The U.S. Air Force is reportedly preparing B-52 bombers outfitted with nuclear weapons for 24-hour alert, a posture unseen since the Cold War.
In an exclusive report from Defense One, Gen. David Goldfein, chief of staff for the Air Force, described the decision as “yet one more step in ensuring that we're prepared” for a potential threat to the homeland.
“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.”
Though Goldfein said no official orders have been handed down from President Donald Trump or any other commanding officer, the Air Force is preparing for the likelihood of such an order.
He said the military is assembling itself “for the reality of the global situation we find ourselves in.”
According to the report, Barksdale Air Force Base in Bossier Parish, Louisiana, which is home to the 2nd Bomb Wing and Air Force Global Strike Command, is being refurbished to house the B-52s in their new alert posture.
Beds are reportedly being installed for more than 100 crew members who would operate as many as nine bombers positioned on alert pads outside. All of this, Goldfein said, is about “options”:
“We provide best military advice and options for the commander in chief and the secretary of defense. Should the STRATCOM commander require or the NORTHCOM commander require us to [be on] a higher state of readiness to defend the homeland, then we have to have a place to put those forces.”
Defense One's report comes as North Korea is continuing to advance its nuclear program, claiming to have “reached the touch-and-go point and a nuclear war may break out any moment.”
Trump, for his part, has been incredibly adversarial toward North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. In early October, he asserted other White House administrations have failed to control Pyongyang, adding, “[O]nly one thing will work.”
After posing for a photo with high-ranking military officers and their spouses, the president described the moment as the “calm before the storm.” When reporters asked what he meant, Trump simply replied: “You'll find out.”
Should the nuclear-armed B-52s return to high-alert, it will be the first time since 1991, under then-President George H.W. Bush, at the end of the Cold War.
UPDATE [10/23/2017, 12:57 p.m. ET]:
According to the Washington Examiner, Ann Stefanek, the chief of Air Force media operations, said the Air Force is “not planning or preparing to put B-52s back on alert.”