According to US military officials who spoke to AFP Wednesday on condition of anonymity, a B-52 bomber flew the length of the United States loaded with as many as six armed nuclear cruise missiles last week.
In discussing the reinvigorated nuclear patrols, announced by Putin at an air show in Moscow on August 20th, military analysts said the situation was ripe for accidents. The age of Russian bombers and the erosion of training among the corps charged with flying the 24-hour patrols over US controlled air space ratchet up the chances of a nuclear accident, they said.
Apparently, no one had anticipated that America – perhaps in response to Putin’s new tactics – would load, if only “by mistake,” a B-52 bomber with armed nuclear weapons and fly it over US territory, presenting an entirely new accident scenario unanticipated by commentators.
A US Air Force spokesman reached by Bellona Web would not say if B-52 bombers – which flew counter patrols loaded with nuclear bombs over Russia until 15 years ago – are being supplied with nuclear weapons in answer to Putin’s provocative announcement. Nor would he say if the errant bomber reported by AFP could have been part of a squadron that is meant to fly nuclear patrols over Russia.
The mix-up was reported to US President George Bush after the nuclear warheads were discovered when the aircraft landed at Barksdale Air Force Base Louisiana, the official said.
The official who spoke with AFP said the the B-52 was flying from Minot Air Base in North Dakota, which was one of the staging points for US military nuclear flybys of Russia.
The official said as many as six cruise missiles loaded on to the plane were found to have nuclear warheads on them by mistake.
The incident was first reported by Military Times newspapers, which said the air launched cruise missiles can carry nuclear warheads of five to 150 kilotons.
The official told the AFP that the discovery was reported to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Peter Pace, "and higher." The official said the notification goes as high as the president.