One might be prone to get worried about the fact that after fifteen years of dormancy, Russia has resumed regular, long-range bomber patrols (Troianovski, Anton, “Russia Resumes Its Long-Range Air Patrols,” The Washington Post, 18 August 2007, p. A7). Soviet era prop-driven TU-95 “Bear” bombers have been intercepted by Norwegian and British fighters (“British Jets Intercept Eight Russian Bombers,” Reuters, 6 September 2007) and have buzzed Guam and other U.S. targets.
One might be so inclined — were the United States not buzzing itself with nuclear bombers. On 30 August 2007 a B-52 took off from Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota, and flew to Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, unknowingly carrying five (or maybe six, but what’s a nuclear warhead between friends) armed W80-1 nuclear warheads (5-150 kiloton yield) in under-wing mounted air-launch cruise missiles (Hoffman, Michael, “Commander Disciplined for Nuclear Mistake,” Military Times, 5 September 2007). The missiles were being transported to Barksdale along with 400 others to be decommissioned and should have been without any munition but were somehow — no one knows how yet — inadvertently loaded with the nuclear armed variant. The most disturbing part is that to accomplish this fuck-up a number of heretofore though foolproof safeguards had to be foiled. Presumably no malfeasance was at play — which would only go to show that stupidity is a significantly greater danger than ill will — but a huge investigation, rising all the way to Defense Secretary Gates, the President and Congress has ensued. And rightly so. Though the probability of a nuclear detonation even in the event of a crash was vanishingly small, this is the first time since 1968 that armed nuclear weapons have flown and there is some concern that international treaties may have been violated.
Here (Philips, Alan F., “20 Mishaps That Might Have Started Accidental Nuclear War,” NuclearFiles.org) is a list of nuclear accidents, including the 1968 Thule, Greenland crash that brought U.S. armed airborne alert flights to an end. It’s a fairly disquieting list that just grew to twenty-one.