Strategic Air Command
SAC Bases:  An Introduction
      As of about 1951, SAC organized its future bases in concentric rings focused on distances from Moscow and with the outermost ring 4,600 nautical miles from the symbolic target. SAC’s first key bases were those across the West, Southwest, lower Midwest, and South. Yet even as these bases geared up, SAC’s strategy changed. Installations sited and built from scratch were underway across the upper tier of states just below the Canadian border, and heavily concentrated in New England, with other pre-existing AAF locations completely modernized. “Bombers taking off from New England instead of New Mexico, for instance, could reach their targets more quickly and with fewer refuelings or stops, since they would be closer to begin with.
    Installations with unobstructed runways of 12,000 to 13,000 feet, whose pavement was the outcome of significant experimentation for the weight of the very heavy B-36, and soon the B-52 and the KC-135 tanker, became the centerpieces of the command. In 1950, SAC runways for the B-47 required ten “battalion” months to build; for the B-36, 18 battalion months—an increase of 50 percent in time over that needed to accommodate the B-29. Generally, two battalions provided the workforce for construction, with SAC runway construction time varying from five to nine months under optimal conditions.
      The Air Force built two types of runways during this period: asphalt and concrete. Concrete pavement was considerably more expensive, although the Air Force strongly preferred it and scheduled the material at permanent (25-year) bases. High temperatures, jet blasts, and spillage of jet fuel damaged asphalt runways more seriously than these factors affected concrete, and in either case, jet blasts eroded runway shoulders while jet engines sucked in debris. Hence, runway shoulders required stabilization as the Cold War unfolded. Even where concrete was planned, the material was confined to hangar access; maintenance, fueling, and parking aprons; calibration platforms; warm-up pads; and the final 1000 feet of runways.
      By mid-1953, the Air Force initiated a formal study of its runways considered “economically infeasible to extend or to be replaced with new runways.” Already at this early date, six installations fell into this category. The next year, 1954, Air Force concern over the asphalt versus concrete dilemma reached its height, and the Secretary of Defense requested that the National Academy of Sciences make a separate evaluation.
      In 1956, the Air Force finalized the asphalt-concrete controversy by adopting concrete for runway pavement exclusively at any primary use facility. The Asphalt Institute protested this policy decision, and as one final test the Air Force constructed a test track of flexible and rigid pavement panels at Kelly Air Force Base in San Antonio. The flexible panels failed, substantiating the Air Force choice of concrete. More sophisticated tests of concrete pavement did continue, however.
      SAC established itself as a global military arm. The Air Force inherited World War II overseas bases from the AAF in Asia, Alaska, Newfoundland, Germany, Great Britain, Bermuda, the Azores, Libya and Saudi Arabia. At certain of these locations, SAC built up a Cold War presence. Yet key to its plans for strategic second strike capabilities, SAC needed significant new sites. With planning underway in 1948, SAC focused on North Africa—specifically French Morocco—for a large presence of men, rotating aircraft, training, and nuclear weapons depots. Morocco installations went in at the four locations of Nouasseur, Sidi Slimane, Benguerir, and Boulhaut (with a fifth intended at El Djema Sahim).
      By the mid-1950s SAC had accompanying refueling bases, supported by a huge oil pipeline project with fuel tank farms, in progress in lower Spain at Torrejon, Zaragoza, and Moron. Morocco, in particular, is important due to construction there during the transitional years of 1951-1953. Immediately following the work in Morocco, SAC undertook bases in Newfoundland, Labrador, and Greenland, with those at Thule and Goose Bay significant for their role not just for SAC, but also for ADC.
     Early in the 1950s, SAC developed a reflex operation between its southern bases and Morocco, with B-36 and B-47 wings rotating to North Africa for extended temporary duty. During the middle and late 1950s, SAC adopted a dispersal program—spreading out its potential as a Soviet target by placing its aircraft, weapons, and personnel on many more bases, with each bombardment wing having two additional installations to which it could disperse.
      Strategic Air Command wings had become extremely large. As the Russian missile threat became more pronounced and warning time decreased, Strategic Air Command bases presented increasingly attractive targets. But by providing additional bases to which the aircraft could be dispersed, the enemy’s targeting problem would be compounded, and more bombers could become airborne within a given time period. It was therefore decided to break up these large concentrations of aircraft and distribute them among more bases.
     Simultaneous with the changeover toward the B-52 and KC-135, reflex assignments, satellite dispersal, and alert programs went into effect for SAC. Although SAC was still in its infancy, generally, the Air Force programmed 29 bases for the command as of February 1955, planning for another 34 as of April that same year. These programmed SAC installations were in addition to the 38 U.S., and 13 foreign, bases already operational for the command by mid-decade. Of some note, SAC requested a total of 329 bases by July 1959, a fantastic idea. SAC installations, inclusive of those overseas and of tenant bases, peaked at 85 in 1962. As SAC began to put its bombers on sustained alert status at selected bases from 1956 forwards, with dispersal planned for 55 bases at the end of the next year, the command also addressed the needs of a specialized alert apron and immediately adjacent crew quarters.
     SAC called its first bomber alerts, with a rapidly evolving reconfiguration of its bomber aprons from large rectangular parking areas to grouped clusters of parked aircraft to a formal alert pattern by 1957. Specific nose docks for the B-47 mirrored the sweptback wings of the bomber itself, with nose docks sometimes moved from one installation to another to accommodate strategic planning.
     Formalized alert aprons went in at the first bases before 1957, with a 45-degree entry runway, and with individual aircraft parking pads at right angles to the stub. Almost as soon as construction was in progress, however, SAC changed to a double-angled configuration with parked aircraft themselves at a 45-degree angle to the stub. The final configuration, dubbed a herringbone or Christmas tree, first used house trailers for alert crew quarters next to the individual bombers on alert. The alert areas went in at 65 SAC installations nationwide during 1956 to 1960, with a partially below ground, reinforced concrete alert quarters for the pilots built at each apron. The alert quarters, called moleholes, were in effect partially hardened. With dispersal, SAC made some of its alert aprons bomber-only and some tanker. By the early 1960s bombers and tankers were sometimes on alert at a single installation—with tanker pens in addition to the Christmas tree configuration, and with house trailers again brought to the tarmac.
      SAC used Air Force bases and civil airports as dispersal sites for B-47’s. Some of the civil airports were: Atlantic City Airport, New Jersey; Detroit Wayne Airport, Michigan, Lambert Field, Saint Louis, Missouri; O'Hare Field, Chicago, Illinois and Burlington Airport, Vermont.
       In the late 1960s the Soviet Union began deployment of the new Yankee-class ballistic missile submarines, and the United States became concerned that missiles fired from these submarines could attack SAC bomber bases. A dispersal program by 2nd Bomb Wing at Barksdale AFB included deployment of Detachment 2 to Amarillo Air Terminal (formerly Amarillo AFB) and Detachment 3 to Clinton-Sherman Industrial Air Park (formerly Clinton-Sherman AFB). Both detachments were active from around 1969 until 30 March 1975 when they were inactivated. SAC used a variety of Air Force bases for dispersal. The 456th Bombardment Wing at Beale AFB deployed Detachment 1 to Hill AFB, which was activated 01 January 1973 and discontinued 01 July 1975. A $2 million dollar alert facility large enough to accommodate seven aircraft was constructed. The first of four B-52s assigned there arrived on 28 December 1973. The 42nd Bomb Wing at Loring AFB deployed Detachment 1 to McGuire AFB from 01 January 1970 through early 1975 [possibly only with
      In the 1957-1964 years, military analysts predicted that a Soviet nuclear attack would begin with missiles, followed by a second wave bomber contingent. SAC bomber alert facilities were most critically important during this transition from a bomber threat to ICBMs, and were significantly less important as a comprehensive response web after placement of Atlas D, E, and F, and Titan I, ICBMs during 1958-1962. Some of the most critical SAC bomber bases of the early Cold War—such as Forbes and Schilling in Kansas, Lincoln in Nebraska, and Walker in New Mexico—became much less important as bomber readiness shifted to the northern tier and ICBMs went in place adjacent to their installations. In addition, SAC decisions for placement of the B-52 influenced the futures of bomber missions at bases previously key for B-36 and B-47 wings.
       The first B-52 wings were extremely large, composed of 45 bombers and 15 or 20 KC-135 tankers, all situated at one base. Starting in 1958, the B-52 Dispersal Program called for the large B-52 wings to be reformed into three equal-sized wings of 15 aircraft each. With two of the new wings thus formed being relocated to bases of other commands, each dispersed B-52 squadron became a strategic wing. The entire force was established at 42 squadrons by Headquarters USAF in 1958, with each B-52 wing having an air refueling squadron of 10 to 15 aircraft.
      During the 1962-1976 period, overall, construction for SAC focused on its missile missions. During the terms of Presidents Carter and Reagan, from about 1976 through the end of the Cold War in 1991, SAC sponsored a second major phase of new infrastructure. Although construction in support of the B-52 bomber mission really required no new major designs for SAC after the late 1950s, the command did require new infrastructure for the continuing sophistication in command posts and for the B-1.
      During the eighties, the Army Special Projects Office designed and completed work on Air Launched Cruise Missile (ALCM) buildings on 10 bases for the Strategic Air Command. Each base required an integrated maintenance facility that housed a missile maintenance area, computer test area, and administration area. The administration area on each base was protected from accidental explosions in the remainder of the building in which it was located. Several weapons storage igloos were also constructed at each of the sites. These areas were expanded to receive the ALCM facilities and required security systems with fences and closed-circuit television. The total construction cost of this program was in excess of $300 million. Work for the Strategic Air Command continued with the upgrade of 14 bases and the addition of one facility on the Short Range Attack Missiles/Offensive Avionics System program. Ten of the 14 upgraded bases were ALCM bases.