Nuclear Bombers Poised to Return to 24-Hour Alert After Trump Recalls Retired Pilots
The U.S. Air Force is preparing for nuclear armed B-52 bombers to be put back on 24-hour alert for the first time in 25 years as tensions rise between North Korea and President Donald Trump.
“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,” General David Goldfein, Air Force chief of staff, told Defense One in an interview Sunday.
While the order to have the bombers on alert hasn’t been given by the heads of U.S. Strategic Command or U.S. Northern Command, Gen. Goldfein—a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff—said that in the current political climate the Air Force anticipates that it might come. “This is yet one more step in ensuring that we’re prepared,” he said of the preparations.
The last time the bombers were on 24-hour alert was during the Cold War. About 40 strategic bombers armed with nuclear weapons were ready to take off at a moment’s notice from the president from 11 Strategic Air Command bases around the world. The alert was ended in 1991 by the then President George H.W. Bush after the end of the Cold War.
The prospect of returning to 24-hour alert worried former diplomats. “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,” wrote Steven Pifer, a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine and foreign service diplomat in Moscow on Twitter.
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. https://t.co/7BOZNNBGRo
— Steven Pifer (@steven_pifer) October 22, 2017
“Something’s brewing & it makes me queasy,” wrote Adam Blickstein, a former public affairs strategic planner for the Secretary of Defense, online, noting that last Friday President Trump signed an executive order so the Air Force could bring 1,000 pilots out of retirement.
On Sunday a spokeswoman for the Air Force said there are no plans to “recall retired pilots to address the pilot shortage.”
Over the summer President Trump threatened military action and “fire and fury like the world has never seen” against North Korea after a series of tests of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) by Pyongyang. The regime has also conducted underground nuclear weapons tests.
In early October Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told the Senate Armed Services Committee that while the U.S. needed to “ensure we have military options,” that Trump told him and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to pursue diplomatic efforts.
Yet during an interview with the Fox Business Network broadcast Sunday Trump said “you would be shocked to see how totally prepared we are” for military action against Pyongyang. “Would it be nice not to do that? The answer is yes. Will that happen? Who knows, who knows,” he said.
“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. It’s never been more important to make sure that we get this mission right.”