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Global Strike Command

The closing weeks of George W. Bush’s presidency included the most extensive reorganization within the Air Force since the end of his father’s administration in 1992. Ironically, the stand-up of the Air Force Global Strike Command (AFGSC) on Jan. 12, 2009, essentially recreated the Strategic Air Command dissolved at the end of the Cold War by bringing USAF’s strategic (nuclear) force back under a single command.

“We are focused on finding the smartest, most effective way to organize, train and equip for strategic deterrence. This command will maintain a steadfast commitment to accountability, professionalism and discipline,” AFGSC’s provisional commander, Maj. Gen. Kowalski, said at the stand-up ceremony.

In recent years, the Air Force has experienced a number of problems related to the movement and maintenance of nuclear weapons and the training of its personnel. Two nuclear incidents were sufficiently serious that they played a part in the firing of former Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. T. Michael Moseley and Air Force Secretary Michael W. Wynne, and led to the creation of a Nuclear Task Force under the direction of Maj. Gen. C. Donald Alston.

B-2 Spirit

A B-2 Spirit streaks down the runway during takeoff, Aug. 24, 2009. Twenty B-2 Spirit aircraft are assigned to the 509th Bomb Wing at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo. The B-2’s primary mission is to attack time-critical targets early in a conflict to minimize an enemy’s war-making potential. The B-2 Spirits will become part of Air Force Global Strike Command. U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Kenny Holston

One of those incidents involved a B-52 flight out of Minot Air Force Base, N.D., in August 2007 in which six nuclear warheads were flown across the continental United States without the knowledge of the aircraft’s crew.

In November 2008, the Task Force released a “nuclear roadmap” detailing some 180 corrective actions. Topping the list for “Reinvigorating the Air Force Nuclear Enterprise” was creation of AFGSC and reassimilation of all nuclear-capable Air Force bombers and missiles that had been dispersed to numerous USAF elements with the end of SAC.

The restructure includes 20 B-2 Spirit and 57 B-52 Stratofortress bombers and the Air Force’s intercontinental nuclear missiles, currently operated by Air Force Space Command. Much of that will come from the 8th Air Force (bombers) and 20th Air Force (ICBMs).

“We are focused on finding the smartest, most effective way to organize, train and equip for strategic deterrence. This command will maintain a steadfast commitment to accountability, professionalism and discipline,” AFGSC’s provisional commander, Maj. Gen. Kowalski, said at the stand-up ceremony.

“This organizational construct will clearly align intercontinental ballistic missile and dual-mission capable bomber forces under a single command and demonstrate a visible commitment to the global strike mission while taking full advantage of the existing Air Force field organizational structure.”

Lt. Gen. Frank G. Klotz, currently assistant vice chief of staff and Air Force staff director, will take charge of the new command upon its formal activation at Barksdale Air Force, La., in September. A Rhodes Scholar with a Ph.D. from Oxford, Klotz has a long history of command related to space and nuclear weapons, previously serving as vice commander of Air Force Space Command, director for nuclear policy and arms control with the National Security Council at the White House, chief nuclear policy planner at the U.S. Mission to NATO Headquarters and commander of a Minuteman missile squadron, a missile launch task force, an operations group, a missile wing and a numbered air force.

The roadmap also called for enhanced training, education and force deployment to address a shortage of Air Force nuclear career specialists.

“We will rebuild our expertise through Air Force-wide training, education and career force development initiatives designed to ensure that we create a basic atmosphere of understanding for our nuclear stewardship responsibilities,” according to the roadmap’s executive summary, which also addressed other concerns arising from the incidents leading to its creation.

“Deficiencies in inspection processes also contributed to the erosion of the culture of accountability and rigorous self-assessment associated with high standards of excellence. . .The Air Force must invest in the nuclear deterrence mission and have a clear, long-term commitment to sustain, modernize and recapitalize its nuclear capability.”

According to AFGSC’s mission statement, “This organizational construct will clearly align intercontinental ballistic missile and dual-mission capable bomber forces under a single command and demonstrate a visible commitment to the global strike mission while taking full advantage of the existing Air Force field organizational structure.”

Air Force Global Strike Command

Gen. Norton A. Schwartz, Air Force Chief of Staff, adds guidon streamers to the flag of Air Force Global Strike Command (AFGSC), Aug. 7, 2009. The streamers represent achievements of the historical Strategic Air Command, deactivated in 1992. When fully operational, AFGSC will encompass 23,000 airmen from the 8th Air Force at Barksdale Air Force Base, La., and 20th Air Force at F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyo., including six operational wings and two squadrons, the 576th at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., and the 625th Strategic Operations Squadron at Offutt Air Force Base, Neb. U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Joanna M. Kresge

The Strategic Air Command was tightly linked to the Cold War with the Soviet Union, from its creation in 1946 to its disestablishment 46 years later, following the collapse of the USSR. While the Cold War is no longer a factor, events of the ensuing 17 years demonstrated the advantages of having a single command solely responsible for the Air Force nuclear capability, as was the case under SAC.

But USAF and Pentagon officials, cognizant of increased scrutiny resulting from past problems and a new global reality involving nine known nuclear powers – and others working toward that goal – are looking to Global Strike Command to be an even better steward of the Air Force’s nuclear capability.

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J.R. Wilson has been a full-time freelance writer, focusing primarily on aerospace, defense and high...