or nuclear-capable aircraft with the capability to penetrate the airspace of another nuclear-capable country.
  • Detection of unidentified objects by a missile warning system or interference (experienced by such a system or related communications) that appears threatening and could create a risk of nuclear war.

This term (Pinnacle Nucflash) is a report that has the highest precedence in the OPREP-3 reporting structure. All other reporting terms such as Broken Arrow, Empty Quiver, etc., while very important, are secondary to this report. (Reference Air Force Instruction 10-206, dated 4 October 2004)

Emergency Disablement

Pinnacle - Emergency Disablement refers to operations involving the emergency destruction of nuclear weapons.

Emergency Evacuation

Pinnacle - Emergency Evacuation refers to operations involving the emergency evacuation of nuclear weapons.

Empty Quiver

Pinnacle - Empty Quiver refers to the seizure, theft, or loss of a functioning nuclear weapon.

Faded Giant

Faded Giant refers to an event involving a nuclear reactor or other radiological accident not involving nuclear weapons. The most recent Faded Giant incident occurred with the explosion and sinking of the Russian submarine Kursk in August 2000.

Dull Sword

Dull Sword is an Air Force reporting term that marks reports of minor incidents involving nuclear weapons, components or systems, or which could impair their deployment. This could include actions involving vehicles capable of carrying nuclear weapons but with no nuclear weapons on board at the time of the accident.

Popular culture

Several of these terms have, in various forms, entered popular culture. [366724] [366725] They have not always been used correctly.

  • The John Woo action film Broken Arrow initially involves an apparent Pinnacle-Broken Arrow event, as the nuclear weapons are supposedly jettisoned in an emergency, but as this is a ruse to steal the weapons, it actually depicts a Pinnacle-Empty Quiver event by the above definitions. However, the subsequent detonation of one of those weapons constituted a Pinnacle-Broken Arrow event.

  • ROGUE SPEAR is supposedly a means of flagging incidents in which nuclear weapons come under the control of non-governmental groups, but the term is the invention of American thriller writer Tom Clancy, for the computer game Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six: Rogue Spear in place of Pinnacle-Empty Quiver.

  • In the 1994 film True Lies, Arnold Schwarzenegger's character Harry Tasker calls a "Bright Boy Alert" for the impending detonation of a stolen Russian warhead on U.S. soil by terrorists, although this presumably should be termed a "Broken Arrow" event since it involves a nuclear incident unlikely to result in nuclear war.

  • Eric L. Harry's novel Arc Light, uses several of the U.S. nuclear incident terms when the Russians launch a counterforce strike against the United States: the Commander-in-Chief of NORADmarker orders an "OPREP 3 PINNACLE NUCFLASH 4" be sent to the National Command Authority after the Russian launch was detected, and "OPREP 3 PINNACLE NUDET" was used to report the nuclear detonations as the warheads impacted.

See also


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