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U.S. Air Force Runs Two Nuclear War Exercises in the Space of One Week

April 19, 2024 (EIRNS)—Twice, this week, the U.S. Air Force has publicized exercises involving its nuclear forces. These exercises might normally be considered regular training exercises, but in a strategic environment where the risk of nuclear war is skyrocketing, they take on greater significance.

On April 7, U.S. B-52 bomber crews at Minot AFB, North Dakota, practiced the loading and (simulated) firing of AGM-86B air-launched cruise missiles, during an exercise called Prairie Vigilance. The AGM-86B carries a “nuclear payload” and can “fly complicated routes to a target through the use of a terrain contour-matching guidance system,” according to an Air Force fact sheet cited by EurAsian Times. “The AGM-86C carries a conventional blast/fragmentation payload, and the AGM-86D carries a conventional penetrating warhead. Both conventional variants employ a GPS-aided inertial navigation system.” It is also likely, EurAsian Times says, that a simulated firing took place, since another video showed eight to ten B-52s taking off. Crews usually practice the flight profiles and launch sequences needed to engage the missiles in simulated launches. The fact of the exercise was not announced by Minot’s public affairs office until April 15.

The AGM-86B is loaded with the W-80 nuclear warhead with a yield of 5-150 kilotons. Each nuclear capable B-52 can carry 12 to 20 of them.

A week after the Minot exercise, B-2 stealth bombers at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, were practicing the largest mass take-off in the type’s history, in an exercise called Spirit Vigilance. Yesterday, the U.S. Air Force released imagery of up to 12 B-2s lined on taxiways and the runway out of a fleet of 20. The video published together with the photos shows crews scrambling to their aircraft, before lining on the taxiway on their way to takeoff, reported The Aviationist blog.

Each B-2, when armed for a nuclear mission, can carry up to 16 B-61 or B-83 nuclear gravity bombs. The B-61 has a yield of up to 340 kilotons while the B-83 is up to one megaton.