The US Air Force is preparing to place its fleet of B-52 bombers rigged with nuclear weapons on 24-hour alert for the first time since 1991 amid escalating tensions with North Korea.
A senior US Air Force official told security news
website Defense One
on Sunday that American military
leaders are reacting to new threat levels.
“The world is a dangerous place and we’ve got folks that are talking openly about use of nuclear weapons,” General David Goldfein, Air Force chief of staff, said, referring to North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un who has threatened to attack the US with nuclear weapons if it continues its aggressive policy against his country.
Goldfein said no official order had been given to put nuclear bombers on alert, but said preparations are underway. That decision would be made by the commander of US Strategic Command, or the head of US Northern Command.
“This is yet one more step in ensuring that we’re prepared,” he said during a tour of Air Force bases home to nuclear bombers. “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.”
Goldfein noted that it is “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.”
Refurbishments are reportedly being made to Barksdale Air Force base in Louisiana, home of the 2d Bomb Wing and Air Force Global Strike Command, which manages US nuclear forces. So the B-52s would be ready to “take off at a moment’s notice.”
The B-52 can fly up to about 50,000 feet and at subsonic speeds, and it has the ability to carry and fire a variety of weapons, including cluster bombs, gravity bombs and precision guided missiles.
The long-range bomber is capable of carrying up to 70,000 pounds (32,000 kg) of weapons, and has a typical combat range of more than 8,800 miles (14,080 km) without aerial refueling. It can also unleash both nuclear and precision-guided conventional ordnance.
The White House has already warned the United States
is ready to use its nuclear weapons against North Korea if the country continues to threaten Washington or its allies, amid escalating tensions between the two countries.
The North Korean leader has ordered the production of more rocket warheads and engines, shortly after the United States
suggested that its threats of military action and sanctions were having an impact on Pyongyang’s behavior.
Pyongyang says it will not give up on its nuclear deterrence unless Washington ends its hostile policy toward the country and dissolves the US-led UN command in South Korea. Thousands of US soldiers are stationed in South Korea and Japan.