Nuclear Briefcase

Nuclear Briefcase


  • During Russian President Vladimir Putin’s recent visit to China, he was seen with officers carrying what is known as the “nuclear briefcase”.

What is the ‘nuclear briefcase’?

  • Also known as the ‘Cheget’, named after a mountain in Russia, the briefcase is part of a larger system in place for authorising the launch of nuclear strikes.
  • It’s part of a secured communication setup, meant to convey orders for a nuclear strike to the rocket forces of the country.
  • The communication among the forces is done via the ‘Kazbek’ electronic command-and-control network. Kazbek supports another system, known as ‘Kavkaz’.
  • Apart from the Russian President, the Defence Minister and the Chief of General Staff have a briefcase each, and the three are supposed to coordinate in case of a potential order to strike.
  • The President takes the briefcase on his visits abroad as well.

Has the nuclear briefcase ever come close to being used?

  • According to the US-based Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation (CACNP), the first and only known instance of a nuclear briefcase being “opened” during a crisis was in 1995.
  • The briefcases were first put into service just around the time Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev took office (1990-91).

How does the system work, exactly?

  • Once radar operators sent out alerts of possible enemy action, the Russian electronic command-and-control networks were activated.
  • The duty general receives the information from the radar operator on a special notification terminal, Krokus.
  • He then passes it to the Kavkaz, a complex network of cables, radio signals, satellites and relays that is at the heart of the Russian command and control.
  • The alert then reached the three nuclear briefcases.
  • A Russian TV outlet showed the inside of the older briefcases in 2019.
  • It had several buttons, including a white one to give the go-ahead to launch a strike and a red one to stop the order.

Do other countries have such a briefcase?

  • The American President has a similar briefcase officially called the Presidential Emergency Satchel.
  • It was nicknamed the ‘football’ after a 1960s mission called ‘Dropkick’ (a term related to American football).
  • It is thought to have begun in the era of John F Kennedy.
  • He was concerned about how in the era of a Cold War between the two superpowers of the time (the US and USSR), orders for a nuclear strike would be verified quickly.

Syllabus: Prelims