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Strategic Air Command

From Academic Kids

Information regarding the film "Strategic Air Command" may be found under a separate article

Image:SAC.jpeg

The Strategic Air Command or SAC was the branch of the United States Air Force in charge of America's bomber-based and ballistic missile-based strategic nuclear arsenal, as well as the infrastructure necessary to support their operations (such as tanker aircraft to fuel the bombers and, until 1957, fighter escorts).

History

On 21 March, 1946 the U.S. Army Air Force was divided into three separate commands: Tactical Air Command (TAC), Air Defense Command (ADC), and Strategic Air Command (SAC). SAC's original headquarters was Bolling Field, the headquarters of the disbanded Continental Air Force, in Washington, DC. Its first commander was General George C. Kenney.

SAC's original mission statement, expressed by General Carl Spaatz, then commanding general of the USAAF, was:

...to conduct long-range offensive operations in any part of the world, either independently or in co-operation with land and naval forces; to conduct maximum-range reconnaissance over land or sea, either independently or in co-operation 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 of the maintenance of the Strategic Forces in all parts of the world; to perform such special missions as the Commanding General Army Air forces may direct.

That mission makes no specific reference to nuclear weapons, which in any case SAC did not yet possess. In the wake of World War II, the U.S. underwent a major drawdown of military forces, and the few USAAF units involved in the dropping of the atomic bombs were not spared.

SAC retained its organization and mission after the USAAF became the United States Air Force on 16 September, 1947. From 9 November, 1948, its headquarters was moved to Offutt Air Force Base near Omaha, Nebraska.

In October 1948 General Curtis LeMay took over as commander of SAC, and set about a dramatic rebuilding of the command's forces, as well as their mission. LeMay, who had masterminded the American attacks on the Japanese mainland during the war (including the firebombing of Tokyo and other cities), was a staunch believer in the power of strategic bombing: the destruction of an enemy's cities and industrial centers. LeMay believed that the existence of the atomic bomb made this type of warfare the only workable strategy, rendering battlefield conflicts essentially obsolete.

Under LeMay's command, SAC became the cornerstone of American national strategic policy during the Cold War with the Soviet Union, which was based on nuclear deterrence. SAC's motto became "Peace is Our Profession," symbolizing the intention to maintain peace through the threat of overwhelming force.

LeMay was not a great believer in mutually assured destruction: he felt strongly (particularly in SAC's early years, when Soviet nuclear capability was still in its formative stages) that SAC should be prepared to carry out a preemptive and overwhelming attack on the USSR before the Soviets had a chance to do the same to the United States.

From its initial handful of wartime B-29 Superfortress bombers (only a few of which were "Silverplate" aircraft capable of dropping a nuclear weapon), SAC built up a substantial force of jet-propelled bombers. At its peak, the SAC force included more than 1,500 bombers, most of them the B-47 Stratojet.

When the first operational intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) became available in the late 1950s, they, too, were placed under SAC command. This led to a gradual decline in SAC's bomber strength.

Wartime experience in Europe had shown the inability of bombers to survive without fighter escort, so for a number of years SAC had a fighter force as well as bomber squadrons. Despite some USAF efforts to develop long-range escort fighters, the range of fighter aircraft was too limited for truly intercontinental range, and SAC philosophy held that interception of bombers was of limited value in the atomic age. As a result, on 1 July, 1957 SAC's fighter squadrons were either disbanded or passed to TAC.

Curtis LeMay left SAC to become USAF Chief of Staff in 1957, and was succeeded by General Thomas S. Power, who served as SAC commander until December 1964. He was followed by General John Dale Ryan (1964-1967) and General Bruce K. Ryan (1968-1972).

In 1992, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, SAC was eliminated in a reorganization of the major Air Force commands. SAC, TAC (Tactical Air Command), and MAC (Military Airlift Command) were reorganized into two commands, AMC (Air Mobility Command) and ACC (Air Combat Command). These two commands were essentially given the same missions that MAC and TAC held respectively, with AMC inheriting SAC's tanker force and ACC inheriting SAC's strategic bombers. The nuclear component was combined with the Navy's nuclear component to form STRATCOM (United States Strategic Command).

See also

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