Nuclear Triad Continues to Creak

Air Force takes the nuclear button away from 34 launch-control officers over cheating charges

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The most vulnerable leg of the Pentagon’s nuclear triad showed deepening rot on Wednesday, as the Air Force announced that 34 of its missile-launch officers may have been implicated in cheating on a proficiency test and have been removed from their place in the nuclear-launch chain of command.

Service officials said they believe it marks the biggest wholesale ouster of nuclear-certified officers in Air Force history, officers charged with commanding and controlling the world’s deadliest weapons.

The Air Force’s land-based missile leg is the shakiest among the three means of delivering atomic warheads because, as budget pressures mount, experts say it is the leg most likely to be scrapped.

Military officers say the Navy’s missile-launching submarines are the most secure, and Air Force bombers are more secure than the service’s missile fleet because the aircraft can also perform nonnuclear missions (the B-1 bomber, originally designed to wage an atomic war with the Soviet Union, lost its nuclear mission nearly 20 years ago and lately has been used as a close-air support aircraft coming to the aid of troops on the ground).

But the airmen overseeing the LGM-30 Minuteman III force 24/7 from their bunkers buried up to 100 ft. (30 m) deep in mid-America have no mission other than their nuclear assignment. Despite the protests of the commanders that their jobs remain vital, there’s a palpable sense among Pentagon officials that the nuclear moment — and the honor and glory that once came with it — has faded in recent decades. Nowhere is that felt more deeply than in the Air Force’s intercontinental-ballistic-missile force.

In the past year, there have been reports of poor morale among the so-called missileers presiding over the nation’s 450 missiles divided among Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont., Minot Air Force Base, N.D., and F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyo. Last month, the Air Force inspector general released a report about the boorish behavior of their two-star commander while on an official trip to Moscow last summer, leading the service to remove him from his nuclear-command role.

The Air Force uncovered the cheating while investigating a scandal that broke last week involving three missile officers suspected of illicit drug use. That probe has grown to include eight other nonnuclear Air Force officers, spread across six bases. It also led to the cheating allegations involving 34 young officers — 2nd lieutenants and captains — overseeing 150 Minuteman III missiles, one-third of the land-based ICBM force, at Malmstrom.

“This was a failure of integrity on the part of some of our airmen,” said Air Force Secretary Deborah James, who has been in charge only since Dec. 20. “It was not a failure of our nuclear mission.”

The service’s top uniformed officer agreed. “The operational capability to conduct the mission is not impacted at this point in time,” General Mark Welsh said.

According to the Air Force officials, a missile-launch officer with the 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom texted answers to a monthly missile-launch officer proficiency test with 16 fellow officers in the August-September time frame. Seventeen additional missile-launch officers at the base knew of the cheating but didn’t report it up the chain of command as required. The 34 represent about 18% of the 190 missile-launch officers in the wing.

Over the coming decade, it will cost $24 billion to operate and modernize the ICBM force, the Congressional Budget Office estimated last month.

14 comments
gscalpha
gscalpha

Pretty scary for the Air Force. When those birds gotta fly, they gotta fly. Simple as that

jburt56
jburt56

Looks like countercoup ops.

sam93505
sam93505

Once again, the Air Farce cannot be trusted with nukes. This is a continual problem in the Air Farce- I know because I used to work for them for 13 years (as a Federal Employee). 


They need to change the triad to just the Navy. The Navy hasn't done anything remotely like this with their nukes that I know of, and they have never "accidentally" loaded nukes on a plane and flew them across the country before figuring it out. Add to that how many Air Farce "Broken Arrow" incidents they have had (12) to the Navy (0), the answer is clear: the Navy should maintain all the nukes in the SLBM program (Trident) and scrap the Air Farce ones because they simply cannot maintain accountability of them nor have personnel that can manage them properly.


I know this because I was in the Navy for a full career on submarines.


So I know what I am talking about before anybody tries to reject my conclusion.

TerranceSmith
TerranceSmith

From the article, " three missile officers suspected of illicit drug use". Well that can't be a good thing AND the US / Israel are worried about Iran developing a bomb?



FredSavage
FredSavage

The real crime is that it will cost 24 billion in the next decade to operate and modernize the ICBM force. What a waste of money. We have enough to kill everyone on the planet several times over.

richard.draucker
richard.draucker

Government workers caught cheating.  Gee, what a surprise.  

max.pivo
max.pivo

The USAF mission is even less relevant than the wholly outmoded land mission which is simply congressional pork. Using a b-1 to do CAS in Afghanistan? You know how loud that thing is? Who are you kidding?

StockDoc
StockDoc

Long years ago at White Sands the Army falsified the worthiness of a missile system itself. 

hlmelsaid
hlmelsaid

Test fraud,drug(Legal case at USA court against Obama,USA government,UN,vodafone company-As my documents at : www.helmyelsaid.blogspot.com)

PosterityEvony
PosterityEvony

@richard.draucker as u hug that child and that woman, make sure that you remember the men and women that serve this country by defending the constitution and the citizens of the US are by no means just US government workers.   I hope you one day or someone in your family has to pay the ultimate price for your comments.  Cause my family has paid that price many times now.  Your turn big mouth.  Just wish I could explain this up close and personal to ya.  Since I can't I will just hope that some bad shlt comes your way.  Ooh Rah

richard.draucker
richard.draucker

@PosterityEvony @richard.draucker 

I am really sick and tired of the lies and deceit embedded in military propaganda claiming we need to spend 1/3 of our GDP to slaughter innocent women and children to protect the Bill of Rights while the same government spies on our communications in what is the greatest form of tyranny that could exist. 


You don't defend me.  You don't defend my family.  If you think so, stop.  I don't want you to kill one more innocent civilian or small child on my behalf.  You are a mercenary.  A paid killer without the morals or intelligence to even recognize the crimes you commit or who benefits from them. 



sam93505
sam93505

@PosterityEvony @richard.draucker Hate to break this to you, richard, but US Armed Forces personnel have been also considered "US Government Workers" since the DoD was founded in 1947...


(read before responding next time, shipmate)

Freedomfroggie
Freedomfroggie

U must be one of those marines who are bullies, idiots (couldn't find a job other than bus drive), easily brainwashed into a killing machine, then proudly declare: I'm fighting for USA no matter if it's right or wrong, and screw u if u don't believe in me, just a pawn in the politicians chess game. Do you really think anyone cares about your opinions? Go back to your foxhole, you bloated bigoted, a hole