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Air Force Museum Foundation

Strategic Air Command


World War II proved what the proponents of air power had been championing for the previous two decades -- the great value of strategic forces in bombing an enemy's industrial complex and of tactical forces in controlling the skies above a battlefield. As a result, the Strategic and Tactical Air Commands were created on March 21, 1946, establishing the offensive composition of the USAF that existed for more than 40 years.

At first, SAC and TAC had to rely heavily upon WWII airplanes. There were not sufficient funds to re-equip the Air Force completely, and much of what little money gradually became available was used to buy new planes for SAC. It was believed that a strong strategic air arm would deter a possible aggressor from attacking the United States for fear of massive retaliation with nuclear weapons.

The Air Force continued to operate on a most austere basis into 1950; however, with the advent of the Korean Conflict, more money was made available to the Air Force and it began to expand rapidly.

SAC was one of the major considerations of the expanding Air Force. In order to have bases as close as possible to a potential enemy, it began acquiring facilities around the world and by the late 1950s, it had bases in England, North Africa, Spain, Guam, Newfoundland, Labrador and Greenland to which its units rotated periodically from the United States.

At the same time, aerial refueling techniques were improved to the extent that SAC bombers could still reach targets in Europe and Asia even if overseas bases were destroyed by an enemy attack. To reduce the risk to its bomber fleet in the United States, SAC began dispersing its planes to a large number of bases across the nation so as not to have too many concentrated at a single location.

An impetus to increased preparedness was the growing threat of military advancements by the Soviets, particularly their development of the thermonuclear hydrogen bomb, which they first tested in August 1953.

Click here to return to the Cold War Gallery.