Preview: The New Cold War

60 Minutes takes viewers inside the U.S. nuclear arsenal for a rare look at the military practicing the unthinkable

The next president will become commander-in-chief at a time when a new Cold War is brewing and both the U.S. and Russia still keep enough nuclear weapons on alert to end civilization. In a story to be broadcast on 60 Minutes Sunday, Sept. 18 7:30 p.m. ET and 7 p.m. PT, viewers will get a close up view of America’s nuclear arsenal and the extraordinary measures the U.S. military takes to make sure that one person and one person only -- the president of the United States -- can give the order to launch a nuclear weapon.

Pentagon correspondent David Martin and cameras went aboard the USS Kentucky, a ballistic missile submarine which hides beneath the ocean, waiting for an order from the president to launch some of the nearly 200 nuclear warheads it is capable of carrying. Asked if his submarine has ever been detected during one of its undersea patrols, the Kentucky’s captain, Cdr. Brian Freck, does not hesitate. “No. Not even close.”

Martin and his team also went inside Strategic Command headquarters in Omaha, Nebraska, the nerve center for U.S. nuclear forces. They went three stories underground to the Global Operations Center and interviewed the man in charge of the nation’s nuclear arsenal, Admiral Cecil Haney, who would speak directly to the president in a crisis, recommending specific options for a nuclear strike. “Would they tell him what kinds of weapons you would use and what targets you would hit?” Martin asks. “They would be that specific, yes,” Haney replies. “Would they give him an estimate of casualties?” “We would have to give the president answers to a lot of questions,”  says Haney. “That’s one I would expect to get.”