The United States Air Force will put its ageing fleet of nuclear-capable B-52 bombers on 24-hour alert for the first time since the end of the Cold War, according to its chief of staff.
(DM) Amid rising tensions with North Korea and a resurgent Putin-led Russia, General David Goldfein told Defense One that the strategic bomber force will be ready at a day’s notice for the first time in 26-years.
Adapting to the ‘reality of the global situation’, Goldfein’s order would see B-52s readied at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana and armed with nuclear weapons – something not seen since 1991.
Indeed, Barksdale – the home of the 2D Bomb Wing and Air Force Global Strike Command – is currently being refurbished in anticipation of the change in defense posture to allow the bombers to ‘take off at a moment’s notice’.
This is the latest aggressive move from the US military, matching the bellicose threats that President Trump has barked on Twitter, putting North Korea, Iran and other American enemies on notice he will use the might of the armed forces.
This comes after Donald Trump met with top military chiefs on October 6, and made a comment about ‘calm before the storm.’
Speaking to Defense One, General Goldfein emphasized that orders haven’t been given yet, but that they are preparing the bases in the event that it should happen.
‘This yet one more step in ensuring that we’re prepared,’ General Goldfein explained.
‘I look at it more as not planning for any specific event, but more for the reality of the global situation we find ourselves in and how we ensure we’re prepared going forward.’
Were things to escalate, the decision to fire would be made by General John Hyten, commander of Strategic Command, or General Lori Robinson, head of Northern Command.
Readying the B-52s is just one of many decisions facing the Air Force as North Korea continues to advance its nuclear arsenal.
Kim Jong-Un’s rhetoric has grown more confrontational by the day – following his first threat to wipe the United States off the earth in Early April.
So in addition to President Trump’s confrontational rebuttals and Russia’s increasingly capable armed forces, General Goldfein said it’s best to be prepared.
He has asked his force to think of new ways that nuclear weapons can be used for either deterrence or combat, he told Defense One.
Specifically, he said, General Goldfein told airmen to think beyond Cold War uses for ICBMs, bombers and nuclear cruise missiles.
‘The world is a dangerous place and we’ve got folks that are talking openly about use of nuclear weapons,’ he explained.
‘It’s no longer a bipolar world where it’s just us and the Soviet Union. We’ve got other players out there who have nuclear capability. It’s never been more important to make sure that we get this mission right.’
General Goldfein said he’s not sure if placing B52s on alert will help with deterrence, because it would depend on the players, their specific behaviors, and their understanding of the US’s readiness status.
At Barksdale several improvements have been made in preparations – including the renovation of a building near the alert pads where B-52 crews can sleep.
The base is home to the 2d Bomb Wing and Air Force Global Strike Command, and oversees the service’s nuclear forces. It is therefore the place where the Air Force is most focused on readying B-52s to return to alert posture.
Two nuclear command planes – the E-4B Nightwatch and E-6B Mercury – will both occasionally visit the base. In the event of a nuclear war those planes would be the flying command posts of the defense secretary and STRATCOM commander (respectively), according to Defense One.
If a strike were to be ordered, launch codes would be transmitted to bombers from those planes.
Multiple bases with nuclear bombers, including Barksdale, are preparing to build storage facilities for the new nuclear cruise missile under development. That missile, which is a proposed replacement for the 400-plus Minutemen III ICBM.
‘Our job is options. we provide best military advice and options for the commander and chief and the secretary of defense,’ General Goldfein told Defense One.
He said that should commanders need it, the base will be ready to defend the homeland and to put those forces.