Friday, April 03, 2009

Barksdale Gets the Nod

The Air Force pulled something of a surprise on Thursday, selecting Barksdale AFB as the headquarters for its new Global Strike Command.

Barksdale, which is located near Shreveport, Louisiana, beat out five other installations for the new headquarters. Global Strike Command is expected to bring at least 1,000 airmen and civilians to the base, which is also home to 8th Air Force.

While Barksdale was always a finalist for the new command's headquarters, some analysts originally believed that another installation--Minot AFB, North Dakota--was the front-runner. Minot hosts both a nuclear-capable B-52 bomber wing and a Minuteman III ICBM wing, two of the missions that will now be run by Global Strike Command.

Creation of the new organization is part of a massive re-organization of the service's nuclear enterprise, which has suffered a series of embarrassing incidents in recent years. In August 2007, a B-52 mistakenly transferred nuclear-tipped missiles from Minot to Barksdale.

A few months later, fuses for an ICBM were accidentally shipped from an Air Force depot in Utah to Taiwan. There have also been a string of failed inspections among nuclear units, raising more questions about the safety and security of the nation's most powerful weapons. The mishaps spurred a series of investigations and official inquiries, which led to development of a nuclear "reform" roadmap. One of its recommendations was creation of the new command to handle nuclear operations.

Barksdale's years of experience with the nuclear mission was apparently a factor in the decision, along with the presence of 8th Air Force. The venerable command is in charge of the nation's nuclear bombers, which will fall under Global Strike Command.

Thursday's announcement was also something of a consolation for Barksdale. Last year, Defense Secretary Robert Gates forced the Air Force to shelve plans for a new "cyber" command that was to be located at Barksdale. Since then, the service has scaled back plans for the cyber organization, recasting it as a numbered air force.

Most observers believe the new command--designated 24th Air Force--will wind up at Peterson AFB, Colorado, home of Air Force Space Command. Space Com will be the parent organization for the new cyber organization.

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