Authored by John Haughey via The Epoch Times (emphasis ours),
As the lone U.S. Air Force flag officer on “doomsday” flights, Brig. Gen. Don Bacon knew the loneliness of having Armageddon at his fingertips.
Years later, Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.) again knows the sentinel’s loneliness, his repeated calls to restore the Air Force’s Cold War Era “Looking Glass” program unheeded.
But that may be changing.
During a Nov. 15 House Armed Services Committee review of a congressional commission’s report assessing the nation’s nuclear forces, fears surfaced that potential adversaries—namely Russia and China—are developing capacities from space, from cyber, from under the sea, from everywhere all at once, to elude U.S. early warning systems and launch a surprise strike.
Chair Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) and ranking member Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) both cited such a scenario as not merely speculative, but as an urgent threat that must be addressed.
“In terms of resiliency and survivability, regardless how many nuclear weapons or what platforms we have, our command-and-control structures and the ability to make them less vulnerable” is vital, Mr. Smith said.
Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States Chair Madelyn Creedon, a former National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) deputy administrator and Assistant Defense Secretary, agreed.
“That is an important area. It’s also an area that doesn’t get talked about much because so much is classified,” she said.
The report recommends that “attention be placed on the modernization of the nuclear command-and-control system,” Ms. Creedon said. “This also includes how various systems must be more resilient. So, you know, maybe it’s multiple systems” with moving pieces “so that we don’t lose our eyes, if you will.”
Gosh, Mr. Bacon said, that sounds like “Looking Glass.”
“We need to go back to where we used to have 24/7 airborne backup capabilities for our command, control, and communications,” he said. “We need to restore an emergency 24/7 backup capability that can’t be taken out by surprise.”
“Looking Glass” was the operational name for the National Emergency Airborne Command Post program, the rotating but ever-present sky sentinels with beyond-horizon eyes and ears, airborne 24 hours a day, every day, for 37 years between 1961 and 1998.
The program was created to “mirror” the Department of Defense’s (DOD) ground-based command, control, and communications capacities so, in the event they were rendered inoperable in a nuclear strike, airborne teams could transmit launch commands to intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), Air Force strategic bombers, and submarines at sea.
“Looking Glass” ensured there would be no surprises, that any nuclear strike against America would induce a response that made such an attack unthinkable.
It was the guarantee that mutually assured destruction was, indeed, assured.
‘You’re Exactly Right’
“Looking Glass” was disbanded, its mission transferred to Navy E-6Bs and satellites, with Air Force airborne strategic “NightWatch” surveillance assets incorporated into the DOD’s World Wide Airborne Command Post network.
Mr. Bacon has maintained for at least five years that the current airborne surveillance system is inadequate.
And he should know.
“I used to fly on the ‘Looking Glass,’” he said, accumulating more than 1,700 hours as command, control, and communications analyst flying out of Offutt Air Force Base near Omaha, Nebraska, in the late 1980s and again as a “one star,” a brigadier general, in 2011-12 on “NightWatch”—the one with his finger on the button.
During a July hearing, Mr. Bacon told Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear, Chemical & Biological Defense Programs Deborah Rosenblum and Air Force Global Strike Commander Gen. Thomas Bussiere that the Navy doesn’t have enough E-6Bs and that emerging technologies—hypersonics, space lasers—won’t give U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM) much time, if any, to thwart a nuclear strike.
“With hypersonics, you may have a 15-minute warning time. That’s not enough time to get a jet off reliably, in my view,” he said. “So you’re better off having a 24/7 capacity. Why? Because you want the Russians and the Chinese to know that no matter what they do, we can strike back. And so I think it’s important for deterrence.”
Mr. Bacon’s back-to-the-future suggestion to restore “Looking Glass” drew polite acknowledgment but little else.
During the Nov. 15 hearing, he asked Ms. Creedon and commission Vice Chair Jon Kyl, who represented Arizona as a Republican U.S. Senator from 1995-2013, what their year-long study said about the nation’s airborne surveillance capacities.
“With current technologies, [there is a] 15-minute warning time,” he said, adding DOD assures him that a 15-minute warning is enough time “and I’m not convinced,” especially “with 15-minute warning times going to zero in the future.”
Anticipating advances in technologies, there will be “no warning times. The White House, the Pentagon, STRATCOM could be hooked, and then you’re headless,” Mr. Bacon said. “We need to go back to the where we used to have 24/7 airborne backup capabilities for our command-and-control.”
“You’re exactly right,” Mr. Kyl said.
The former senator said among the commission’s 12 members is former STRATCOM commander, retired Air Force Gen. John Hyten.
Mr. Hyten was “a large part of our conversation that dealt with how we could make sure that our command-and-control kept up with the developments that are occurring, just as you point out. There are specific recommendations in the report that go directly to that.”
Restoring “Looking Glass” would not only be relatively inexpensive compared with other options, but could serve as the steady sentinel in any “deterrence gap” that could occur in transitions to new systems and technologies, the report suggests.
For Mr. Bacon, what once worked to make nuclear war unthinkable will work again because the most important aspect of deterrence is being there, being the watcher adversaries know is there but can’t be found, the one with Armageddon at its fingertips.
“How else do we ensure that, even with your warning time, we have command authorities not at the positions that are targeted? We got to find a way to do that,” he said. “And I’m going to be pushing this until we get resolution within the DOD.”