Strategic Air Command emblem
Active US Army Air Forces
(15 December 1944 – 18 September 1947)
US Air Force
(18 September 1947 – 1 June 1992)
Country United States
Branch United States Air Force
Type Major Command
Garrison/HQ Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska
Motto "Peace is our Profession"
commanders Curtis LeMay
Strategic Air Command (SAC) is an inactive United States Air Force Major Command. Established in 1944 under the United States Army Air Forces, its mission was the command and control of the United States' land-based strategic bomber aircraft and land-based intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) strategic nuclear arsenal.
SAC also controlled the infrastructure necessary to support the strategic bomber and ICBM operations, such as aerial refueling tanker aircraft to refuel the bombers in flight, strategic reconnaissance aircraft, command post aircraft, and, until 1957, fighter escorts.
It was inactivated on 1 June 1992 and its personnel and equipment were absorbed by Air Combat Command and Air Mobility Command. Its direct successor, Air Force Global Strike Command was activated on 7 August 2009 to meet the needs of the Air Force to develop and provide combat-ready forces for nuclear deterrence and global strike operation.
Following the fall of the Soviet Union, the Air Force instituted a comprehensive reorganization of its major commands. As part of this reorganization, SAC was disestablished on 1 June 1992. As part of the reorganization, SAC's bomber aircraft, ICBMs, strategic reconnaissance aircraft, and command post aircraft were merged with USAF fighter and other tactical aircraft assets and reassigned to the newly established Air Combat Command (ACC). This included B-52 and B-1 bomber aircraft assigned to the Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard, respectively.
At the same time, most of SAC's aerial refueling tanker aircraft, including those in the Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard, were reassigned to the new Air Mobility Command (AMC). Tankers based in Europe were reassigned to United States Air Forces in Europe (USAFE), while regular air force tankers in the Pacific, as well as Alaska Air National Guard tankers, were reassigned to Pacific Air Forces (PACAF).
The ICBM force was later transferred from ACC to the Air Force Space Command (AFSPC) on 1 July 1993. Another change in late 2009 and early 2010 resulted in the transfer of the ICBM force from AFSPC and the B-52 and B-2 strategic bomber force from ACC to the newly established Air Force Global Strike Command (AFGSC), which is a direct descendant of SAC.
During the interwar period between World War I and World War II, a group of U.S. Army Air Corps officers colloquially referred to as the Bomber Mafia, convinced of the potential of strategic bombing, paved the way both for the massive strategic air campaigns in Europe and the Pacific in World War II and the later creation of SAC. SAC's United States Army Air Forces predecessor, the Continental Air Forces, was established on 13 December 1944 and activated on 15 December 1944. After 8 May 1945, CAF coordinated the training activities of the numbered air forces within the United States (1st Air Force, 2nd Air Force, 3rd Air Force and 4th Air Force) and those of the I Troop Carrier Command.
On 21 March 1946, Continental Air Forces (CAF) was disestablished as part of a major reorganization of the USAAF. Within the United States, the USAAF was divided into three separate commands: Tactical Air Command (TAC), Air Defense Command (ADC), and Strategic Air Command (SAC). Airfields formerly assigned to CAF were reassigned to one of these three major commands.
SAC's original headquarters was located at Bolling Field in Washington, DC, the headquarters of the disestablished Continental Air Forces, with the headquarters organization of CAF being redesignated as Strategic Air Command. Its first commander was General George C. Kenney.:29–30 Ten days later, Fifteenth Air Force was assigned to the command as its first Numbered Air Force. There were thirteen bombardment groups assigned to Continental Air Forces just before its re-designation as SAC. These included the 40th (effectively became 43rd), 44th, the 93rd, 444th, 448th (became 92nd), 449th, 467th (effectively became 301st), 485th, and 498th (became 307th). There was also the 58th Bombardment Wing, Very Heavy, which supervised the Silverplate atomic-capable 509th Composite Group. Also active was the 73rd Bombardment Wing, Very Heavy, transferred from Third Air Force. However several of these units were quickly disbanded, or renumbered to preserve the heritage of other units. In June 1946 Eighth Air Force was also assigned. SAC HQ then moved to Andrews AFB, MD on 20 October 1946.
Strategic Air Command was created with the stated mission of providing long range bombing capabilities anywhere in the world. But due to the massive post-World War II demobilization of the U.S. armed forces, Kenney's position at the UN Military Staff Committee in New York, and Kenney's unhappiness with being assigned to SAC, for the first two years of its existence, there was some lack of urgency. Kenney's deputy, Maj. Gen. St. Clair Streett, wrote in July 1946: "No major strategic threat or requirement now exists, in the opinion of our country’s best strategists nor will such a requirement exist for the next three to five years."
The situation began to change on 19 October 1948, when Lieutenant General Curtis LeMay assumed leadership of the Strategic Air Command, a position he held until June 1957, the longest tenure for any United States armed forces commander since Winfield Scott.:99 Soon after taking command, on 9 November, LeMay relocated SAC to Offutt AFB south of Omaha. It was under the leadership of LeMay that SAC developed the technical capability, strategic planning, and operational readiness to carry out its strategic mission anywhere in the world. Among the technological developments that made this possible were the widescale use of in-flight refueling, jet engines, and intercontinental ballistic missiles.
Special photo of Air Force bombers from the 1930s through the late 1940s. A Douglas B-18 "Bolo"; a Boeing B-17 "Flying Fortress"; a Boeing "B-29 Superfortress" and the B-36 "Peacemaker" dominating the group photo with a 230 Ft Wingspan. Taken at Carswell AFB, Texas after the receipt of the first B-36 in 1948. Note the SAC 7th Bombardment Wing marking on the B-29.
The development of jet aircraft, specifically the B-47 Stratojet, was a key component in building the Strategic Air Command’s bombing capacity. When LeMay assumed command of SAC, his vision was to create a force of nuclear-armed long-range bombers with the capability to devastate the Soviet Union within a few days of the advent of war.:102 But the reality when LeMay assumed command was that SAC had only sixty nuclear capable aircraft, none of which had the long-range capabilities he desired.
Introduced into active service in 1951, the B-47 was the first jet aircraft employed by SAC. Despite having a limited range, by the end of LeMay’s command in 1957, the B-47 had become the backbone of SAC, comprising over half of its total aircraft and eighty percent of its bomber capacity.:104 A key factor enabling the B-47 to become the mainstay of SAC (and to fulfill LeMay’s desire for a long range bomber) was the development of in-flight refueling. In addition, "Reflex" operations based in forward countries such as Morocco, Spain and Turkey provided infra-structure for temporary duty (TDY) assignment of US-based B-47 bomb wings. Sixteenth Air Force managed SAC operations in Morocco and Spain from 1957 to 1966.
From 1946/47 to 1957, SAC also incorporated fighter escort wings and later strategic fighter wings. Intended to escort bombers to their targets in a continuation of World War II practice, they were equipped with F-51s and later F-84s. There were a total of ten. Eighth Air Force was assigned the 12th, 27th, and 33rd Wings, and Fifteenth Air Force the 56th, 71st, 82nd, 407th Wings. They were phased out in 1957–58.
The late 1950s and early 1960s heralded the arrival of two new bomber aircraft, the supersonic B-58 Hustler and B-70 Valkyrie. Both were intended to use a high-speed, high-altitude bombing approach that followed a trend of bombers flying progressively faster and higher since the start of manned bomber use. However, the 1960 shootdown of a CIA U-2 by an SA-2 Guideline surface-to-air missile (SAM) while on a clandestine reconnaissance mission over the Soviet Union suddenly complicated the introduction of these new aircraft. SAC now found itself in an uncomfortable position; new bombers which had been tuned for efficiency at high speeds and altitudes, performance that had been purchased at great cost.
Boeing B-52D, AF Serial No. 56-0687 on display at B-52 Memorial Park, Orlando International Airport, Florida (formerly McCoy Air Force Base, Florida). Photo taken 4 April 2003.
The B-70 was intended to eventually replace the B-52 in the long-range role, and while SAC initially thought it could eliminate the medium bomber role of the B-47, it had retrenched from this position and introduced the B-58 to replace the B-47 in the medium range role. However, the B-58 was expensive to develop and purchase, required enormous amounts of fuel and maintenance in comparison to the B-47, and was estimated to cost three times as much to operate than the much larger and longer-ranged B-52. Flying at lower altitudes, where the air density is much higher, drag on the B-58 was significantly higher and limited its range and speed. At low altitudes, the B-58 ended up with performance that was only a small improvement over the B-47 it was meant to replace. The net result was that the B-70 never entered operational service with SAC and the B-58 only served for 10 years until its withdrawal from service in 1970 and replacement by the FB-111A.
With the end of the war in Vietnam, SAC refocused its efforts back to deterrence of a nuclear attack by the Soviet Union. Concurrently, the costs of the Vietnam War took a heavy stateside toll on SAC as many of its bases were either deactivated, transferred to other Air Force MAJCOMs, or transferred to other U.S. military services as part of cost-cutting moves during or shortly after the end of combat operations in Southeast Asia. Older B-52B, B-52C, B-52E and B-52F aircraft were retired, along with the B-58A, leaving SAC with an offensive force of several hundred B-52D, B-52G, B-52H and FB-111A strike aircraft, augmented by 1,054 Titan II, Minuteman II and Minuteman III ICBMs.
In 1985, after waiting decades for a new penetrating manned bomber, SAC took delivery of its first B-1B Lancer, while concurrent development of the black project that would eventually result in the Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit also continued until that aircraft was officially unveiled to the public in late 1988. On 27 September 1991, as the Soviet Union was dissolving after the August 1991 Soviet coup d'état attempt, President George H. W. Bush began taking SAC bomber and associated aerial re-fuelling aircraft off continuous nuclear alert.
B-52D Stratofortress being refuled by a KC-135 Stratotanker, 1965
In-flight refueling, long a dream of airmen, became a reality in 1954 with the introduction of the KC-97 Stratotanker into active service. The primary reason it became essential to SAC was the limited range of about 2000 miles of the B-47.:108 In-flight fueling gave the B-47 unlimited range and the ability to fly for extended periods of time. This new ability was openly demonstrated to the USSR with several well publicized non-stop flights around the world. The development meant that SAC was no longer dependent on stationing nuclear capable bombers in foreign countries like Spain and Britain, which proved to be politically sensitive in the late 1940s/early 1950s.:108
One of the SAC's primary missions was to plan and acquire strategic reconnaissance on a global scale. Indeed, one of the most important and dangerous missions during the Cold War era was electronic and photographic reconnaissance. SAC crews often flew perilously close to a border over land or just outside the twelve mile limit defining international waters. Until the 1960 U-2 incident when the Soviet Union shot down a U-2 reconnaissance aircraft, the general public was unaware of this mission.
During the late 1940s the United States grew increasingly apprehensive concerning the Soviet Union's development of advanced weapons including aircraft, air defense radar & missile systems, and atomic bombs. The 1948 Berlin Crisis and Airlift increased the level of mistrust on both sides; however, the closed Soviet society made gathering intelligence about the development of new weapons very difficult and greatly concerned the US and its allies.
"Kee Bird" was a SAC B-29 Superfortress, 45-21768, of the 46th Reconnaissance Squadron, that became marooned after making an emergency landing in northwest Greenland during a secret Cold War spying mission on 21 February 1947.
In an effort to obtain information about weapons development and deployment, the USAF conducted regular routine reconnaissance missions near the Soviet land borders or just outside the 12-mile limit defining international waters. In most cases, the planes were forbidden to fly into Soviet airspace, but in a few cases the need for information outweighed the risk of over flight and a plane was sent into the Soviet Union.
During the Korean War, Communist China captured 15 US Air Force pilots and crewmen on charges of violating their air space. The first became a prisoner when his F-86 was shot down. Next the pilot of an F-84 was captured. The next incident was when a B-29 was attacked and 11 of the crew made it to the ground. Three others in the plane weren't so lucky. Then a F-86 was shot down by MiGs. The last pilot to be captured was also from an F-86.
On 15 March 1953, a B-50 reconnaissance plane of the 38th Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron, 55th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing was attacked by a pair of Soviet MiG-15s. The plane, nicknamed "The Laboring Lady", was flying in international airspace, approximately 25 miles off the Kamchatka Peninsula on the Soviet Pacific coast when two MiGs. intercepted the USAF plane. After escorting the B-50 for a short time, one Soviet pilot opened fire on the B-50. The B-50's central fire control gunner, Technical Sergeant Jesse Prim immediately returned fire after the aircraft commander, Lieutenant Colonel Robert Rich, gave the OK to protect the plane. Although Prim did not hit the attacking plane, his quick action surprised the MiG pilot who quickly broke off his attack and returned to his base.
Two days after the armistice was signed ending the Korean War, a Boeing RB-50 reconnaissance plane assigned to the 343rd Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron (SRS), 55th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing, temporarily attached to the 91st SRS based at Yokota Air Base, Japan, was shot down over the Sea of Japan in international waters in an area about 100 miles southeast of Vladivostok, a city just north of North Korea on the east coast of the Soviet Union.
On 7 November 1954, a US Air Force RB-29 reconnaissance aircraft was shot down near Hokkaido Island in northern Japan. The plane carrying a crew of eleven was conducting routine photographic reconnaissance near Hokkaido and the southernmost of the disputed Kuril islands. The plane was attacked by Soviet fighters and seriously damaged, forcing the crew to bail out. Ten crewmen were successfully rescued after landing in the sea; however, the eleventh man drowned when he became entangled in his parachute lines after landing.
On 21 July 1955, President Dwight D. Eisenhower proposed the "Open Skies" Treaty at a summit conference held in Geneva, Switzerland. Since the early 1950s the United States had tried to gain as much reconnaissance information as possible about the Soviet development of offensive weapons systems. Although most surveillance flights were carried out in international airspace off the coasts of Russia, a few flights were flown over Soviet territory in violation of international law.
Gathering reliable intelligence information was very difficult. President Eisenhower believed that getting permission to over fly Soviet military facilities while granting permission for the Soviets to over fly US military installations would greatly ease tensions between the two superpowers.
Unfortunately, the Soviets immediately rejected the "Open Skies" Treaty proposal fearing the US intended to trick the USSR into a disadvantageous position. As a result, the US was very apprehensive about Soviet development of long range bombers and more advanced nuclear weapons. The supposed "Bomber Gap" led president Eisenhower to authorize the continued reconnaissance flights (including the over flights) because the Soviet threat was judged to be more important than the international incident that would result if a US plane was shot down over Soviet territory.
On 1 May 1960, the international incident the United States dreaded happened when a CIA U-2 piloted by Frances Gary Powers was shot down over Soviet Territory near Sverdlovsk. Just two months later, a USAF RB-47 was shot down in international airspace resulting in the deaths of four crewmen and the capture of two more. These two men were held in Lubyanka Prison, Moscow for seven months before being released.
On 1 July 1960, a Soviet MiG fighter north of Murmansk in the Barents Sea shot down a six-man RB-47 crew . Probably at no time in this nation's history has the importance of aerial reconnaissance been demonstrated more dramatically than during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. In September and October of that year, Soviet officials had persistently denied their intent to install offensive weapons in Cuba, only 90 miles from U.S. shores, despite intelligence reports to the contrary. On 14 Oct, two USAF high-flying U-2 reconnaissance aircraft photographed portions of Cuba and analysis of these photos confirmed that bases were being constructed for intermediate-range missiles within striking distance of the United States. On 27 October 1962, a U-2A (S/N 56-7611) flown by USAF Major Rudolf Anderson, Jr. was shot down while flying high over Cuba conducting a reconnaissance mission during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
The SR-71 Blackbird was the successor to the U-2 and was widely used during the 1960s, although the U-2 remained in service carrying out both strategic as well as tactical reconnaissance missions. The development of high resolution reconnaissance satellites by the CIA in the 1960s also added to the United States intelligence capabilities. SAC continued operations of both the SR-71 and U-2 until its inactivation in 1992, the mission being transferred to Air Combat Command.
SAC Minuteman ICBM missile combat crew on alert. Typically, a two-person missile combat crew is on alert in an underground launch control center for 24 hours at a time monitoring their ICBMs, ready to launch them if directed
Along with in-flight refueling, another important element in the growth of SAC was the development of ballistic missiles. The rapid development of ballistic missiles in the 1950s provided SAC with another means of carrying out its mission of being able to strike anywhere in the world. While the U.S. Air Force had started a missile development program in 1946, it was not seriously pursued until reports surfaced about the progress of Soviet Union rocket technology and the threat it posed to the US.:112–13 The perceived threat motivated the Eisenhower administration to make ballistic missiles a top priority and tasked Air Force Brigadier General Bernard Schriever with leading the development program. By 1958, roughly four years after Schriever had initiated his ballistic missile program, SAC activated the 704th Strategic Missile Wing to operate first the intermediate range Thor missile and then a year later the first true ICBM, the Atlas missile.:117–18 Schriever followed up his quick development of the two missile systems with the development of the Titan II and Minuteman missile systems shortly thereafter.
During LeMay’s command, SAC was able to effect great changes in American nuclear strategy. At the beginning of the Cold War, SAC was effectively powerless in shaping the American nuclear strategy it was tasked with carrying out. The four main issues instrumental in forming the nuclear strategy were technical limitations, nuclear weapon availability, lack of strategic thinking and politics. The first of the two factors of technical limitations and availability went hand in hand, as from 1946 to 1948, the US had only 12 atomic bombs and between five and 27 B-29s capable of delivering the bombs. Had the president ordered an atomic attack in 1947 or 1948, the 509th Composite Bomb Group would have needed five or six days to obtain the bombs from the Atomic Energy Commission and arrive at the base it would attack from. The lack of strategic thinking was largely a result of the unfamiliarity of the atomic bomb and the high level of secrecy with which it had been developed. That began to change in 1948 when reports of Bikini Atoll tests were circulated among the Air Force, which made information about the bomb more available to planners and helped to convince them of its strategic capabilities.:67 The new strategic thinking found its place in the proposed Joint Emergency War Plan codenamed “Halfmoon”, which called for the dropping of fifty atomic bombs on twenty cities in the Soviet Union.:68 At this point, politics entered into the formation of nuclear strategy in the form of president Harry S. Truman. The president initially rejected “Halfmoon” and ordered the development of a non-nuclear alternative plan, only to later change his mind during the Berlin Blockade.:68–9 These four factors combined to create a high level of uncertainty and prevented the development of an effective nuclear strategy.
Titan II missile launching from silo.
It was this uncertainty that LeMay entered into upon assuming command of SAC which emboldened him and SAC planners to attempt to unilaterally form American nuclear strategy. LeMay started shortly after his arrival at SAC, by having SAC planners draw up Emergency War Plan 1–49, which involved striking seventy Soviet cities with 133 atomic bombs over a thirty day period in an effort to destroy Soviet industrial capacity.:70–1 But with the Soviet Union gaining possession of atomic weapons in 1949, SAC was forced to rethink its nuclear strategy. Under orders from the Joint Chiefs of Staff, SAC was told its primary objective was bombing targets in order to damage or destroy Soviet ability to deliver nuclear weapons, its secondary objective was stopping Soviet advances into Western Europe, and its tertiary objective was the same as before, destroying Soviet industrial capacity. The redefinition and expansion of its mission would help SAC to formalize and consolidate its control over nuclear planning and strategy. This was done by LeMay in a 1951 meeting with high level Air Force staff, when he convinced them that unreasonable operational demands were being placed on SAC and, in order to alleviate the issue, SAC should be allowed to approve target selections before they were finalized.:18
SAC’s assumption of control over nuclear strategy led to the adoption of a strategy based on the idea of counterforce. SAC planners understood that as the Soviet Union increased their nuclear capacity, destroying or “countering” those forces (bombers, missiles, etc.) became of greater strategic importance than destroying industrial capacity.:100 In 1954, the Eisenhower administration concurred with the new focus, with the President expressing a preference for military over civilian targets.:35 While the Eisenhower administration approved of the strategy in general, LeMay continued to increase SAC’s independence by refusing to submit SAC war plans for review, believing that operational plans should be closely guarded, a view the Joint Chiefs of Staff eventually came to accept.:37 By the end of the 1950s, SAC had identified 20,000 potential Soviet target sites and had officially designated 3,560 of those sites as bombing targets, with the significant percentage being counterforce targets of Soviet air defense, airfields and suspected missile sites.:60 LeMay and SAC’s continuing efforts to assume greater control over nuclear strategy were vindicated on 11 August 1960, when Eisenhower approved a plan to create the Joint Strategic Target Planning Staff (dominated by SAC) to prepare the National Strategic Target List and the Single Integrated Operation Plan (SIOP) for nuclear war.:62
Besides developing and implementing new technology and strategies, SAC was actively involved in the Korean War. Shortly after beginning of the war in July 1950, SAC dispatched ten nuclear-capable bombers to Andersen AFB on Guam under orders from the Joint Chiefs.:112 But SAC did more than just provide a nuclear option during the Korean War, It also deployed four B-29 bomber wings that were used in tactical operations against enemy forces and logistics:114 All of this led LeMay to express concern that “too many splinters were being whittled off the stick”, preventing him from being able to carry out his primary mission of strategic deterrence.:113–4 As a result, LeMay was relieved when the Korean War ended in 1953 and he was able to go back to building SAC’s arsenal and gaining control over nuclear strategy.
SAC EC-135H "Looking Glass" Airborne Command Post
Despite SAC's establishment of "hardened" underground command and control facilities at its headquarters at Offutt AFB, LeMay and his planners knew that a direct nuclear strike by Soviet forces employing hydrogen weapons would likely destroy the facility. As a backup to this potentiality, the concept of a SAC airborne command post was developed. As envisioned, the airborne command post would be carried on a long range/long endurance aircraft, manned by a battle staff headed by a SAC general officer of at least brigadier general rank. The aircraft would be equipped with the latest in electronics and communications equipment so that it would be able to assume control of all of SAC's bomber, aerial refueling and reconnaissance aircraft, as well as SAC's land-based intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) force and the U.S. Navy's Fleet Ballistic Missile (FBM) submarine force in the event SAC headquarters was destroyed. Like the B-52, the airborne command post would also be hardened against electromagnetic pulse (EMP) radiation, making it capable of operating during a nuclear exchange with the Soviet Union. A fleet of these aircraft would also enable SAC to keep one such aircraft continuously airborne, 24 hours a day every day of the year. The aircraft selected for this duty was a derivative of SAC's KC-135 Stratotanker. Named the EC-135 Looking Glass, it realized the SAC vision of a flying command post. As a result, one of SAC's EC-135 Looking Glass aircraft was constantly airborne from 1961 until the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the de facto end of the Cold War in 1990.
In an effort to augment the Looking Glass mission, a 1973 initiative resulted in the establishment of the National Emergency Airborne Command Post (NEACP), also known as "knee cap," resulting in the procurement of four Boeing E-4 aircraft derived from the Boeing 747. The E-4 aircraft were originally stationed at Andrews AFB, Maryland so they could be easily accessed by the President and the Secretary of Defense, with SAC also establishing three dispersed support squadrons for the E-4 at Westover AFB, Massachusetts, Barksdale AFB, Louisiana and March AFB, California. Basing for the E-4 aircraft was later moved to Offutt AFB, with one E-4 continuously stationed at Andrews AFB in order to be available to the National Command Authority.
Strategic Air Command in the United Kingdom was among the command's largest overseas concentrations of forces, with additional forces at bases in North Africa during the 1950s and 1960s in addition to SAC bomber, tanker, and/or reconnaissance aircraft assets at the former Ramey AFB, Puerto Rico in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, and at Andersen AFB, Guam, RAF Mildenhall, United Kingdom and the former NAS Keflavik, Iceland through the 1990s. SAC "Provisional" wings were also located in Okinawa and Thailand during the Vietnam War and at Diego Garcia and in the United Kingdom during the first Gulf War.
SAC's final major operational engagement occurred during the 1990–1991 time frame during the First Gulf War. SAC bomber, tanker and reconnaissance aircraft flew numerous conventional bombing, aerial refueling and reconnaissance missions over and near Iraq from RAF Fairford and other bases in Great Britain, Turkey, Akrotiri, Cyprus, Diego Garcia, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.
On 31 May 1992, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the end of the Cold War, SAC was eliminated in a major reorganization of USAF commands. Two of the air force's U.S.-based war-fighting commands, SAC and Tactical Air Command (TAC), were reorganized into a single organization, Air Combat Command (ACC). ACC was essentially given the combined missions that SAC and TAC held respectively, with the newly designated Air Mobility Command (AMC) inheriting most of SAC's KC-135 Stratotanker and KC-10 Extender aerial refueling tanker force, while a small portion of KC-135 aircraft were reassigned to United States Air Forces in Europe (USAFE) and Pacific Air Forces (PACAF), the latter to include PACAF-gained KC-135 aircraft of the Alaska Air National Guard. SAC's former land-based ICBM force, initially part of ACC, eventually became part of the new Air Force Space Command (AFSPC). The USAF nuclear component was then officially combined with the United States Navy's strategic nuclear component, its Fleet Ballistic Missile (FBM) submarines, to form United States Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM), which is headquartered at SAC's former complex at Offutt AFB, Nebraska.
In late 2009, the ICBM force was transferred yet again, this time from AFSPC to the newly established Air Force Global Strike Command (AFGSC). In early 2010, the B-2 Spirit and B-52 Stratofortress bomber force was also reassigned to AFGSC, while the B-1 Lancer bomber force remained in ACC due to the B-1's removal from the nuclear strike mission and reassignment to conventional roles only.
The Strategic Air and Space Museum, formerly the SAC Museum, was located adjacent to Offutt AFB till moved to its site off of I-80 between Omaha and Lincoln, preserves SAC's heritage in a fashion open to public view.
Established as Continental Air Forces on 13 December 1944
Activated on 15 December 1944 Re-designated: Strategic Air Command on 21 March 1946 Inactivated on 1 Jun 1992
Re-designated as Air Force Global Strike Command, and activated, on 7 August 2009.
United States Army Air Forces, 15 December 1944
United States Air Force, 26 September 1947 – 1 June 1992; 7 August 2009 – present.
June 25, 1950
Vandenberg would remember that most of the discussion at the Sunday [6/25/50 EST] meeting was speculation about whether the Soviet Union or China might take a hand in the fighting. There was no argument or discussion about the difficulties that were going to be involved if the poorly prepared American armed forces were ordered into combat. However, one thing was certain: Vandenberg knew and frequently told listeners that the US Air Force was on trial in Korea. Based on his wartime experience as a foremost tactical air commander, Vandenberg had an interesting view of the unitary nature of air power. He had hoped to rid the Air Force of the arbitrary separation of combat units into "tactical" and "strategic" forces. In Korea, strategic B-29 bombers were going to deliver the heaviest blows against the Communist invaders.
At the outbreak of the war, General Headquarters (GHQ),
US Far East Command (FEC), in Tokyo had no combat mission relevant to the Republic of Korea.
The Far East Air Forces (FEAF) was geared for air defense provided by the Fifth and Thirteenth Air Forces. FEAF had, however, managed to retain the Twentieth Air Force with one B-29 wing on Guam.
This unit was the 19th Wing, and it was the only strategic wing not assigned to Strategic Air Command. In an expedited movement, the 19th Group's air echelon immediately moved to Kadena Air Base on Okinawa, from which location an Army staff group in GHQ undertook to direct its employment in support of friendly ground forces in Korea.
The effort to manage the B-29's from GHQ as somewhat successful. For an initial strike, aircraft were loaded with fragmentation bombs and directed to hit Red aircraft at Wŏnsan. The strike was diverted to attack Han River bridges at Sŏul, where the frags were virtually useless. In the days that followed, the B-29 crews were ordered to search out and bomb enemy tanks. Another mission was ordered out to destroy bridges at coordinates on a supposed east coast rail line. This task was difficult since the rail line, though shown on a map consulted, had never been built.
June 25, 1950
THE AIR WAR in Korea was principally a tactical air war. At first the USAF and FEAF had no choice but to stress air-ground cooperation in order to prevent the hard-pressed U. N. ground forces, committed to action piecemeal, from being driven into the sea by well trained and numerically superior North Korean armies; that the air war remained primarily tactical was dictated by political considerations designed to isolate the fighting in Korea. Although it was well recognized that the North Korean armies had been trained by other Communist nations and were being actively supplied with war materiel from Chinese and Russian sources, political decisions prevented air action north of the Yalu.
As General O'Donnell expressed it:
"The U. N. decision to restrict our operations to areas south of the Yalu had obviously given the enemy an inordinate advantage which will be almost impossible to overcome. We are fighting distinctly `under wraps.' "
While temporary emergencies and political expedients vitiated the essential requirement that strategic air warfare must be a total and sustained effort, the Strategic Air Command (SAC) medium bomber groups detached to FEAF nevertheless managed well planned attacks against such strategic targets as were located in North Korea.
The expeditious manner in which the medium bomber groups moved across the Pacific was due largely to the fact that SAC units were directed and controlled by one major command. The consequences of diverting these highly specialized strategic units to tactical missions within the theater merely proved the wisdom of the normal concept that SAC should receive its directives - and targets - from the Joint Chiefs of Staff.