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Thursday, September 06, 2007

The Mailbag: Paranoid Putin

Letters, we get letters, we get lots of cards and letters every day

The publisher of Zaxi blog, whose wonderful commentary we are delighted to routinely republish on our virtual pages, writes to clarify his prior remarks about Russia menacing the U.S. and Britain with strategic bombers, in response to a reader comment:

Dear La Russophobe,

Here’s a somewhat belated (partial) response to the mystery of why Putin believes that the United States is flying nuclear bomber operations around Russian borders – and his response to keep a 24-hour nuclear bomber vigil of his own.

The simple answer is that Putin made all of this up. The United States removed all of its strategic bombers from day-to-day operations in 1991 (see here and here). Russia did the same. Then Putin went back to the old Cold War practice last month citing a US decision that simply does not exist.

As your readers can imagine: most of the US strategic bomber information is classified. But it would take months – if not years – for the US military bureaucracy to take the required steps to respond to Putin’s move. It would also make a lot of noise in Congress and the press. The US does not just start flying its nuclear bombers around the world without some initial debate going into the decision.

The United States has two types of strategic bombers: the B-2A Spirit and the B-52H Stratofortress. These are used for conventional operations but could be deployed in case of nuclear war. The bombers are based at three US Air Force Bases: Minot, Whiteman and Barksdale – all of them in the continental United States.

The most important point here is the following: The United States has four nuclear war alert levels. The highest is called Launch Ready. There are also Generated I and II. And finally: the Total Forces alert in case of an Armageddon-type conflict where all US forces get involved.

The US strategic bombers are only intended for use in a Generated II level scenario – that is the third-highest level of alert out of four. The US bombers would get involved only after pretty much all of its ICBMs are used up.

The US would put 64 bombers into operations in case of a Generated II scenario. By that stage 90 percent of its total forces would be on alter.

As you can see – it would take a nuclear war of quite astonishing proportions for armed US strategic bombers to fly toward Russia. For comparison: 95 percent of the US ICBMs are on the highest Launch Ready alert. This is the clear US option in case of nuclear war. The nuclear bombers are a very distant afterthought.

Again – what threat did Putin see? There was and could have been none. But it is not a Russian tradition to question his statements.



1 comment:

Anonymous said...

These Russian bombers are currently flying without any nuclear warheads on board for training purposes.