05:05 GMT03 April 2020
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    US Air Force officials said they expect delivery of a new training simulator for the service’s Airborne Launch Control System (ALCS), a device that could be used to launch nuclear weapons from an airborne aircraft.

    A training simulator for the ALCS at Nebraska’s Offutt Air Force Base that was damaged in a 2019 flood is slated to be replaced next month, base officials told Defense News earlier this week.

    The real ALCS sits onboard one of the US Navy’s E-6B Mercury aircraft, a highly modified Boeing 707 airliner packed full of electronic equipment and personnel whose responsibility it is to ensure the US responds in kind to a nuclear attack. This somber duty has earned it the moniker “doomsday plane.”

    “The whole point of the ALCS system is to enhance deterrence by making sure our adversaries never contemplate a first strike against the United States. If they wanted to think about that, they would have to target and take out 450 of our launch facilities rather than just the 45 launch control stations, so it changes the calculus of deterrence in our enemy’s mind,” Col. Eric Felt, chief of the Air Force’s ICBM Joint Mission Division, told the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association publication SIGNAL in 2018.

    “If communications with one of the launch control centers is lost, then the launch facility goes into a mode where it uses its radios to listen for commands from the ALCS. The assumption is that something has happened to the launch control center,” Felt explained.

    Felt noted that when the Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), which are decades old, are replaced in the next decade by the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent projectiles, the similarly-aged ALCS system will need to be completely overhauled as well.

    Minuteman III test launch, 1994
    Wikipedia
    Minuteman III test launch, 1994

    Lt. Col. Matthew Hlivko, commander of the 625th Strategic Operations Squadron at Offutt, which is responsible for the real ALCS, told Defense News the new simulator will be ultra-high-tech.

    “The new virtual system will create a better training environment for students and will include improved hardware, software, 3D graphic displays and higher fidelity touch panels,” Hlivko said.

    Since the Missouri River and Papio Creek swelled amid heavy rains in the spring of 2019, leaving Offutt underwater, the ALCS crews have had to fly to Vandenberg Air Force Base near Los Angeles, California, to do their training. The flooding also forced other “doomsday planes” in the fleet to be redeployed to other areas.

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    Tags:
    nuclear arsenal, US Air Force, simulators, plane, doomsday, Navy E-6B Mercury Jet
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