No nukes at BAFB creates readiness worries - KSLA News 12 Shreveport, Louisiana News Weather & Sports

No nukes at BAFB creates readiness worries

Posted: Updated:
SHREVEPORT, LA (KSLA) -

Ark-La-Tex residents have lived in the shadow of nuclear weapons for decades, even after the Cold War.  But now, Barksdale AFB has quietly rid itself of all nuclear weapons.  So, does that make Barksdale any 'less' of a strategic military target in the event of an attack on this country?

This change all began four and a half years ago, on August 29th & 30th, 2007.  That's when six cruise missiles with live nuclear warheads were mistakenly loaded onto a B-52 at Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota and flown to Barksdale.  That's where they sat unguarded for hours and hours. 

It was later described as one of the most serious nuclear incidents in U.S. history.  The Air Force labeled it a 'Bent Spear incident.'  By the time it was over, more than 90 officers and airmen were relieved or reassigned.  It also eventually spelled the end for nuclear weapons at Barksdale.

During re-structuring of the Air Force's nuclear mission, planners decided to keep all the B-52-capable nukes at Minot.  "My first reaction was, 'I can't believe anybody could do something so stupid,'" said Brigadier General Peyton Cole, the former 2nd Bomb Wing commander.

During Gen. Cole's tenure from 1992 to 1994, Barksdale operated under what's called a 15-minute alert:  "And that fifteen minutes is based on how long it takes from detecting a missile coming over the pole to the time it would impact or have an effect on Barksdale," explained Gen. Cole.

As for the estimated alert time for today's Air Force B-52 fleet to be nuclear-armed?  "You're going to take a number of hours to generate the force from a stand down position like we are in today," concluded the general.  That's assuming our B-52's can get to Minot.

And that's not the only problem that Gen. Cole, and others, worry about with these changes.  "When you start generating your forces you telegraph a signal to your opponents that you're serious about what's going on."

In a bit of irony, even after Barksdale AFB lost its allotment of nuclear weapons, there came word about Global Strike Command, stationed here, and in charge of all the nuclear weapons for the entire U.S. Air Force.

General Cole says with or without the nukes, or Global Strike, it is the B-52 fleet itself that still makes Barksdale a valuable military target.  Either way, at least some locals, like Bossier City resident Jerry Orton, believe we're still safer now.  "I think security is a lot stronger than it used to be and think since 9/11 security's been stepped-up."

In a phone conversation Thursday (2/16/11) with a Pentagon spokeswoman, she told KSLA News 12 that the Air Force typically neither confirms nor denies the presence, absence or movement of nuclear weapons.

But, in a story from AirForce-Magazine.com, it reported that there were plans to reestablish a nuclear weapons storage area at BAFB.  The Air Force abandoned those plans, it read, because of budget constraints.

Copyright KSLA-TV 2012. All rights reserved.

Powered by WorldNow