UPDATED: 1:26 p.m. Oct. 23, 2017
The Air Force is pushing back against a report that claims preparations are underway to put nuclear-armed bombers on 24-hour alert for the first time since the end of the Cold War.
The publication Defense One reported Sunday that the Air Force could soon put its fleet of B-52 bombers on “a ready-to-fly posture” for the first time since 1991. The status means the planes would be loaded with nuclear bombs and parked on special runways, ready to take off on a moment’s notice.
A spokesperson for Air Force Global Strike Command told VICE News on Monday the report is inaccurate. “We are not planning or preparing to put B-52s on alert,” the spokesperson said.
Defense One clearly stated that the “alert order had not been given but that preparations were under way in anticipation that it might come,” but that nuance was lost in many subsequent headlines published by other news outlets, including VICE News.
“This is yet one more step in ensuring that we’re prepared,” Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein said, according to 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.”
Air Force officials stressed that the military is only examining its capabilities in case an order eventually comes to upgrade the military’s current nuclear posture, which includes keeping nuclear missiles and submarines at the ready but bombers off full-time alert.
“We’re looking at the capabilities to do this. We are not are actually doing this,” an Air Force spokesman told Task and Purpose. “We prepare for things. This is what your military does. This is what you want your military to do.”
— Josh Marcus
The U.S. Air Force is planning to put its aging fleet of B-52 nuclear-armed bombers back on 24-hour ready alert for the first time in 25 years, according to the Defense One newsletter.
“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,” Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein told the publication.
The move comes amid an escalating war of words between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, and deteriorating U.S. relations with Iran after the president decertified the landmark 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran last week.
The Boeing Stratofortress fleet sat on purpose-built runways from the 1950s to the end of the Cold War, ready to fly at the first sign of Soviet hostility. The B-52s were subsequently used in the first Gulf War, and remain in action as a heavy bomber for conventional weapons, deployed to conflict zones around the world.
Goldfein said the order had yet to be made, but preparations were underway should it come down from U.S. Strategic Command.
Highlighting nuclear proliferation and increasing belligerence from North Korea, Goldfein stressed the importance of U.S. deterrence.
“The world is a dangerous place, and we’ve got folks that are talking openly about use of nuclear weapons,” Goldfein 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.”
NBC reported earlier this month that Trump had requested a tenfold increase in the U.S. nuclear stockpile during a July meeting. That was the meeting after which Secretary of State Rex Tillerson reportedly called the president a “fucking moron.”
Trump turned to Twitter to challenge NBC’s report: