Earlier this week the United States Air Force implemented a service-wide "reset" that was meant to insulate the most essential missions from the COVID -19 pandemic. Air Force Chief of Staff General Dave Goldfein issued orders to the leaders of each Air Force major command on April 1 to focus on the essential task that could require additional manpower.
Among those is the Global Strike Command, which has reaffirmed that the nation's nukes are still ready to fly if needed. Air Force officials told Popular Mechanics that ICBM crews are now rotating as a way to ensure that a "clean team" will be able to take over if others report sick.
"As COVID-19 continues to spread, we carefully assess additional precautions, one of which is the isolation of crews and other personnel." the USAF 8th Air Force said in a statement to Popular Mechanics.
The Air Force has added that the long-range strike capability from bombers, both conventional and nuclear, remain ready to do the job that is needed and when it is needed. General Timothy M. Ray, commander of the Air Force Global Strike Command had stated that the nation's nuclear arsenal remains "the foundation of security structure of the free world."
The Air Force Global Strike Command was activated on August 7, 2009, as the successor to Strategic Air Command, which had maintained the around-the-clock nuclear alerts during the Cold War. It is a major command with headquarters at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, in the Shreveport-Bossier City region. It remains responsible for the nation's three intercontinental ballistic missile wings, the Air Force's entire bomber force including the B-52, B-1 and B-2 wings; as well as the Long Range Strike Bomber program, the Air Force Nuclear Command, Control and Communications (NC3) systems, and operational and maintenance support to organizations within the service's nuclear enterprise.
Approximately 33,700 professionals are assigned to the Global Strike Command and deployed to locations around the world. The fact that the command is so spread out could play into its favor in addressing COVID-19, General Ray noted in his comments to Popular Mechanics.
"The good news is we live in communities that are not high risk," Ray explained. "North Dakota is not the same as New York City. We're taking advantage of that. Once you've done a good job to isolate and protect yourself, it's a little easier to keep healthy."
Ensuring the readiness of the command remains a priority as the coronavirus has impacted the service.
As of March 31, 214 airmen across the Air Force had tested positive for COVID-19, and 13 had been hospitalized. The Air Force's "reset" has included a number of modifications. On April 1, the United Air Force Academy also announced that it would move graduation of the Class of 2020 up to April 18, and the event will be live-streamed due to health and safety concerns.
Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.