By Col. Scott Grant, 117 ARW Vice Wing Commander
/ Published April 15, 2016
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- "Nuclear deterrence is the United States Air Force's number one mission set." We have all heard this quote. At times it can be difficult to believe in light of the overwhelming demands from the Global War on Terrorism. Some say that the Air Force walk doesn't match the talk. In perception, this may be true but, nothing could be further from the truth! Some view our conventional mission set as kinetic in nature with troops physically in contact with the enemy and that the nuclear mission is just preparing for an inspection every couple of years. Let's talk about why that's not true either.
The ability of the USA to hold any target in the world at a relevant risk with our nuclear enterprise is the backstop to the words that the commander in chief uses when negotiating with or mandating terms to our adversaries. It also reassures our NATO allies worldwide that in turn limits the proliferation of additional nuclear programs because of the security that we provide. Unfortunately, the nuclear enterprise has experienced 23 plus years of significant atrophy because of a perception of peace after the fall of the iron curtain and our ongoing Central Command operations since 1990. Many issues with USAF Nuclear Deterrence Operations have been discovered, highlighted and are now in the fix phase. An unprecedented amount of attention and funding is heading in the direction of NDO and with that comes great responsibility.
It's important to realize that when we generate our wing's vital assets in a nuclear scenario it's not just an exercise. It's a demonstration to our adversaries as to the commitment and capability to employ our nuclear triad if necessary. Fact - the enemy is watching, listening and looking for any chink in our armor to exploit. Nuclear operations must have zero defects and be air tight.
You may have heard of the upcoming nuclear summer camp. This will be different in nature and will be much more realistic in terms of expectations. That week will be much more inclusive of the entire wing than in the days past. The first two days will feature a great deal of "just in time" training as would be the case if world tensions heightened in that arena. Additionally, it will not be an operations and maintenance centric event. It will flex the entire support machine of the 117th while it deals with many of the challenges that would be prevalent in such an event if it were to become a reality. There will be very few simulations and limitations! Over employing simulations and limitations tend to create confusion and, worse yet, a perception that this is not real. It will also utilize 24 hour operations and will have a morale event during the final afternoon, specifics TBD.
I'm confident that at the conclusion of the nuclear summer camp that most of the wing will feel more prepared, more inclusive and that the event was more realistic than in times past. Our objective is mission readiness - period.
The 117 ARW is viewed as a strong NDO leader in the tanker community; that's because of the professional reputation that is a result of your consistent performance, commitment and outside of the box innovation when you approach the mission. I appreciate your positive attitude and motivation for this mission; as our adjutant general would say, "It's a big deal!"
Adm. Haney, the commander of the U.S. Strategic Command, said it best concerning deterrence: "Adversaries and potential adversaries alike must understand they cannot escalate their way out of failed conflict; that they will not reap the benefits they seek; that our nation is prepared to manage escalation risk ... and that restraint is always the better option." An airtight nuclear enterprise provides exactly that message to our adversaries and options to the commander in chief.
It is the ultimate duty of every member of the 117th to ensure that our tankers refuel their receiver aircraft in this critical mission. That is our piece of the nuclear enterprise - take pride in that. Every member of this wing is a nuclear warfighter ... Thanks for what you do every day!