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Global Thunder 23: What Message Do US’ Latest Nuclear Drills Send Russia?

B-52H Stratofortresses from the 2nd Bomb Wing line up on the runway at Barksdale Air Force Base, La., Oct. 14, 2020. The B-52 is a long-range, heavy bomber that can perform a variety of missions and has been the backbone of U.S. strategic bomber forces for more than 60 years.
By Ilya Tsukanov – Sputnik – 11.04.2023

United States Strategic Command, the Pentagon arm responsible for military operations involving nuclear weapons, kicked off annual command and control drills this week. What message do the drills send Washington’s adversaries?

STRATCOM’s press service has done its best to calm concerns about the nuclear drills which began on Tuesday, assuring that they are ordinary, annually-scheduled exercises definitely “not” being held “in response to the actions by any nation or other actors.”

“Global Thunder 23 (GT23) involves personnel throughout the strategic enterprise including US STRATCOM components and subordinate units. The purpose of GT23 is to enhance nuclear readiness and ensure a safe, secure, and reliable deterrence force,” the command said in a statement.

“In addition to US personnel, GT23 will involve key allied personnel and partners, including United Kingdom personnel, who will integrate into senior leadership teams and work across a broad spectrum of areas offering policy support and operational insight… As in previous years, Global Thunder 23 will include an increase in bomber aircraft flights throughout the exercise,” STRATCOM added.

The formal goal of the drills seems pretty simple: to train US forces responsible for launching nuclear weapons against Washington’s adversaries, and assess operational readiness in coordination with allies – typically including Britain, Canada, Denmark, Australia, and South Korea. US forces involved in the drills ordinarily involve Air Force Global Strike Command and nuclear bomber wings dotting North America, plus forces responsible for launching America’s intercontinental ballistic missiles, and nuclear submarine crews.

The first Global Thunder drills were held in October 2014 – the same year relations between the West and Russia collapsed in the aftermath of a US-backed coup in Kiev. So much for STRATCOM’s statement that the drills aren’t held “in response to the actions of any nation.”

The last Global Thunder drills were held in November 2021, with the 2022 drills postponed to this week amid the escalation of the Ukraine crisis into a full-blown NATO-Russia proxy war.

Global Thunder 23 comes at a curious time. Washington and its allies spent the better part of the last year warning about purported Russian plans to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine, leaving aside the fact that the US is the only nation to have ever used nuclear weapons in wartime, and the fact that only America’s doctrine allows for nukes to be used preemptively and against non-nuclear-armed enemies.

What Other Recent Nuclear Drills Have There Been?

A separate STRATCOM command exercise dubbed “Global Lightning” was held in January 2022 in coordination with US Indo Pacific Command, with those drills focusing on “headquarters processes and procedures necessary to plan and respond to a military crisis.” Unlike Global Thunder, Global Lightning involves no associated field training.

Last October, NATO held the “Steadfast Noon” drills, simulating the use of American nuclear weapons by Washington’s European allies. Those exercises took place in Belgium, the UK, and over the North Sea. 14 countries and 60 aircraft of various types, including nuclear-capable bombers and spy and tanker planes, took part.

Russia’s nuclear forces held their own nuclear exercises, dubbed “Grom” (“Thunder”), the same month, notifying the US on what the Pentagon said was a “routine annual exercise” in compliance with arms control obligations. The Grom drills involved tests of components of all three elements of Russia’s nuclear triad, including live-fire launches of submarine, aircraft, and ground-based nuclear missile systems.

The nuclear superpowers aren’t the only ones to have conducted nuclear exercises recently. Last month, North Korea held two days-worth of drills “simulating a nuclear counterattack” against enemy targets – including the firing of a tactical missile carrying a mock nuclear weapon, amid growing regional tensions sparked by the increased frequency of US, South Korean, and Japanese exercises.

Drills’ Dangers

One doesn’t have to go very far back in history to recognize the danger of nuclear exercises resulting in a spiraling escalation. Nearly 40 years ago, in November 1983, a NATO command post drill known as Able Archer almost sparked a global nuclear holocaust after the Soviet military brass and the KGB became convinced that the Reagan administration was preparing an all-out surprise nuclear attack against the Soviet “evil empire.” Recently declassified documents have revealed that Pentagon planners deliberately took a number of provocative steps to raise Soviet suspicions, including a radio-silent airlift of 19,000 US troops to Europe, training involving “new nuclear weapons release procedures,” and multiple intentional “slips of the tongue” involving references to B-52 bomber flights as “strikes.” Additional declassified docs released in 2021 revealed that the Soviet military took the Able Archer drills so seriously that it prepped over 100 strike aircraft in Central Europe with live nuclear weapons.

Although communication channels between the Kremlin and the White House have improved since that time, the situation involving nuclear weapons can arguably be said to be even more dangerous today than it was in the mid-1980s. Since then, the US has not only moved nuclear weapons-related defense infrastructure over 1,000 km closer to Russia’s borders, but come up with a dangerous new military doctrine known as “Prompt Global Strike,” which envisions a massed non-nuclear attack against adversaries using ballistic and cruise missiles to quickly decapitate the enemy’s political and military leadership. The PGS initiative, announced by the Pentagon shortly after Washington’s exit from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with Russia in 2002, prompted Moscow to begin research into an array of next-gen hypersonic weapons designed specifically to make US military planners think twice before deciding to launch aggression.

April 11, 2023 - Posted by | Militarism | ,

1 Comment »

  1. What is the US strategy? Defense Sec. Austin made it quite clear that US policy is to “weaken” Russia, While others among neocons and hawks believe Russia is ripe for defeat on the battlefield and at home. And to prove they are right they demand that more weapons be sent to Ukraine by US allies who have laws against sending US-supplied weapons to third parties. And then there are NATO members like France who hold a longer view of the matter. France’s Macron has a more pragmatic view. After meeting with Xi Jinping only a week ago, Macron made it clear, France does not want to rupture its relations with China. Xi and Vladimir Putin have engendered warm relations between them and China has become inextricably tied to Russia economically and politically over the course of the past 12 months. In this vein, Macron sees the US continuation of the war in Ukraine as counterproductive and with potentially catastrophic consequences. So the question on people’s minds must be, when will the principals in power in DC and London adapt to Macron’s vision? And consequently, if they do, when will NATO cut its losses and bring this war to a close?


    Comment by Thomas Lee Simpson | April 12, 2023 | Reply

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