While the progressive development of the United States Strategic Air Command's surface-launched offensive missile force was both important and highly significant, it was by no means an isolated phenomenon. In most instances, it was paralleled by qualitative improvements of the command's manned bomber force. When the Strategic Air Command was created on 21st March 1946 as one of the three major combat commands of the United States Army Air Forces, its initial bomber force consisted of 148 World War II-era B-29 Superfortresses. Two years later, in 1948, the force was augmented with the first models of two new bombers designs, the massive B-36 Peacemaker and the B-50. In 1951, the all jet-engine B-47 medium bomber made its first appearance in SAC's inventory. This revolutionary aircraft was joined in 1955 by the first B-52 Stratofortress heavy bomber, destined to become the mainstay of the SAC manned bomber force. Further additions to the SAC bomber fleet included the supersonic B-58 Hustler bomber, introduced on 1st August 1960, and the FB-111A medium bomber accepted by SAC on 8th October 1969. The first operational B-1B Lancer joined the command on 7th July 1985.
The growing maturity and sophistication of the SAC manned bomber fleet was matched by both qualitative and quantitative improvements to the air defense systems of the leading communist powers, especially the Soviet Union. This latter development over a thirty-year period led to SAC's employment of a number of air-launched guided missiles to ensure that SAC's manned bombers were able to successfully penetrate a heavily defended enemy territory. The bombers' unique strengths of payload, range, and responsiveness coupled with precision attack are a cornerstone of America's airpower and force projection since SAC came to be. Prior to hostilities, bombers are a strong deterrent platform. When generated for either conventional or nuclear alert, bombers provide a strong and highly visible deterrent force just over the horizon from the enemy. During the initial phases of a conflict, bombers launching from the United States mainland, augmented by and adequate refueling tanker support, can strike time-critical targets and stall the enemy attack anywhere in the world. Delivering a large quantity and vast array of munitions, the US bomber force can attack an enemy's Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) depot, Command, Control and Communications (C3) nodes, and advancing forces to greatly reduce their effectiveness. The stand-off and stealth penetration capability inherent in the bomber force allows them to operate with minimum numbers of supporting operational assets during this initial phase. Utilizing sustained forward-deployed operations, bombers provide increased firepower while reducing the size of force packages and placing fewer airmen at risk. Should circumstances require, bombers can also provide rapid global response without the need to deploy into theater before a strike is ordered.
During the Cold War days, the primary combat mission profile of the B-52 and B-1 bomber fleet was long-range, nuclear attack. Their secondary mission was an array of conventional operations that included bombing enemy transportation systems, troop concentrations, airfields, air defense facilities, and other similar targets. Today, the bombers' primary role has changed; the primary mission is worldwide, rapid-response operations. This shift in emphasis has broadened the requirements for bomber aircrew readiness and training. However, secondary missions are still needed. Bombers now have a varied range of mission responsibilities, each involving different targets, weapons, situations, altitudes, and flight profiles. These missions range from supporting maritime operations (e.g., laying mines from the air) to interdiction (e.g., bombing military industries deep in enemy territory). Bomber aircrews must perform all their missions using teamwork to penetrate enemy air defense systems, fly the aircraft into the proper position for releasing ordnance, and maintain the aircraft's geographic position and timing to stay in formation with other aircraft. Difficult decisions must be made in split seconds to determine if a maneuver will move the bomber out of position preventing ordnance release or putting the aircraft within range of enemy missiles or guns. Added challenges include complicated missions occurring at night, under bad weather conditions, or in mountainous terrain. To survive combat, aircrews must conduct training simulating these situations to the greatest degree possible. Not only must aircrews within individual aircraft work together in a closely coordinated manner, they must often function as part of a larger composite force composed of 40 or more different aircraft, each with a specific mission goal.