Air Force will place B-52s on 24-hour alert for first time since 1991
Air Force chief of staff General David Goldfein told Defense One that the Air Force is preparing to place our nuclear-armed B-52 bombers on 24-hour alert, a status not seen since the end of the Cold War in 1991.
"This is yet one more step in ensuring that we're prepared," Gen. David Goldfein, Air Force chief of staff, said in an interview during his six-day tour of Barksdale and other U.S. Air Force bases that support the nuclear mission. "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."
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.
Goldfein, who is the Air Force's top officer and a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is asking his force to think about new ways that nuclear weapons could be used for deterrence, or even combat.
"The world is a dangerous place and we've got folks that are talking openly about use of nuclear weapons," he said. "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."
This seems a wise precaution, given that the bombers are the most survivable leg of our nuclear triad that include subs and ICBMs. Previously, B-52s were sent to South Korea as a deterrence against an attack by the Kim regime. Placing them on 24-hour alert is another signal from the Trump administration that North Korea can hardly ignore.
B-52s are capable of carrying cruise missiles and a large conventional bomb load as well. The uncertainty in North Korea regarding what armament they are carrying will also serve as a deterrent to attack.