The end of the Cold War and the battle of the budget have grounded the Navy's 24-hour air link between the president and the country's nuclear submarines, a Pentagon official said yesterday.
The Navy in early 1991 transferred its Tacamo planes, which have been in the air nonstop for nearly three decades, to "interim ground alert," spokeswoman Jan Walker said. The flights, she said, continue on a "random basis" off the nation's east and west coasts.
The Navy's decision to cut back on the flights reflected budgetary shortages and the ongoing review of U.S. strategic needs following the easing of tensions with the Soviet Union, she said.
Tacamo -- an acronym that stands for "Take Charge and Move Out" -- planes would be used by the president to relay launch orders to the nuclear submarines in the event of a nuclear war. The Navy uses E-6A and EC-130 aircraft trailing miles-long antennas into the oceans for the communications links.
The Navy also has land-based hookups with its nuclear submarine fleet.
Last July, the Air Force's Strategic Air Command scaled back its round-the-clock "Looking Glass" mission that for 29 years had provided a continuous airborne alert against a possible surprise nuclear attack by the Soviet Union.
SAC officials estimated savings of $20 million a year from reduced fuel and maintenance.
Walker said she did not know how much money would be saved by curtailing the Tacamo flights. The fleet consists of about 15 planes.