The SAC Mentality: The Origins of Strategic Air Command's Organizational Culture, 1948-51
AIR UNIV MAXWELL AFB AL AIR FORCE RESEARCH INST
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KLAXON KLAXON KLAXON When public address systems echoed these words at Strategic Air Command SAC bases across the United States, red lights flashed and SAC warriors scrambled to their awaiting bombers. As pilots frantically brought their nuclear-armed planes to life, navigators decoded cryptic emergency action messages to determine if the alert response was an actual launch against the Soviet Union or just another exercise. SAC warriors never executed their preplanned missions against America s Cold War enemy, but for over 40 years, the possibility that the United States could and might do so served to deter a possible Soviet attack against the American homeland. Operating under these strenuous conditions placed a considerable burden on the organization. Every day, SAC aircrews studied their planned routes into Mother Russia and conducted training missions as regimented and scripted as the real thing. Additionally, SAC personnel s regular handling of nuclear weapons required a high degree of supervision and strict observance of established procedures. For the command s leaders, controlling this nuclear armada called for a unique operating paradigm built on routine, control, and flawless execution. The Air Force and the nation came to rely on SAC as the pillar of Cold War deterrence. Therefore, the organization grew in size, strength, and power, reaching its peak in the 1960s. By the early 1960s, SAC s bomber generals held more than 50 percent of the senior command positions within the Air Force. These leaders, largely veterans of the World War II strategic bombing campaigns, collectively believed that the threat of nuclear bombing as well as, later, the additional risk of a nuclear missile attack was the way to deter potential adversaries. In the mid-1960s, the Cold War shifted its focus when war erupted over the unification of Vietnam.
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