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SANDS graduates first class, new generation of deterrence experts

  • Published
  • By Joe Thomas
  • Air Force Global Strike Command Public Affairs
KIRTLAND AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. -- The inaugural class of the School for Advanced Nuclear Deterrence Studies graduated Sept. 7, 2016, at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico. The event marking the first successful implementation of the course, a master’s degree program designed to created expert leaders in the nuclear enterprise.

Six active-duty Airmen graduated from the course. Together, they represent the Air Force’s portion of the nuclear enterprise including ICBMs, nuclear security and strategic bombers. Air Force Global Strike Command created SANDS to bring these professions together to increase understanding of deterrence strategy and doctrine.

As part of the SANDS curriculum, staff from the Air Force Institute of Technology taught courses on physics, statistics and other technical classes meant to increase the students’ understanding of strategic systems. Each AFIT class is normally 10 weeks long; however, the staff abbreviated these course to fit into the SANDS schedule. 

“We had to learn 10 weeks of material in two weeks’ time per subject,” Maj. Matthew Boone, SANDS student, said. “It was definitely challenging. Each day was a three-hour class followed by eight hours of course work. In the end, it gave me a better understanding of the nuclear enterprise in general.”

Boone, a missileer by trade, will move on to a post at the Pentagon where he will provide guidance based on his SANDS experience. Other graduates will also move on to special staffs at combatant and major commands or other locations where their knowledge will play a role indecisions affecting the nuclear enterprise.

Another SANDS graduate and missileer, Maj. Robert Evans, also a missileer, will move on to work at U.S. Strategic Command, which is responsible for the strategic employment of the nation’s deterrence assets. Evans specifically researched the link between Strategic Air Command and Air Force Global Strike Command and how leaders of both commands impacted the culture of deterrence.

“The nuclear enterprise is really the bedrock of our nation’s defense,” Evans said. “We also looked at those nations and organizations who are rational actors and how they work towards achieving their objectives. The world is a much more dynamic place than it was 20 years ago.” 

Aside from academic course work, students had an opportunity to tour the world as they visited numerous laboratories in the continental United States as well as allied nations. 

“This gave us a fresh perspective of how our allies view deterrence,” Evans said. “Especially when we visited Japan, South Korea and the United Kingdom. We also learned how important deterrence is to the NATO alliance.”

The School for Advanced Nuclear Deterrence Studies is one in a series of efforts by AFGSC to reinvigorate the nuclear enterprise, which provides an umbrella of protection to NATO and coalition partners. Subsequent classes include sailors from the U.S. Navy, civilian members of the enterprise and foreign officers.

The Cold War ended in 1991 and with it a consolidated field of study regarding all of the nation’s unconventional weapons. SANDS strives to close the gap between yesterday’s and today’s understanding of deterrence, according to Evans.