A Short History of the Strategic Air Command

1946-1992

The Strategic Air Command contributed to the deterrence of nuclear war by providing ready, flexible and credible strategic offensive forces capable of responding to any threats to the vital security interests of the United States.

The Strategic Air Command (SAC) was established on 21 March 1946, as one of the three combat commands of the U.S. Army Air Forces. Its mission was deterring aggression by performing long-range strategic air operations.

Following World War II America found itself in the unique position of being the victor in the worst war ever fought and in possession of the atomic bomb. With its enemies decisively beaten, and possessing the worlds most powerful weapon, America began to disarm. Following the assumption that the world would not challenge that power, we formed an organization which would wield that weapon as a deterrent to future aggression, and thus SAC was born.

General Carl "Tooey" Spaatz, the commander of the strategic air forces in Europe during the war defined the Mission of SAC: "The Strategic Air Command will be prepared to conduct long range offensive operations in any part of the world either independently or in cooperation with land and Naval forces: to conduct maximum range reconnaissance over land or sea either independently or in cooperation with land and Naval forces; to provide combat units capable of intense and sustained combat operations employing the latest and most advanced weapons; to train units and personnel for the maintenance of Strategic Forces in all parts of the world; to perform such special missions as the Commanding General, Army Air Force may direct."

General George Kenny was appointed commander of the new organization with the task of building a military force capable of conducting long-range offensive operations in any part of the world. The command had 100,000 personnel and 1300 aircraft, about 300 of these were B-29 bombers. The new command inherited the headquarters of the former Continental Air Forces at Bolling Field, Washington, D.C. along with most of its personnel and assets. On 21 October SAC HQ moved to Andrews Field, Maryland.

Creation of the U.S. Air Force On 18 September 1947, The Department of the Air Force was created as an equal branch with the Army and Navy. SAC became a command of the new Air Force. The two main units under SAQ HQ were Fifteenth Air Force and Eighth Air Force.

By 1948 Gen. Curtis LeMay took command as SAC took deliveries of two new aircraft, the B-36 and the B-50. The headquarters was moved to Offutt AFB, near Omaha, Nebraska. This same year saw the introduction of in-flight refueling through the use of KC-97s. In-Flight refueling gave Sac's bombers a true intercontinental range.

During the Korean war, B29's dropped 167,000 tons of conventional bombs, destroying every strategic industrial target in North Korea.

In 1953 the Soviet Union exploded its first hydrogen bomb, emphasizing the growing communist threat. As a result, SAC began to replace obsolete equipment By the mid fifties, SAC was operating its first all-jet bomber, the B-47, and later the B-58. By 1957, SAC received the B-52 and the KC-135 jet tanker. SAC demonstrated its world-spanning capability that year when three B-52s made a non-stop round-the-world flight. By 1958 SAC saw the introduction of intercontinental ballistic missiles into its deterrent force with the activation of Atlas and Titan and later, Minuteman missiles.

By 1960 a third of the bombers were on 15-minute ground alert, and airborne alert and various ground dispersal concepts were being tested, to ensure the bomber fleet could survive a surprise attack from the Soviet Union. During the mid-sixties, the B-47 was retired. On Feb 3, 1961 SAC launched its first Airborne Command Post "Looking Glass" mission. The "Looking Glass" was an EC-135 with the capabilities of mirroring the command and control functions of the headquarters, hence its name. From that day until June 1991, there was always a Looking Glass aircraft in the sky. The key component of the Post Attack Command and Control System, the "Glass" could launch all bombers and missiles under SACs control. This capability meant that any attack by the Soviet Union on SAC Headquarters in Omaha, was futile, the full retaliatory might of the United States could still be brought to bear. During the 29 years of continuous airborne alert the Looking Glass greatly contributed to the deterrent force of the Strategic Air Command.

SAC's role in Vietnam. From 1964 to 1973, B-52s, KC-135s and various reconnaissance aircraft flew thousands of bombing, aerial refueling, and recon missions in Southeast Asia. SAC forces helped to lift the siege of Khe Sanh, helping to blunt the 1972 North Vietnamese spring offensive at Quang Tri, An Loc, and Kontum. The Linebacker II campaign in December 1972 helped force the North Vietnamese back to the peace table.

The end of the Cold War and the disintegration of the Soviet Union meant the threat from Soviet aggression was gone. By June of 1991 the Looking Glass flew its last mission. Following the Persian Gulf War, a major restructuring of the Air Force saw the creation of the Air Combat Command, which absorbed both the Strategic and Tactical Air Commands. Thus on 1 June 1992, the history of the Strategic Air Command came to an end.


SAC Aircraft

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