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DEFCON: What Does it Mean and What Levels Have we Alerted Too

Updated on November 17, 2018
Gerry Glenn Jones profile image

I write on a wide variety of genres, and history and war have always been a concern of mine, especially the history we make every day.

In 1959, levels of nuclear readiness were established by the United States and Canada in preparation of a warning system in case of threats, or possible threats from countries with nuclear capabilities.

This system was called, "defense readiness condition (DEFCON)," and has 5 levels; however, some include a 6th level, which will never be instituted on Earth. We'll cover it later.

If you have ever wondered what each level means, and when we have used each of them, keep reading. They will be in reverse order.

What a nuclear attack on Washington might look like
What a nuclear attack on Washington might look like | Source

DEFCON 5

DEFCON 5 is considered "normal peacetime readiness," but with all the conflicts in the world today, we may be constantly at DEFCON 4; only our government knows for sure, and that is classified information.


NORAD
NORAD | Source

DEFCON 3

DEFCON 3 level is defined as an "increase in force readiness above normal readiness."


When we are at this level the US armed forces are ready to deploy in 6 hours. The U.S. begins showing more force and initiates a higher intelligence level and actively, and more thoroughly tacks potential terrorists or insurgents.

We have been at this level three times, which the public is aware of. The first was the "Yom Kippur War" in 1973, when Egypt and Syria attacked Israel, and again in "Operation Paul Bunyan." It occurred when two United States Army officers, Captain Arthur Bonifas and Lt. Mark Barrett, were killed with axes by North Korean soldiers in the Demilitarized Zone in 1976.

We also went into DEFCON 3 when the World Trade Center towers were attacked by terrorists in 2001.

DEFCON 4

DEFCON 4 is classed as at "increased intelligence and strengthened security measures." During this security level, the U.S. is constantly gathering intelligence on global events and suspicious activities which may constitute war.

We were on DEFCON 4 many times during the Gulf Wars and may be on DEFCON 4 now, due to world events. Some believe it is a part of everyday life now.


Good day
Good day | Source

DEFCON 2

DEFCON 2

is a step above 3. It is an increase in force readiness and brings the military to its pinnacle of strength before possible deployment to DEFCON 1. This is the highest state of readiness the U.S. has ever reached. During this level, the USAF is prepared to deploy within 15 minutes. It has only been declared twice.

The first of these Defcon 2 alerts came during The "Cuban Missile Crisis" in October 1962.

Our military forces were ordered to prepare for nuclear warfare with the Soviet Union unless they backed down from their construction of nuclear missile bases in Cuba, which was only 103 miles from the Florida Keys in the U.S. and 1,110 miles from Washington, DC.

In 1991, the Joint Chiefs of Staff declared DEFCON 2 in the opening phase of "Operation Desert Storm."

 An Israeli pilot, Shimshon Rozen, climbing into a McDonnell Douglas F-4E Phantom II during the Yom Kippur War
An Israeli pilot, Shimshon Rozen, climbing into a McDonnell Douglas F-4E Phantom II during the Yom Kippur War | Source

DEFCON 1

DEFCON 1,

which is the “maximum force readiness,” has never been reached as far as we know. When it is declared all U.S. military forces are ready to be deployed, in preparation for full-scale thermonuclear war.

There are many things we don't know about some of the incidents which have occurred, and what actual levels of DEFCON were used because many are classified.

Also, the DEFCON scale is not the only system the U.S. government uses to rate readiness against foreign and domestic dangers. The others are LERTCON (alert condition - used by the U.S. and NATO allies), REDCON (readiness condition - used by individual U.S. military units), and EMERGCON (emergency condition - which is used after an intercontinental ballistic missile attack.)


World Trade Center after attack in 2001
World Trade Center after attack in 2001 | Source
Epicenter of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan - 1945
Epicenter of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan - 1945 | Source

Only One Country Would Have Definitely Used DEFCON 1

The only country in the world which would have gone to DEFCON 1, if it had been available in 1945, was Japan, which was struck by two atomic bombs, dropped by the U.S. to end World War II.

Now, that you know a little more about DEFCON 1 - 5, let's look at DEFCON 6, which I said earlier would never be possible and is not part of the official DEFCON system. DEFCON 6 is described as total peace, serenity, and love in the world. We will only reach DEFCON 6 when we get to Heaven.

Wonderous day
Wonderous day | Source
U.S. aerial reconnaissance photograph of a medium range ballistic missile launch site at San Cristobal in Cuba, on 1 November 1962 during the Cuban missile crisis
U.S. aerial reconnaissance photograph of a medium range ballistic missile launch site at San Cristobal in Cuba, on 1 November 1962 during the Cuban missile crisis | Source

References

DEFCON https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DEFCON

DEFCON Warning System https://defconwarningsystem.com/

Go To DEFCON 3 https://www.airspacemag.com/military-aviation/go-defcon-3-180949493/



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    • Gerry Glenn Jones profile imageAUTHOR

      Gerry Glenn Jones 

      3 weeks ago from Somerville, Tennessee

      Thanks, Pamela and Wesman, I try to write articles that explain things that we hear about but don't understand fully. I also love to write these because it gives me a chance to do some fact-finding myself, and I learn so much that way.

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 

      3 weeks ago from Sunny Florida

      I have certainly heard of the DEFCON levels in movies, but I appreciate you spelling them out so I have a better understanding. I remember the Cuban Missile Crisis even though I was quite young. It is scary to think we would ever get to #1.

    • Wesman Todd Shaw profile image

      Wesman Todd Shaw 

      3 weeks ago from Kaufman, Texas

      Thanks for the refresher course. I'm used to only hearing about these Defcon levels in action films.

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