PENTAGON: In the wake of drug abuse and cheating on proficiency tests at nuclear missile silos, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered a two-pronged review of the nuclear weapons program today. Hagel issued his memo after speaking with Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James, who had toured the service’s ICBM sites in the wake of the scandals.
James had already ordered all missileers be tested for proficiency after the cheating scandal erupted. Pentagon Spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby told reporters here that 481 missile combat crew members have been tested; 18 are still to be tested. Some 22 airmen have failed their tests for a 95 precent pass rate.
The Hagel memo orders a meeting in the next two weeks by senior officials, including himself and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Martin Dempsey, to discuss any needed personnel changes, Kirby said. This group will draw up an action plan while looking at the leadership, management, training, and culture of the men and women who handled and would fire our nuclear weapons. The group will identify problems and best management practices and recommend solutions in 60 days.
In parallel, Hagel ordered up an independent review of the strategic deterrence enterprise. They will tear apart the Pentagon’s action plan and make their own recommendations 90 days from the time they start.
Kirby told reporters the nation’s nuclear weapons are in safe hands and are well protected. How he squares the behavior of these crews with a safe nuclear force is unclear. The current outrage erupted when an investigation into drug abuse by two missile officers stumbled into the sharing of proficiency test answers by at least 34 others. The previous scandal came last October, when two nuclear commanders were fired in the same week: an Air Force general for drunkenness during a drip to Russia and a Navy admiral for, of all things, trying to use counterfeit chips at a casino. That same month we also learned the blast doors at some silos hadn’t been opening properly, although the Air Force fixed that.
Then there’s the infamous scandal in 2007 when Air Force ground crews mistakenly loaded a B-52 bomber with real nuclear warheads instead of training dummies and lost track of the weapons for 36 hours, leading then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to sack the Air Force Secretary and Chief of Staff. And the nuclear weapons enterprise has a long history of unnerving incidents.
The 2007 scandal ultimately led the Pentagon to create the Air Force Global Strike Command to restore discipline and security. The question is, what are they going to do to fix the problem this time?