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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

American Forces Press Service

Air Force Strengthens Nuclear Deterrence Operations

By Judith Snyderman
Special to American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sept. 11, 2009 – New initiatives underway within the Air Force to consolidate commands, modernize systems and strengthen personnel emphasize nuclear security.

“Nuclear deterrence underpins all of our freedom of movement everywhere,” Maj. Gen. Donald Alston, the service’s assistant chief of staff for strategic deterrence and nuclear integration told bloggers and online journalists yesterday during a DoDLive Bloggers Roundtable.

More than a decade ago, the strategic focus of the Defense Department turned to conventional forces and, more recently, to expeditionary operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, Alston said.

“I think we took active measures to reduce emphasis on nuclear because there was an opportunity that seemed to be present there in the early 90’s, that you could take it off the front burner because the Cold War was over,” he said.

However, the geopolitical situation has become complicated in ways that were unforeseen in the 1990s, Alston said.

“All the other countries in the world that have nuclear programs have active nuclear weapons development capacity and programs with one notable exception, and that would be the United States,” he said.

The growth of the number of states that have or are developing nuclear weapons has prompted changes, Alston said, including the creation of the Global Strike Command, which stood up on Barksdale Air Force Base, La., last month.

“This was principally (done) to put in one command, with one commander, responsibility for nuclear operational forces; for one commander to set conditions, expectations and impact a culture,” he said.

The Air Force also has revamped its education programs by reviewing and updating training courses. Alston also is working on a personnel plan to increase expertise that will help sustain the nuclear security mission. Another initiative fortifies the inspection process, he said.

“We’ve improved the quality of our inspectors by having common training for all nuclear surety inspectors,” the general said. “We have a certification program for all the inspectors, and we have a core team of 20 guys that accompany every inspection team.” The teams aim to bring consistency of interpretations and an even application of standards, he said.

Alston emphasized that the Air Force already has high standards that new programs serve to enforce the mission of deterrence for the future.

“We are doing this to ensure that those who are (asking themselves) on some regular basis, ‘Is today the time that we should challenge the United States?’- that the answer continues to be, ‘Not today,’” he said.

Alston added that the level of focus on the Air Force nuclear program has probably never been greater than it is today.

(Judith Snyderman works in the Defense Media Activity’s emerging media directorate.)

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