The two presidential flying command posts held at constant readiness at Canberra today are worth a moment’s contemplation in the context of the strategic implications of the Barack Obama mission.
One of those highly modified Boeing 747-200s becomes designated as Air Force One the moment it’s boarded by the president.
Never mind the official schedule of a departure for Darwin today, and on to Denpasar later in the day.
In a sudden crisis Obama would be on board whichever jet is designated as fast as he could be helicoptered or driven by one of two duplicate presidential limos.
Either jet is in constant readiness to be the platform from which the President, as commander-in-chief, can wage war, including nuclear war in the nightmare worst case scenario of incoming missiles targeting him in Canberra, or streaking toward multiple strikes on US cities, or its nuclear missile-carrying submarines, or land-based missile bases.
These are designed to be, at worst, the Armageddon jumbo jets, flying high or low over a world ruined by a nuclear holocaust, winding their way between the stratospheric funeral pyres of incinerated cities. Either of them is ready to preserve the primary chain of command of the union even if America had to all intents and purposes, ceased to exist.
These jets are designed to fly indefinitely, so long as mid-air refuelling is possible, and carry enough food to feed at least 100 people on each for up to 10 days.
As such they represent planning for the nightmare of a limited or full nuclear exchange between East and West, even though, by the time they were put into service in 1990, what was the constant background fear of postwar generations had begun to fade, and even the terrorism fears that reached fever pitch in the ’70s, had receded, only to come screaming back on 9/11.
That is what you are really looking at when you see Air Force One on the TV today.
Not what typically vanilla reports about what Air Force One’s communications capabilities are, or its operating theatre, or its hold full of support vehicles (although the really large ones travel in a separate military transporter).
What you are seeing is a flying command centre designed to cope with scenarios so terrible to contemplate that not even the attacks on the World Trade Centre fully brought them back to life.
The “modern” Air Force One wasn’t built to cope with al-Qaeda, but a state armed with nuclear arsenals aimed at a US that had its own finger poised over similar triggers.
It might prove to be an irony that these two aged Presidential 747s having outlived that threat, are still around when new threats, real or concocted as they may be, are seen to be rising in China, India, Pakistan, Iran, North Korea and even a revitalised Russia.