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Fusing the Fission: One Airman’s introduction to nuclear deterrence

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Jessica C. Adams
  • 2nd Bomb Wing Public Affairs

Fission Bomb – the ripping, splitting, tearing apart of the basic, foundational unit of all created things to create the greatest explosion and the deadliest force the world has ever seen.

Driving along the wide entrance to Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, the ancient branches shift above as I coast through the cool sunshine of Bossier City, not a nuke on the mind. Pulling up my computer in the morning, there’s a mass disseminated email referencing Air Force Global Strike Command’s nuclear deterrence policy and the upcoming New START inspection from Russia. I click delete.

We move through our days handling the present, but every so often it is necessary to cast a glance over our shoulder to remind ourselves why we do what we do.  Today, we are here, because in 1945 the world exploded into the atomic age. 

In a warm December week, my butter bars entered AFGSC headquarters for a class which is traditionally given to intelligence analysts but now has been opened up to a wider audience. Meant to provide a basic background on nuclear weapon effects, proliferation, technologies, strategy and policy, I sat cellphone-less in a secure room as my mind filed through all I then knew about the nuclear enterprise.

Hiroshima, Nagasaki, big men and skinny boys, the Cold War, the Soviet Union, mushroom clouds, and radiation – snippets of a larger picture. A few years ago, someone had shown me a graph charting the continued depletion of our nuclear arsenal. But without being given a reason, and unsure where I stood on nukes, I didn’t know what to think.

In the 80’s, the thought of nukes slid like a cold piece of ice down the spine, sending shivers of worry. But I’m a product of the early 1990’s when this fear had melted in the quick wrap-up of nuclear operations at the end of the Cold War and the disbanding of Strategic Air Command.

Now, working in the heart the of Air Force’s nuclear command, I welcomed the instructor’s explanations. At the shutdown of SAC, citizens and the military alike brain-dumped nuclear understanding. Nuclear reductions resulted from the close of the Cold War and a series of treaties between the US and USSR. Yet, as both countries decommissioned weapons, engineers made technological advances on both bomb construction and deployment racks.
The result: smaller arsenals of today are more accurate and have more impact than larger ones of yesteryear.

Counterintuitively, this means that currently we are better able to deter adversaries and assure allies than we were at the height of the nuclear build up.

We came to understand just why deterrence is more desirable than atomic employment.

When an atomic bomb is detonated, half the damage inflicted is due to the actual blast, the fire ball with its massive shock wave. The heart of the explosion reaches temperatures into the millions of degrees Fahrenheit. It emanates light which is literally blinding, and generates winds upwards of several hundred mph. The other half of the destruction is caused by thermal, prompt and residual radiation, which kills from the inside out. These are called weapons of mass destruction for a reason.

Many a poem and many a man have sung of the horrors of war. Catastrophe is not something we chase; it’s something we are here to keep at bay. It’s for this reason that we stand with other nations to ensure that nuclear pain is dissuaded. We, the military, the Air Force, AFGSC, and the 2nd Bomb Wing, are here to keep peace. Our irony of life is: if we do our job right, we won’t have to do our job.

To use our weapons to deter further violence is to use their destructive potential for the ultimate good.

Fat Man and Little Boy, the only two atomic bombs ever dropped on a population, were fission bombs. The tiny atom which split inside them tore the conflict apart and ended World War II.

Developed on the heels of the fission bomb, is the much greater and more destructive fusion bomb.

Fusion bomb – the use of energy put off from an initial fission division to create a fusion bond of incredible strength, releasing energy exponentially greater than mere division.

We at the 2nd BW use the division released by the atomic bomb to fuse the world together.  We fly our sorties and train our Airmen to protect the fragility of cohesion and peace.