USAF May Put B-52 Bombers on Full 24 Hour Alert
In a move not seen since the Cold War, the USAF may put their B-52 Bombers on 24 hour alert status, according to Defense One. NO alert order has yet been given, but preparations are currently underway just in case it comes.
“This is yet one more step in ensuring that we’re prepared. 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…The world is a dangerous place and we’ve got folks that are talking openly about use of nuclear weapons. 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 David Goldfein, Air Force chief of staff.
Goldfein made the remarks during a tour of Barksdale AFB in Louisiana, which is home to the 2nd Bomb Wing and Air Force Global Strike Command. A number of improvements are being made to the AFB, including renovations to the nine alert pads, and the old concrete building where crew members would sleep to be ready to get to their jets at a moment’s notice. Beds for an additional 100 crew members are being installed.
If the order should come, it would come from Gen. John Hyten, the commander of U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM), or Gen. Lori Robinson, the head of U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM). Meanwhile, the USAF is looking at options.
Defense One reported,
Those long-empty B-52 parking spaces will soon get visits by two nuclear command planes, the E-4B Nightwatch and E-6B Mercury, both which will occasionally sit alert there. During a nuclear war, the planes would become the flying command posts of the defense secretary and STRATCOM commander, respectively. If a strike order is given by the president, the planes would be used to transmit launch codes to bombers, ICBMs and submarines. At least one of the four nuclear-hardened E-4Bs — formally called the National Airborne Operations Center, but commonly known as the Doomsday Plane — is always on 24-hour alert.
Barksdale and other bases with nuclear bombers are preparing to build storage facilities for a new nuclear cruise missile that is under development. During his trip, Goldfein received updates on the preliminary work for a proposed replacement for the 400-plus Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles, and the new long-range cruise missile.
The 24 hour alert status for the nation’s B-52 bombers ended in 1991. The USAF is now looking at options to deal with the North Korean threat, and any other nuclear player that might go rogue. The B-52s are long range bombers that can carry a variety of different weapons: cluster bombs, gravity bombs and precision guided missiles. Whether or not putting them on 24 hour alert status is a good option is still up for debate, but the Air Force is weighing the options.