US said to ready nukes amid war of words with North Korea

B-52 bombers outfitted with nuclear missiles for first time since Cold War, report says; US general: ‘The world is a dangerous place’

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter

A US Air Force B-52 bomber flies over Osan Air Base in Pyeongtaek, South Korea,  January 10, 2016. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
A US Air Force B-52 bomber flies over Osan Air Base in Pyeongtaek, South Korea, January 10, 2016. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

US President Donald Trump said Sunday that his administration was “prepared for anything” in connection with North Korea. “We are so prepared like you wouldn’t believe,” he told Fox News. “You would be shocked to see how totally prepared we are, if we need to be.”

His comments came with the US Air Force reportedly making plans to equip B-52 strategic bombers with nuclear weapons for the first time since the Cold War and ready them for action.

According to a report by Defense One Sunday, the move is in response to recent developments including North Korea’s nuclear buildup and the war of words between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un, and the Russian army’s strengthening under President Vladimir Putin.

“This is yet one more step in ensuring that we’re prepared,” Gen. David Goldfein, Air Force chief of staff, told the publication during a tour of US Air Force bases equipped for nuclear warfare.

“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,” he said.

US Air Force Gen. David L. Goldfein (Public Domain/USAF)

“The world is a dangerous place and we’ve got folks that are talking openly about use of nuclear weapons,” Goldfein continued. “It’s no longer a bipolar world where it’s just us and the Soviet Union. We’ve got other players out there who have nuclear capability. It’s never been more important to make sure that we get this mission right.”

At least one of four nuclear-hardened E-4B Nightwatch nuclear command aircraft, commonly known as the Doomsday Plane, is always on 24-hour alert anyway.

In an escalating war of words last month, Trump referred to the North Korean leader as “Rocket Man” and one of “a band of criminals.” He has threatened to “totally destroy” the Asian country and referred to “the calm before the storm,” declining to clarify his remarks. In one of many tweets on the subject, he posted, “Just heard Foreign Minister of North Korea speak at UN. If he echoes thoughts of Little Rocket Man, they won’t be around much longer!”

Kim, meanwhile, has referred to Trump as “the rabid man in the White House” and “mentally deranged” and has warned that he will make the US president “pay dearly” for threatening to destroy his country.

North Korea’s foreign minister described Trump’s threat to destroy his country as “the sound of a dog barking.” Ri Yong Ho told reporters that what he called Trump’s “declaration of war” gives North Korea “every right” under the UN Charter to take countermeasures, “including the right to shoot down the United States strategic bombers even [if] they’re not yet inside the airspace border of our country.”

Goldfein — the US Air Force chief — and other defense officials said that no specific alert order had been given, but that the force wanted to be prepared should such an order come. The final decision lies in the hands of Gen. John Hyten, head of US Strategic Command, which is responsible for the US army’s nuclear forces, or Gen. Lori Robinson, head of US Northern Command, which is responsible for defending North America, Defense One said.

As part of the preparations, bases with nuclear bombers are set to build storage hangars for a new nuclear cruise missile being developed, the report said.

One base, an old building where B-52 crews slept during the Cold War, is reportedly being renovated and beds are being installed for more than 100 service people.

“Our job is options,” Goldfein said. “We provide the best military advice and options for the commander in chief and the secretary of defense.”

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