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Aug. 7, 2009—At 10:30 a.m. Louisiana time today, the Air Force will activate its new nuclear-centric major command, Air Force Global Strike Command, at Barksdale Air Force Base. Lt. Gen. Frank Klotz, who has been Air Force assistant vice chief of staff for the last two years, will take command of the new organization.

Global Strike Command will bring the Air Force’s Minuteman III ICBMs and nuclear-capable B-2A and B-52H bomber forces under a single umbrella and provide a single commander to oversee the organize, equip, and train functions associated with these assets. Klotz, in his role, will also be a leading advocate for nuclear matters across the service.

Air Force Secretary Michael Donley and Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz will attend the activation ceremony. The command will also be assuming initial operational capability today—reaching the so-called IOC milestone, Donley and Schwartz said during a meeting with reporters in the Pentagon Aug. 5 to discuss the activation.

“We have actually been able to do a little bit ahead of the schedule that we had forecast last year,” said Donley. Indeed, the command’s IOC date had originally been planned for the end of September, but the work of the provisional Global Strike Command, which began operations in January at Bolling AFB, D.C., helped to accomplish manpower and planning tasks associated with the standup.

Global Strike Command will have about 900 personnel assigned to its headquarters when at full strength, said Schwartz. The command is expected to be fully operational capable one year from now, he said.

The standup of Global Strike Command is just one of the many activities that the Air Force has underway or has already completed of late to reinvigorate its nuclear enterprise—which represents two-thirds of the nation’s strategic nuclear deterrent—and re-establish its exemplary day-to-day stewardship of these assets that waned somewhat after the Cold War.

That diminished day-to-day vigilance led to two high profile gaffes that came to light in 2007 and 2008. Those incidents resulted in the forced resignations of former Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne and now-retired Gen. Michael Moseley, Chief of Staff.

Global Strike Command is regarded as one of the three pillars of these reinvigoration efforts, along with the creation of a new A10 office on the Air Staff to steer nuclear matters at the headquarters level and the consolidation of nuclear sustainment functions under the oversight of the Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center at Kirtland AFB, N.M.

“Bringing a new major command online tells airmen that the nuclear mission has a long-term place in the Air Force,” said Donley.

“They see this as a plus,” said Schwartz when asked about the impact of Global Strike Command on airmen in nuclear career fields. He added, “They will have people who will pay attention to their professional development, to their circumstances. People who will understand the work that they do intimately.”

Donley said reaching this point with the new command has been “no small task.” And the work is far from over. “We still have a long way to go to continue rebuilding levels of expertise and focus that we need to sustain going forward to make deterrence into the future achievable,” he said. But today still represents “a very important milestone” on that road, he said.

Klotz will not immediately assume authority over the ICBMs and bombers. In the interim, the Minuteman IIIs, all of which are part of 20th Air Force, headquartered at F.E. Warren AFB, Wyo., will still be under the control of Air Force Space Command. And the B-2s and B-52s, which fall under Barksdale’s 8th AF, will initially remain under Air Combat Command.

Donley said transfer of 20th AF to Global Strike Command is still expected to occur around early December, while the rollover of 8th AF is slated for February 2010.

“While we make this transition with these elements, we remain capable and ready to operate, and the transition will be done in a deliberate way so that there are no hiccups along the way,” Schwartz noted.

The command’s purview will not be solely nuclear operations, but will also entail conventional global strike missions when called upon. The B-2s and B-52s have robust conventional capabilities, and it is possible that the Air Force will field a conventionally armed long-range ballistic missile at some point or some other type of prompt global strike system to attack high-value targets anywhere on the globe within minutes as opposed to hours.

 

(For more on the creation of Air Force Global Strike Command, read The Nuclear Force Revival from the February issue of Air Force Magazine.)