Fear of nuclear war goes back well into the 1950’s when people built bomb shelters and practiced safety drills in the event of a nuclear attack. The 1960’s brought us the Cuban Missile Crisis when President Kennedy and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev faced off over nuclear weapons being housed and aimed at us from Cuba. We truly feared a nuclear war was imminent.
Cold War Readiness
Back in the days of the Cold War, the military had our nuclear-armed bombers on a 24-hour alert in case we needed to deliver a nuclear strike against the Soviet Union. When the cold war ended in the early 1990’s, we reduced our state of readiness. The president still carried around ever-changing codes to order a nuclear strike, but we didn’t perceive those threats to be a daily concern.
Because of escalating tensions with North Korea, it appears the air force is returning to a 24-hour alert system in case North Korea carried out its threats to launch an attack on Guam, Japan or South Korea. This could mean B-52’s and other bombers will be lined up on runways on airbases all around the world ready to take off and deliver a nuclear strike at a moments’ notice.
Renovations for War
Barksdale Airbase, home of the Air Force Global Strike Command, is under renovation and preparing for a renewed role in our military strategies. They oversee our nuclear arsenals and house hundreds of military personnel. New living quarters are being added so that there will be enough staff to operate the nine bomber alert stations across the base.
New planes are also joining the effort. The E-48 Nightwatch and E68 Mercury will serve as flying command posts in the event we were to carry out a nuclear attack. These planes would send signals and codes to bombers, submarines and intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM’s) around the world. There is also another plane, the nuclear-armed E-48, which has always been on a 24-hour alert and will maintain its role in our readiness to carry out a strike.
Barksdale Airbase and other United States airbases across the globe are also looking to update their ICBM’s and other long range cruise missiles, which have been in use for decades. Today’s threats may require smaller, quicker missiles to deter, or if necessary, destroy today’s enemies. It’s a frightening but real concern.
North Korea’s Increased Threats
The Japanese government claims that the threat of nuclear attack by North Korea has grown to an “unprecedented” level and that the allies in the region need to take these threats seriously and handle them accordingly. Regional and global security are at risk. In addition to a nuclear arsenal of undetermined size, North Korea also has a biological weapons program which could kill tens of thousands of people.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has threated to use these weapons many times. Recently he called President Trump a “lunatic” and threatened that if the United States attacks, it and its “poor puppet forces” would be headed straight “into ruin.” President Trump escalated the tensions by suggesting he would visit the demilitarized zone. So far, he has not made the trip.
President Trump Recalls Pilots
President Trump’s executive order to recall 1,000 retired pilots for active duty further supports our nation’s higher alert status. Retired pilots can be brought back into the military for up to three more years of duty. Prior to the order, the Air Force was allowed to bring back up to 25 service members if there were a critical aviation shortage or need.
Trump’s actions have caused concern about what he intends to do with these service members. Will we be escalating the war in Afghanistan with increased bombing runs? Is this just another step to prepare for a potential assault on North Korea? The Air Force claims it does not currently have any plans in place for these pilots, but that it appreciates the flexibility given to them and the authority to use them if needed.
The Pentagon reports it is short about 1500 pilots, so the president’s order may just be a measure to meet that deficit. It turns out there is a shortage of pilots across the world, even in the airline industry. The Air Force is offering paid incentive programs to keep its pilots active longer. Trump’s executive order will relieve some of the shortages over the next three years.
So, we are going on a 24-hour nuclear strike alert, and President Trump is calling back a thousand previously retired pilots. These are good reasons to be concerned. It doesn’t help that the rhetoric and saber rattling have increased over the past weeks.
All it takes is one mistake, one overreaction or one misinterpretation and we could find ourselves in a global conflict. Let’s hope President Trump and his military advisors will rely on diplomacy while beefing up our methods and modes of attack.