B-52s, Nuclear On-Alert Order? or What?

U.S. Air Force preparing to put nuclear-armed bombers on 24-hour ready alert? Yes, no, maybe. Mixed messages from media, nuke experts, the Air Force. Defense One interview quotes revisited


  • According to Defense One, two nuclear command planes, the E-4B Nightwatch and E-6B Mercury, will be deployed to Barksdale Air Force Base. During a nuclear war, they would serve as flying command posts of the defense secretary.


Barrage of online ‘Twitter replies’ follows from community of nuclear experts:


US Air Force denying report that it planned to return B-52s to strip alert. Sounds right — no real rationale for doing so.

Very hard to understand what would justify returning to costly practice of keeping B-52s on alert, a practice abandoned by GHW Bush in 1991.

US Air Force tells me it’s not preparing to put nuke-armed B52s on alert… Spox says a reporter read too much into routine refurbishment…

Can I ask where you’re seeing a denial that the USAF is preparing to put B-52s on alert if STRATCOM or NORTHCOM gives order?

Yes, the report is wrong. Bombers not going on nuke alert. They can, if necessary, but alert mission is served by ICBMs and select SSBNs.

My colleague Hans Kristensen (@nukestrat) estimates that the US maintains 852 warheads on alert at all times.

They are talking about doing it at Barksdale, where bombers are heavily used for conventional missions and there are no active nukes…

(conventional missions emphasis added to recall the history of B-29 bombing of North Korea during the Korean war)



  • Noting October 20 Executive Order: Return to Active Duty Program announced by Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson and Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein — Trump administration empowering Air Force program to return as many as 1,000 retired pilots to active-duty service





Via Defense One


October 22, 2017

By Marcus Weisgerber (Marcus Reports)

BARKSDALE AIR FORCE BASE, La. — The U.S. Air Force is preparing to put nuclear-armed bombers back on 24-hour ready alert, a status not seen since the Cold War ended 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.



According to the “exclusive” Defense One article, putting the B-52s back on alert is … 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.



The article goes on to explain that … 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. During his trip across the country last week, Goldfein encouraged 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 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.”