Global Thunder 21 rumbles through COVID-19

Global Thunder 21 rumbles through COVID-19


The U.S. Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM) executes a nuclear command and control exercise every year known as Global Thunder. The command’s new Global Operations Center at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska orchestrated Global Thunder 21 during the last weeks of October 2020. The exercise typically operates against a notional adversary. This year’s iteration faced a real-world adversary in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, which USSTRATCOM readily operated through without skipping a beat.

The Global Thunder series works through the spectrum of conflict in a nuclear command, control and communications environment to train personnel and validate the supporting procedures and processes. The exercise ensures that U.S. forces effectively deter and are ready to decisively respond to any strategic attack.

“We are back in the midst of great power competition,” said Adm. Charles Richard, commander of USSTRATCOM. “In that competition, it is imperative we test our readiness to confront uncertainty and credibly convey the readiness and lethality of our forces. Our ability to engage with allies and partners to conduct operations demonstrates our shared commitment to global security and stability.”

Global Thunder 21 involved thousands of personnel across the world and employed strategic forces on land and sea, as well as in air and space. Drones, rotary-wing, long-range bombers, and command-and-control aircraft supported the exercise. (Pictured: A B-52 Stratofortress bomber launches during Exercise Global Thunder 21.)

At sea, ballistic missile submarines continued their stealthy patrols. On the ground, personnel produced plans, readied weapons systems and provided essential mission support. All exercise actions were a response to plans and orders disseminated through redundant and extremely resilient command, control and communications nodes on land, in the air, and orbiting in space. From the depths of the oceans to the starry canopy of space, strategic forces and capabilities were flexed and tested to ensure their readiness to perform.

Global Thunder 21 also involved allied personnel, including permanently assigned liaison officers from Australia and the United Kingdom. Allied personnel integrated into senior leadership teams and worked across a broad spectrum of areas, offering legal, public affairs and policy support, as well as targeting and information operations insight. Allied participation provides additional expertise and resources to planning and crises scenarios, while strengthening bonds of cooperation and trust among like-minded nations.

Many exercises follow a script aimed at meeting training and performance objectives, yet Global Thunder 21 also tested innovations. Personnel completed a series of tests off the coast of Hawaii, validating new resupply options for ballistic missile submarines. Normally, these vessels must return to port or meet a logistics ship to resupply expendable items such as food, medications and spare parts. The test series successfully demonstrated that the submarines can be resupplied by airdrop, helicopter or drone, increasing replenishment flexibility.

Throughout the exercise, USSTRATCOM continued to fulfill its real-world, global responsibilities including strategic deterrence, nuclear operations, joint electromagnetic spectrum operations, strike capability, missile defense, and analysis and targeting.

“Bravo Zulu to all those who were involved in development and execution of this year’s exercise,” Richard said, using a nautical term for “well done.” “I have complete confidence, now more than ever, in the men and women standing watch around the globe 24 hours a day, seven days a week who provide the credible deterrent which underpins all other joint force operations.”