With tensions continually escalating on the Korean peninsula, the U.S. Air Force is reportedly preparing to put its fleet of nuclear-armed B-52 bombers on 24-hour ready alert for the first time since the end of the Cold War in 1991.
Defense officials reportedly denied to Fox News that bombers were ordered to go on 24-hour alert, but Gen. David Goldfein, who is the Air Force’s top officer and member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Defense One that preparations are underway. So, although the alert order for 24-hour ready status had not yet been given, plans are currently underway to operationalize the order when it comes.
According to the exclusive report by Defense One:
Goldfein and other senior defense officials stressed that the alert order had not been given, but that preparations were under way in anticipation that it might come. That decision would be made by Gen. John Hyten, the commander of U.S. Strategic Command, or Gen. Lori Robinson, the head of U.S. Northern Command. STRATCOM is in charge of the military’s nuclear forces and NORTHCOM is in charge of defending North America.
Putting the B-52s back on alert is just one of many decisions facing the Air Force as the U.S. military responds to a changing geopolitical environment that includes North Korea’s rapidly advancing nuclear arsenal, President Trump’s confrontational approach to Pyongyang, and Russia’s increasingly potent and active armed forces.
Gen. Goldfein noted that by the U.S. Air Force positioning its fleet of B-52 nuclear bombers on 24-hour alert, the Air Force is preparing “for the reality of the global situation we find ourselves in.”
“This is yet one more step in ensuring that we’re prepared,” Goldfein told Defense One. “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.”
“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,” Goldfein added.
The report sheds light on the recent move by the Trump administration to amend an executive order signed by George W. Bush, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, that will allow for the Air Force to recall up to 1,000 retired pilots to address what the Department of Defense labeled “an acute shortage of pilots.”
Pundits were initially at a loss to understand how there was a sudden shortage of pilots, but given the reported change in readiness posture of the Air Force’s B-52 nuclear bomber fleet, the move now seems to be explained.
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Additionally, Defense One reported that Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana, home of the 2d Bomb Wing and Air Force Global Strike Command, which manages the service’s nuclear services, is in the process of being renovated so the B-52 fleet can be ready to “take off at a moment’s notice.”
“Inside, beds are being installed for more than 100 crew members, more than enough room for the crews that would man bombers positioned on the nine alert pads outside. There’s a recreation room, with a pool table, TVs and a shuffleboard table. Large paintings of the patches for each squadron at Barksdale adorn the walls of a large stairway.
One painting — a symbol of the Cold War — depicts a silhouette of a B-52 with the words ‘Peace The Old Fashioned Way,’ written underneath. At the bottom of the stairwell, there is a Strategic Air Command logo, yet another reminder of the Cold War days when American B-52s sat at the ready on the runway outside.”
The B-52 can fly to about 50,000 feet at subsonic speeds and has the ability to release a variety of ordnance, including cluster bombs, gravity bombs, and precision-guided missiles—both conventional and nuclear.
The 24-hour alert status for B-52s ended in 1991, as the Cold War wound to a close with the fall of the Soviet Union.
If these events are any indication, the world is on the brink of potential devastation, unlike anything we’ve seen in the past 26 years. As tensions increase with North Korea, China and Russia, make no mistake that being poised to strike at a moment’s notice only emboldens a security dilemma whereby competitor states will, in turn, put their own militaries on increased readiness to strike. What often ensues is a vicious feedback loop that has the potential to quickly devolve into open warfare.
The ominous result is subsequently the creation of a paradigm where one miscalculation could result in a devastating nuclear exchange that would forever change the world.
As Neocons March us into Nuclear war….
Remember, “the only winning move is not to play.” pic.twitter.com/dThLANIohI
— Matt Agorist (@MattAgorist) August 11, 2017
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Jay Syrmopoulos is a geopolitical analyst, freethinker, and ardent opponent of authoritarianism. He is currently a graduate student at the University of Denver pursuing a masters in Global Affairs and holds a BA in International Relations. Jay’s writing has been featured on both mainstream and independent media – and has been viewed tens of millions of times. You can follow him on Twitter @SirMetropolis and on Facebook at SirMetropolis. This article first appeared at The Free Thought Project.