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US Preparing to Put Nuclear Bombers On 24-Hour Alert ( 578

DefenseOne reports on new preparations at Barksdale Air Force Base: 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. That means the long-dormant concrete pads at the ends of this base's 11,000-foot runway -- dubbed the "Christmas tree" for their angular markings -- could once again find several B-52s parked on them, laden with nuclear weapons and set to take off at a moment's notice... Gen. David Goldfein, Air Force chief of staff, 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...

Already, various improvements have been made to prepare Barksdale -- home to the 2d Bomb Wing and Air Force Global Strike Command, which oversees the service's nuclear forces -- to return B-52s to an alert posture. Near the alert pads, an old concrete building -- where B-52 crews during the Cold War would sleep, ready to run to their aircraft and take off at a moment's notice -- is being renovated. 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... 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.

General Goldfein, 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... '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.'"
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US Preparing to Put Nuclear Bombers On 24-Hour Alert

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  • by beheaderaswp ( 549877 ) * on Sunday October 22, 2017 @09:48PM (#55415265)

    While I've got no idea whether this site is a reliable source for such information, it does seem like a step backward.

    Nuclear weapons are always a bad idea. The public relations cost of using them alone could devastate our country. They were always sold to the American public as a temporary weapons system due to the Soviet, then Chinese, threat. Today no country on earth will let lose with these armaments because the retaliation would be devastating.

    Even North Korea must know that internally.

    But it sure seems like a bad idea to have these systems on 24 hour alert. Especially since retaliation with nukes essentially destroys both sides.

    Of course I'll take a lot of heat for taking this position. But after reading books on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, along with survivor accounts, and photographs- I could draw no other conclusion.

    Nukes go way beyond military supremacy issues- into overkill. No pun intended.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 22, 2017 @09:53PM (#55415291)

      >Nuclear weapons are always a bad idea.

      Unless you also have a valuable resource, such as oil, then being in possession of a nuclear weapon dramatically decreasses the possibility of a direct invasion by a foreign army. Saddam sure coulda used one to the Yankees at bay.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 23, 2017 @12:20AM (#55415805)

        The reason Saddam got invaded, (at least the excuse) was because he was acting like he was going to get nukes, which is the same reason N. Korea is getting special attention now. N. Korea (that insane boy leader there) is being a special dumbass about it. Without nukes they have Seoul as hostage to their gazillion conventional guns and have China as a protector. Knocking them off wasn't worth it for either the US or S. Korea, an annoyance which can be safely ignored. With nukes they become dangerous enough for both countries to calculate if it is worth it to try a first strike and get those nukes on the ground, and China may just figure it isn't worth protecting a nutcase who will get them involved in nuclear fallout themselves. The leaders of N. Korea had a pretty good three generation run without nukes. Sooner or later, this nuke thing doesn't end well for them. It may not end well for a bunch of other people but it makes N. Korea a goner.

        • by jellomizer ( 103300 ) on Monday October 23, 2017 @06:05AM (#55416565)

          Unfortunately our insane boy leader of the US doesn’t know how to deescalate these problems. They are both trolling each other until one side hits first. Neither will be the adult and back down. Our only saving grace is that both sides are big cowards and want to have the other guy strike first.

          Neither leader cares about the loss of life, nor the effect these weapons will have on the world. They just want everyone to like them, and are hopping they get attacked first so they look like the poor victim.

          • by butchersong ( 1222796 ) on Monday October 23, 2017 @11:20AM (#55417635)
            That isn't accurate at all. Under Clinton NK threatens to nuke us and we say "settle down. we'll give you some stuff if you calm down." NK continues nuclear research. Then under Bush Jr they do the same thing, we respond in the same way and they inch a bit further into being a real threat to us and the region. Obama, same.

            What is the solution to NK? How do we de-escalate? We've spent decades playing softball with them and allowing their continued research into nuclear armament.. at what point to we stop appeasing them and start dealing with them directly? When they can actually nuke California? The whole point of this isn't to nuke NK. It is to make China realize that we will strike NK if necessary and to finally take responsibility for this crazy nation on their border.

      • by hey! ( 33014 ) on Monday October 23, 2017 @10:11AM (#55417235) Homepage Journal

        Right. Leaving aside the loaded question of the role of oil in US Middle East policy, security is why Iran wanted a nuclear weapon, back in the day. Iran is bordered by Iraq on one side and Afghanistan on the other, both countries which the US toppled regimes by overwhelming force in a matter of weeks. Iran would be a much tougher nut to crack than either of those countries, but there's no question that radical elements in US politics were greatly emboldened by how easy it was to eliminate a hostile regime in those places, just as radical elements in the Iranian regime might think taking a nuclear pot-shot at Israel isn't such a bad idea. Every functioning political system has its lunatic fringe.

        Now Iran having nuclear weapons is a bad thing for us; it's a bad thing for the region; but it doesn't necessarily mean it's an entirely bad thing for Iran. Like most complicated questions it has two sides. People don't like questions to be complicated, so they don't like the idea that Iran might have rational reasons to want a nuclear weapons (as well as rational reasons to avoid having one).

    • by Anonymous Coward

      MAD only works against a RATIONAL enemy. Guess how many leaders aren't rational.

    • by UnknownSoldier ( 67820 ) on Sunday October 22, 2017 @10:51PM (#55415507)

      > Even North Korea must know that internally.

      You have a dumb-ass histrionic narcissistic [] "supreme leader" vs a impulsive narcissistic [] moron world leader.

      North Korea is dumb enough to nuke the USA.
      The USA is dumb enough to wipe North Korea off the face of the earth.

      You do the math. Stupid people do stupid things.

      Intelligent people will occasionally act stupid.
      Stupid people act stupid all the time.

      There is no hope for these two.
      Judaism is the source of Christian indulgences: Murdering an innocent animals for heaven insurance.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

        I don't think Kim would start anything, his behaviour is too rational for that. The main danger is that he is deposed and someone worse takes over, but ironically Trump has actually strengthened Kim's grip on power by handing him some easy PR wins.

        Both Kim and Trump consider saving face to be of the utmost importance, but fortunately for Trump that often just means lying and pretending he is winning, rather than actually having to come out on top. To an extent Kim can do that too, but he cares more about ho

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by aliquis ( 678370 )

      North Korea doesn't get nukes to attack the US and wait to be attacked back.

      North Korea get nukes so that if USA attack North Korea they can attack back.

      The idea isn't at all to launch a nuclear attack, the idea is to avoid being attacked in the first place.

    • While I've got no idea whether this site is a reliable source for such information, it does seem like a step backward.

      Nuclear weapons are always a bad idea. The public relations cost of using them alone could devastate our country. They were always sold to the American public as a temporary weapons system due to the Soviet, then Chinese, threat. Today no country on earth will let lose with these armaments because the retaliation would be devastating.

      Even North Korea must know that internally.

      We don't really know what some of the leaders of nuclear states are thinking. And it's not only North Korea to worry about.
      1) President Xi is more belligerent than any Chinese leader since Mao and he seems to think he is Mao. The CCP has been whipping up the military into an anti-US frenzy for years now and it's only gotten worse under Xi. While I think he is rational, if perhaps a bit short sighted at times, my fear is not that he will start nuking anybody but military people under him may quickly spi

  • by jfdavis668 ( 1414919 ) on Sunday October 22, 2017 @09:52PM (#55415285)
    Call up Major Kong, he knew how to handle a nuclear weapon. Ahhhhh hoooo!
  • by American AC in Paris ( 230456 ) on Sunday October 22, 2017 @09:59PM (#55415313) Homepage

    This would send a clear, unambiguous to each and every nation that would do America harm:

    "We have no idea what we're doing, but we're gonna look real tough doing it."

  • Bombers? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Dan East ( 318230 ) on Sunday October 22, 2017 @10:04PM (#55415337) Journal

    I'm curious the strategic use of bombers on 24 hour standby, when there are enough ICBMs, including those in nuclear subs which are likely really, really close to North Korea already, to totally decimate that country. North Korea could be a smoldering ruin before the bombers would even leave US airspace (even if they were on standby). So I wonder if the bombers would simply be more "obvious" to Kim Jong or what?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      It's just a return to the posture of old, with the "unstoppable" nuclear triad. In short a pissing contest.

      The problem as I see it: No one else is playing, so why?

    • by lhowaf ( 3348065 )
      It may be, as you say, to make the threat to NK clear. It may also be preferable to use individual bombs because ballistic missiles carry multiple warheads that can be individually aimed. Once NK is glowing, what would they do with the remaining warheads?
      • ICBMs don't have to carry their full design compliment - the British Trident nuclear weapons delivery system only carries 3 warheads per missile rather than the Trident missiles capability of 12 warheads per missile.

        It's also strongly suspected that some British Trident missiles carry as few as a single missile for a single target strike in a "tactical" deployment.

    • Re:Bombers? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by YrWrstNtmr ( 564987 ) on Sunday October 22, 2017 @10:27PM (#55415419)
      Once launched, aircraft can be recalled.
    • I'm curious the strategic use of bombers on 24 hour standby, when there are enough ICBMs, including those in nuclear subs which are likely really, really close to North Korea already, to totally decimate that country.

      The advantage that bombers have over sub-launched missiles and ICBMs is that a bomber can be recalled from an attack. It is a human-guided delivery system, with crews that can potentially adapt tactics and switch targets in wartime.

      • by mbkennel ( 97636 ) on Sunday October 22, 2017 @11:51PM (#55415707)
        It's most likely that the weapon of choice vs North Korea is a B61-11 or B61-12, the most recent versions of an air-dropped weapon.

        The air-dropped weapons are likely more precise and more suitable to use against reinforced underground structures with less surface yield.

        Ballistic missiles, whether land based or sea-based can only use one particular warhead intimately configured with the delivery system and guidance, because of the need to match the mechanical dynamics & mass with the guidance. I.e. there is no way to change the weapon. Additionally, they are not as precise--they re-enter the atmosphere at extreme velocities within a giant ionization cloud, and prior to re-entry they have only one chance for guidance, immediately after release, and are thereafter falling, unpowered.

        The ICBM and SLBM warheads are also very large (200-500 kt) and intended as retaliation. If you want genocide, any of them will do, but if you intend a military attack then you'd want to be more specific.

        Against DPRK you'd be looking at using 'bunker buster' weapons---there are rumors that there are nuclear designs which may direct maximum force downward seismically (e.g. use the primary to accelerate a secondary penetrator downward?)---and probably low-yield neutron weapons against the artillery units threatening Seoul. Probably under 10kt.

        Those need to be launched by bombers, or maybe from cruise missiles carried by those bombers.

        In any event, it's insanity as it undoubtedly gets Seoul, Tokyo or maybe even Seattle obliterated. DPRK has plenty good enough missiles to put whatever size warhead they have already over Korea and Japan---and missile defense is awfully difficult. DPRK could easily launch 40 missiles simultaneously, four of which are nuclear, and each one puts out 10 decoys in space .
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by msauve ( 701917 )
      Because, deterrent. It's not using them, it's making the other side think you will. Our guy is crazier than your guy, and all that.
    • I'm curious the strategic use of bombers on 24 hour standby, when there are enough ICBMs, including those in nuclear subs which are likely really, really close to North Korea already, to totally decimate that country. North Korea could be a smoldering ruin before the bombers would even leave US airspace (even if they were on standby). So I wonder if the bombers would simply be more "obvious" to Kim Jong or what?

      Fail Safe explains it fairly well []

    • Re:Bombers? (Score:4, Informative)

      by jeff4747 ( 256583 ) on Monday October 23, 2017 @01:07AM (#55415945)

      Our land-based ICBMs can really only hit Russia. The Minuteman III silos are basically pointed at Russia, and the missiles don't really have the ability to alter their trajectory enough to hit anything. MX missiles could, but those were a lot more expensive to build and maintain, so we retired them in favor of keeping the Minuteman IIIs going.

      That leaves sub-launched ICBMs as the only ones that could reliably hit anywhere in the world. But sub-launched ICBMs suddenly appearing out of the water make a lot of countries very, very nervous since they can hit anywhere. So using them to attack North Korea has the very real danger of China or Russia retaliating in fear that it is a first strike.

      Bombers are slow enough that other nuclear countries can take the time to watch where the bomber is headed, reducing the danger of retaliation.

  • Bipolar? Oh no... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by denzacar ( 181829 )

    He's a narcissist sociopath with senile dementia.

    But at least there's all that winning going around.
    In the words of Darth Vader: Yippee! []

  • by jonwil ( 467024 )

    Given how easy it is for the US to launch enough missiles (both land based and submarine launched) to turn North Korea into a smoking hole in the ground, why would they need nuclear-armed bombers that take far longer to get to the target?

    • Probably so they don't have to use ICBMs. You wouldn't want Russia to even think a missile is headed their way, or to any other country.

      They probably want the opportunity to use a conventional missile/bomb before thing's start getting nuclear.
    • by Richard_at_work ( 517087 ) <> on Sunday October 22, 2017 @10:35PM (#55415449)

      It's a statement that can be photographed and noticed - putting your ballistic missile force on high alert has few physical signs as potent as bombers sitting on ready alert at the end of a runway.

  • by lucasnate1 ( 4682951 ) on Sunday October 22, 2017 @10:11PM (#55415363)

    Also, I always wanted to try heroine without suffering the consequences.

  • ... this is your fault. Fuck you.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by aardvarkjoe ( 156801 )

      If you voted for Hilary Clinton instead of a sane candidate who would have unquestionably defeated Trump, this is your fault. Fuck you.

    • Exactly!

      The approximately half of the US voters who voted for Trump are directly at fault!
      The approximately half who voted for Clinton, after all, were supporting war again Russia, much more sane!

      Or, just possibly, not.

  • WHAT. THE. FUCK. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by vinn ( 4370 )
    Can we all just take a minute to sit back and remind ourselves this is not normal. Besides the fact it makes no sense to have bombers on standby when we have plenty of missiles that'll do the job faster and easier, this is just one more bizarre thing that seems to be bending to the will of a crackpot president. I hope if he decides to use nukes that Tillerson and Mattis are in the room to beat the living shit out of him before anyone hears the order.
  • by cervesaebraciator ( 2352888 ) on Sunday October 22, 2017 @10:32PM (#55415437)

    Once upon a time, I bought and started playing Pandemic []. Right after, just as I started enjoying the game, there was the West African Ebola outbreak []. And now? I start replaying Fallout and this happens.

    That's it. From here on out my only entertainment will be re-watching the Death by Snu Snu [] episode.

  • most of the pilots are younger than the bombers they fly. 486
  • by rsilvergun ( 571051 ) on Sunday October 22, 2017 @11:38PM (#55415663)
    I know folks who voted Trump because they saw Hilary as a war hawk. She is (more a Chicken hawk than anything else since I can't see her ever in harms way) but Trump certainly wasn't the answer. At least Hilary wouldn't be riling up Iran just to appeal to her base.
    • I truly do believe within a few weeks we will be at war with North Korea. Maybe even a nuclear war without a doubt if it is started.

      Trump over and over makes quotes saying diplomacy is a waste of time, we need to bomb North Korea, America won't stand for a nuclear North Korea, I can't believe it takes 3 months to plan for a war, to last Lindsey Gramm saying he just spoke with Trump and he is ready to bomb them and prefers to loose regional security over a threat to the United States unless Kim gives up his

  • by sjames ( 1099 ) on Monday October 23, 2017 @12:00AM (#55415745) Homepage Journal

    When the Soviet union was the threat, having the bombers on alert was a credible deterrant. Specifically, they put the Soviets on notice that even if they launched a strike sufficient to annihilate the U.S. we would get the bombers safely in the air first and they would go down with us.

    Today, the threat is different. Nobody is at all prepared to launch an attack to annihilate the U.S. Even if N. Korea does it's worst, we'll have plenty of ability (and will) to turn them into a glass wasteland.

  • On the Beach... (Score:5, Informative)

    by rob p ( 3646707 ) on Monday October 23, 2017 @12:43AM (#55415875)
    Somebody needs to send Trump a copy of "On the Beach". Radiation sickness is not a pleasant way to go. You vomit and deficate like the flu. According to the book, you might get better, but it only lasts for two weeks before the symptoms recall and then you die. [] I think people need to hear the graphic effects of what a nuclear war would be like.
    • It was 'The Day After' that changed Regan's mind. I also remember one day, as a child, flipping through the three channels available to me, and coming across a delightfully whimsical cartoon, on TVO, called 'When The Wind Blows,' about a slightly dotty old retired British couple, which I sat down to watch. It didn't stay delightfully whimsical.
  • O.M.G (Score:5, Interesting)

    by morethanapapercert ( 749527 ) on Monday October 23, 2017 @01:11AM (#55415961) Homepage
    Any sane person should be fucking terrified about this. During the Cold War, both sides subscribed to the "No first strike" policy, which was in turn the foundation for Mutually Assured Destruction. In other words, both sides were promising not to shoot first, but to also unleash nuclear Armageddon if attacked with nukes. (and possibly other weapons of mass destruction. The Russian Dead Hand apparently didn't just rely on sensors detecting nukes after all. It was rumoured that it relied on certain radio stations continuing to broadcast and would launch the missiles autonomously is a set number of stations went off the air such as when a virulent plague wiped out a town)

    North Korea doesn't have the ability to launch a massive counter-strike, so their continued existence after rattling the nuclear sabre the way they've been doing depends on utterly on the US sticking to the "no first strike" policy. Yet TFA claims that General Goldfein is asking his staff to come up with ways to use nukes in combat. To me that sounds very much like the US Joint Chiefs are preparing contingency plans for pre-emptive strikes and "small" tactical nukes after that. To be fair, it is the clear duty of the Joint Chiefs to come up for contingency plans for pretty much every possible scenario, even the incredibly unlikely ones. But, one doesn't juggle squadrons around and re-assign personnel for unlikely contingencies.

    Meanwhile, there have been a slew of articles which suggest the US Navy is in dire straits. It's my understanding that successive administrations have forced them to cut back on new ship purchases and skimp on maintenance so long for the sake of short term availability, that now some ships are sitting in dry dock for years, waiting for repair. Likewise, there has been a clear trend to lower head counts in the ground forces as well. The focus has been on smaller, more nimble forces, aimed at dealing with insurgents and the like. That smaller force has become very sensitive to combat losses, has been forced to keep guys posted in combat far longer than expected (stop-loss) and is deployed in a number of hot spots all over the world. The ground forces are just not prepared to get into a land war in Asia right now. As an aside, I'm not sure I buy the fears of fanatically loyal human wave attacks. There was some concern about that in Iraq as I recall, because both Iraq and Iran had an established history of using such tactics. There were human wave attacks in the Korean conflict sure, but as in Iran, Iraq and WWII Russia, human waves always rely on political officers at the back, sending the hapless troops into battle at gun point, threatening family members back home if necessary. But, as we saw in Iraq, once the troops got totally cut off from high command, most couldn't surrender fast enough. (there is an apocryphal tale of an Iraqi regiment that tried to surrender to a BBC camera crew)

    The only arm of the US forces that seems to be ready to open a can of whoop ass in Korea is the Air Force. Problem is, there is a long standing dictum "You can bomb it, shell it until the rubble bounces, but you don't control it until you stick a kid with a rifle on it." The Air Force is guaranteed to wipe out anything on the surface taller than a dandelion with conventional weapons alone. But the Koreans have had decades to dig in and there is a lot of evidence of their tunnelling prowess in the tunnels the south Koreans have intercepted at the DMZ. The upshot is that the Air Force can not win the war on it's own.

    With that situation, it is going to be very tempting to just nuke the place.

    And we have Donald Trump with his finger on the button.

    Donald Trump...let that sink in for a moment.

    Tactically, this is shaping up to be a bigger version of Vietnam and the US had to worry back then about the Soviet Union and The Peoples Republic of China who were not only pretty close allies at the time, but backing the north Vietnamese. Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon were all far more savvy poli

  • by petes_PoV ( 912422 ) on Monday October 23, 2017 @01:42AM (#55416035)
    This might be "peace, the old fashioned way" so far as the bomber crews are concerned. But they are wrong - the world has changed since the face-off with the USSR.

    The "threat" posed by NK is completely different, and an administration's failure to recognise that means they are helping NK in its goals, not reducing the possibility of an attack. Kim Jong Un does not seem to be fearful of american aggression - he seems to be actively provoking it. A small gesture on his part produces a massive reaction from the USA. What an ego trip that is!

    And the thought of having thousands of megatons "pointed" at his tiny, little, country: 25 million people, means nothing. A nuclear war wouldn't do much to alter their standard of living - at least, not that of the survivors. So the threat of Mutually Assured Destruction is a failure. If it was ever a plausible concept, that is because it was intended to be used against an adversary who "loved their children too". But KJU is not in that category.

    But really, this response has nothing to do with trying the dissuade North Korea from progressing down the nuclear route. This is just a "fear response". Just like all those scared americans who are armed to the teeth. Their guns and other weapons are merely safety-blankets: bought and hoarded in an attempt to make them feel safe. And resurrecting the bomber readiness status is just another act of domestic reassurance. Just like the gun-nuts who spend all their time cleaning and oiling their weapons to keep their emotions of fear and panic under control.

  • by hyades1 ( 1149581 ) <> on Monday October 23, 2017 @02:14AM (#55416079)

    The United States of America has more nuclear weapons than any other country on the planet.

    And they have handed the launch codes to an intellectually lazy, narcissistic asshole.

    Have I got that about right?

    • by Strider- ( 39683 )

      Actually they don't, Russia has 4300 deliverable weapons, while the US has 4000. At the height of the cold war, the Soviet Union had roughly 40,000 warheads while the US had 23,000. The difference was made up because the US delivery systems were much more accurate.

  • by Striikerr ( 798526 ) on Monday October 23, 2017 @09:39AM (#55417091)

    Interesting "coincidence" around Trump's executive order authorizing the activation of retired military personnel was signed recently.. []

    This was signed with the explanation that it is solely intended to do so in order to get the air force pilot rosters back to their mandated minimums by activating retired air force pilots. It is still cause for concern when viewed in conjunction with these other activities..

    Reading from an article from: []

    "But the broad wording of the executive order seemed to imply that the executive branch would have the power to call up retired military officers and force them back into service for any reason, as the “emergency” Trump used to justify the executive order was extremely vague: “the continuing and immediate threat of further attacks on the United States.”"

  • by albeit unknown ( 136964 ) on Monday October 23, 2017 @11:37AM (#55417743)
    Perhaps this is just a ploy to boost the perceived importance of the B-52 to help justify a budget for its re-engining program? []

You will never amount to much. -- Munich Schoolmaster, to Albert Einstein, age 10