Retired General Robert Kehler, who served as the head of STRATCOM from January 2011 to November 2013, also said in a recent testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the U.S. armed forces are obligated to follow legal orders, not illegal ones. He explained that there are layers of safeguards within the current system designed to ensure any order is both legal and proportionally appropriate.
The hearing, the first of it’s kind in more than 40 years, was held to discuss the president’s authority to launch nuclear weapons. “U.S. nuclear forces operate under strict civilian control. Only the President of the United States can order the employment of US nuclear weapons,” Kehler said.
In case the president does give the order for a nuclear strike and it is determined to be a legal order, preparations have already been made so the military can act quickly on those commands.
It was reported last month that the United States Air Force began preparing their nuclear-armed B-52 bomber planes in anticipation that they’ll receive the order to go to 24-hour alert status – an order we have not seen since the ending of the Cold War in 1991.
According to a Defense One report, these preparations involve renovating the long-dormant concrete “alert pads” at the end of the runway at Louisiana’s Barksdale Air Force Base, where B-52s once parked, ready to take flight at a moment’s notice with their nuclear arsenal. Not only could these pads find themselves occupied again, if the order is given, but the renovations currently under way will allow pilots and aircrews to position themselves alongside the bombers.
General David Goldfein, Air Force chief of staff, said this is nothing more than being prepared for any possibility: “This is yet one more step in ensuring that we’re prepared,” he said in an interview with Defense One while touring Barksdale and other U.S. bases that support nuclear action.
“I look at it more as not planning for any specific event, but more for the reality of the global situation we find ourselves in and how we ensure we’re prepared going forward.”