Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Strategic Air Command alert ends - 10 years ago

Tommorrow makes an important anniversary. On Sept. 27, 1991, President George H. Bush ordered the termination of Strategic Air Command's alert which began in October 1957 following the Soviet launching of the Sputnik satellite. The alert forces ceased operations the next day, beginning the successful conclusion of the Cold War. SAC alerts had been 24-hour, with precise requirements for ever-faster takeoffs dependent on the type of scenario in test.

Strategic Air Command was conceived during the closing months of World War II by military planners who foresaw the long-term need for a credible U.S. nuclear deterrent force. The command was established in 1946 at Bolling Field, Washington, D.C. and transferred to Offutt Air Force Base, Neb., Nov. 9, 1948.

Initially SAC placed 11 percent of its force on alert. In March 1961 President John F. Kennedy requested funding to increase the number of SAC aircraft on 15-minute ground alert from one-third to one-half the total force. Standing continuous alert for the rest of the Cold War, the command's bombers and land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles joined the U.S. Navy sea-launched ballistics missiles to form the nation's strategic triad.

The airborne alert operation nicknamed Chrome Dome was a realistic training mission to deter enemy forces from a surprise attack on the United States. Demonstrating SAC's nearly immediate retaliatory capability, units flew bombers along routes that covered parts of Western Europe and North Africa. Under Hard Head VI, units flew similar airborne alert operations which monitored the Ballistic Missile Early Warning System located at Thule, Greenland. SAC wings launched two combat-ready B-52s every 20-23 hours for the duration of the 30-60 day operation. To keep the B-52s airborne for long periods, refueling squadron also performed a number of air refueling missions. These annual operations lasted for five years in the early 1960s.

On June 1, 1992, with the Berlin Wall down, the Warsaw Pact a memory and the Soviet Union nonexistent, the Air Force stood down SAC during the reorganization of its tactical and strategic force. That same day, President George H. Bush established a new unified command, U.S. Strategic Command.

USSTRATCOM's mission of deterrence would sound familiar, but its structure and role would reflect the changing international political landscape. It was the combination of the unique capabilities of the Navy's submarine launched ballistic missiles along with the Air Force's bombers and ICBMs that came to be known as the strategic nuclear triad. For almost 40 years, the triad provided a visible, credible deterrent against Soviet aggression.

With USSTRATCOM, for the first time in U. S. history, the planning, targeting and wartime employment of strategic forces came under the control of a single commander while the day-to-day training, equipping while the day-to-day and maintenance responsibilities for its forces remained with the services -- the Air Force and Navy.