At Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana, the concrete pads at the end of runway lay dormant. But, for the first time in over 25 years, that is about to change. The United States Air Force is preparing to put its B-52 bombers, armed with nuclear weapons, on ready alert status. It’s a status not seen since the Cold War officially ended in 1991.
North Korea’s rapidly advancing nuclear program and Russia’s growing armed forces are forcing military officials to reevaluate its preparedness. Air Force Chief of Staff, General David Goldfein, believes it is time for the AF to look at ways nuclear weapons can be used as both a means of deterrence and in combat.
“The world is a dangerous place and we’ve got folks that are talking openly about use of nuclear weapons,” says Goldfein. “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.”
Consequently, one of the “players” the General is referring to is rouge North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un. Kim is taking unprecedented steps to build a nuclear arsenal and routinely threatens to destroy the U.S. In the capital city of Pyongyang, calls for war and destruction fill the streets.
Tensions between the U.S. and the Northern peninsula continue to escalate over threats aimed at America and her allies. On two separate occasions, the North has sent missiles flying over Japan as a warning call. In response, U.S. and Japanese military forces are almost routinely buzzing the Korean peninsula with stealth bombers and fighter jets.
The Chill Returns
Nevertheless, General Goldfein says putting the nuke bombers on alert is not about any specific event. Rather, it is a necessary step in dealing with the quick changing geopolitical climate. “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.”
Incidentally, the ready alert order isn’t official yet but it will be soon. Renovations at Barksdale AFB, home to the 2D Bomb Wing and Air Force Global Strike Command, are underway. The once vacant concrete building near the alert pads, where troops would sleep during the Cold War, is being readied to house 100 new crew members.