US B-52s Prepared for Nukes

Russian President Vladimir Putin after meeting with China recently announced that tactical nuclear weapons would be stationed in Belarus. While the statement was more of a warning to the West about its military support to Ukraine, NATO states expressed concern about the nuclear posturing. Many experts believe that this is reminiscent of the Cold War era, when the United States and the former Soviet Union were in a state of tension, with the looming threat of a potential nuclear strike. During the Cold War, the US Strategic Air Command developed training videos and reports to prepare bomber crews and pilots for the possibility of a nuclear conflict. Recently, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) declassified some of these materials, including the United States Air Force Training Film 5363, “Nuclear Effects During SAC Delivery Missions,” produced in 1960. The goal of Training Film 5363 was to familiarize Strategic Air Command pilots and crew members with the catastrophic consequences of nuclear weapon explosions and the precautions necessary to avoid the hazards of a nuclear battlefield and return home safely. These plans were part of the “Combat Mission Folders,” which contained the necessary information for reaching objectives and returning safely to base. During the Cold War, the United States started a program under code names Head Start, Chrome Dome, Hard Head, Round Robin, and Operation Giant Lance. B-52 bombers carried out airborne alert duty, hanging around locations outside the Soviet Union for quick first strikes or reprisals in the event of a nuclear conflict. For instance, when Operation Chrome Dome was being conducted, B-52s with nuclear weapons on board were on high alert and prepared to take off just 15 minutes after the alarm went off. If the Soviet Union attacked the United States, these bombers were designed to launch retaliatory nuclear strikes. The video opens with a B-52 flying an Emergency War Order sortie under Positive Control while en route to the “go/no-go” position. However, the crew is unsure if this is a real mission or a drill until they arrive at the location. The narrator explains that while the mission was meticulously planned and reviewed by highly skilled combat planners, and the crews had flown countless profile missions, they still needed to be aware of the nuclear repercussions of a detonation. The majority of the video focuses on the effects of nuclear explosions on both aircraft and crew, as well as the precautions taken to reduce crew exposure. For example, carefully planned routes that created a safe distance between the bomber and the detonation of their weapon and the explosions caused by other SAC bombers operating in the same area were used to minimize crew exposure. The film continues with a summary of the numerous atmospheric nuclear tests conducted by the US, from Crossroads in 1946 to Hard Tack in 1958. These tests increasingly included efforts to measure the effects of the tests on aircraft and structures, both in the air and on the ground. They frequently used drones to measure radioactivity in the air

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