By any measure, the most dangerous moment of the cold war was October 1962 following the discovery of Soviet intermediate-range SSM missile launch sites under construction in Cuba.
On October 21st, Attorney General Robert Kennedy, Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, General Maxwell Taylor and General Walter Sweeney met with President Kennedy concerning a military contingency plan.
General Sweeney, Commander of Tactical Air Command, proposed an operational plan which called first for an air attack on the SAM sites in the vicinity of known SSM launchers by eight aircraft per SAM site. Each of the Cuban MiG airfields thought to be protecting SSM sites were to he struck by at least twelve fighters. Following the airstrikes on SAM sites and MiG airfields each SSM launch site was to be attacked by at least twelve aircraft. General Sweeney's plan was accepted and, additionally, Cuban Il-28 Beagle Bombers were added to the target list.
The required air combat and support units for the three planned airstrikes were made ready at five US bases:
Homestead Air Force Base 31st Tac Fighter Wing 75 F-100s (strike) 401st Tac Fighter Wing 62 F-100s (strike) 474th Tac Fighter Wing 44 F-100s (strike) MacDill Air Force Base 836th Air Division 100 F-84s (strike) 27th Tac Fighter Wing 60 F-100s (strike) 363d Tac Reconnaissance Wing 33 RF-101s (recce) 363d Tac Reconnaissance Wing 31 RB-66s (recce) 622d Air Refueling Squadron 20 KB-50s (tanker) McCoy Air Force Base 4th Tac Fighter Wing 67 F-105s (strike) 354th Tac Fighter Wing 63 F-100s (strike) 427th Air Refueling Squadron 20 KB-50s (tanker) Key West 479th Tac Fighter Wing 32 F-104s (CAP) MAG14 58 A-4s (strike) MAG14 17 F-8s (CAP) CVG10 12 A-6s (strike) CVG10 24 A-4s (strike) CVG10 8 F-8s (strike) Shaw Air Force Base 363d Tac Reconnaissance Wing 6 WB-66s (weather)
836th Air Division, consisting of the 12th and 15th Tac Fighter Wings, was committed to provide one hundred F-84F sorties in the planned first strike. 836th Thunderstreaks were to press napalm and rocket attacks against SAM sites at Mariel and Sagua La Grande as well as the airfields at Santa Clara, Los Banos and San Julien. The 836th commitment for the second strike was to provide sixty-four sorties concentrating on the Los Banos airfield, two AAA sites and the SSM launchers at San Diego de los Vegas and Pinar Del Rio. Finally, forty-two F-84Fs were to strike Los Banos MiG base a third time and the Santa Clara MiG base, Sagua La Grande and Mariel SAM sites each a second time.
Retired Colonel George Devorshak recalls: "From the moment the 12th TFW and 15th TFW went on alert, the first two days consisted of intense aircrew mission planning for multiple missions and aircraft preparation. Eventually (on the second day as I recall), aircrews were released to go to their quarters or home, subject to one-hour recall. This recall occurred three times, once less than one hour after being released to quarters/home in the early evening, and twice in the middle of the night." Colonel Devorshak remembers being greeted, on all of these recalls, by "standby to launch" orders.
The Cuban missile confrontation was ultimately resolved and the airstrikes, which would have been followed by an invasion of Cuba, were never launched.