In the news...

August 14, 2013

Air Force nuclear unit fails key security test

Robert Burns
Associated Press

An Air Force unit that operates one-third of the nation’s land-based nuclear missiles has failed a safety and security inspection, marking the second major setback this year for a force charged with the military’s most sensitive mission, the general in charge of the nuclear air force told The Associated Press Aug. 13.

Lt. Gen. James M. Kowalski, commander of Air Force Global Strike Command, said a team of ìrelatively low rankingî airmen failed one exercise as part of a broader inspection, which began last week and ended Aug. 13. He said that for security reasons he could not be specific about the team or the exercise.
ìThis unit fumbled on this exercise,î Kowalski said by telephone from his headquarters at Barksdale Air Force Base, La., adding that this did not call into question the safety or control of nuclear weapons at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana.

ìThe team did not demonstrate the right procedures,î he said, and as a result was rated a failure.
To elaborate ìcould reveal a potential vulnerabilityî in the force, Kowalski said.

In a written statement on its website, Kowalski’s command said there had been ìtactical-level errorsî in the snap exercise, revealing discrepancies.

Without more details it is difficult to reliably judge the extent and severity of the problem uncovered at Malmstrom, home of the 341st Missile Wing, which is one of three nuclear missile wings. Each wing operates 150 Minuteman 3 intercontinental ballistic missiles, or ICBMs, on alert for potential launch against targets around the globe.

On Capitol Hill, a spokesman for Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said that “two troubling inspections in a row at two different missile wings is unacceptable” to McKeon.

It is his sense that the Air Force must refocus on the nuclear mission,î spokesman John Noonan said. ìThe Air Force should hold failed leadership at the group and wing level accountable, recommit itself from the top down to the nuclear deterrent mission, and ensure a daily focus on its centrality to our nation’s security.

Asked whether the Air Force intends to take disciplinary action against anyone for the inspection failure, Kowalski said the Air Force is ìlooking into it.î Overall, the 341st wing ìdid well,î he said, earning ratings of excellent or outstanding in the majority of the 13 areas in which it was graded by inspectors. Those areas include management, administration, safety, security, emergency exercises, worker reliability and other facets of a mission that relies on teams of officers and enlisted personnel.

ICBM wings undergo two types of inspections. The one at Malmstrom was a ìsuretyî inspection, which the Pentagon defines as ìnuclear weapon system safety, security and control.î The point is to ensure that no nuclear weapon is accidentally, inadvertently or deliberately armed or launched without presidential authority.

Kowalski said his command’s inspector general has conducted 14 such inspections since early 2010 with just two failures – both involving the 341st wing. The first was in February 2010. The second was this week.
The 341st also failed a safety and security inspection in 2008.

A different type of inspection of the 91st Missile Wing at Minot Air Force Base, N.D., in March of this year led the deputy commander of the wing’s operations group to complain of ìrotî in the force.

Technically, the wing passed that inspection but its missile crews earned the equivalent of a ìDî grade when tested on their mastery of Minuteman 3 launch operations using a simulator. The following month the 91st temporarily removed 17 officers from launch control duty – the first time such a large number had been pulled from duty.

In June, the commander in charge of training and proficiency of missile crews at Minot, Lt. Col. Randy Olson, was relieved of duty, citing a ìloss of confidenceî in his leadership.

Launch operations were not part of the Malmstrom inspection failure, Kowalski said.

The trouble at Minot was the latest in a longer series of setbacks for the Air Force’s nuclear mission, highlighted by a 2008 Pentagon advisory group report that found a ìdramatic and unacceptable declineî in the Air Force’s commitment to the mission, which has its origins in a Cold War standoff with the former Soviet Union.

Following a series of nuclear embarrassments in 2008 – including the inadvertent transport of six nuclear-tipped missiles on a B-52 bomber, whose pilot did not know they were aboard when he flew from Minot to Barksdale Air Force Base, La. – then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates fired the top two Air Force officials.
Kowalski’s command was created in late 2009 as part of an effort to fix what was broken in the nuclear force. In the Aug. 13 interview he said he is encouraged that inspections after 2009 began finding an increasing number of problems at the ICBM wings, followed by a decrease since 2011. He said this tells him that the Air Force has come up with more rigorous, effective means of inspecting, and that they are spurring change.

ìThis is a difficult inspection,î he said, so occasional failures do not point to a systemic failure to adhere to safety and security regulations.




All of this week's top headlines to your email every Friday.


 
 

 

Headlines October 29, 2014

News: Unmanned rocket explodes just six seconds after taking off - A NASA rocket due to be visible across the East Coast on its way to the International Space Station has blown up on the Launchpad. IG: Former chief of wounded warrior office broke law, DOD regs - The Defense Department inspector general has recommended “corrective action”...
 
 

News Briefs October 29, 2014

F-35C makes first landing at Virginia Beach Navy base The Navy says an operational F-35C joint strike fighter has landed at Naval Air Station Oceana for the first time. Naval Air Station Oceana is the Navy’s master jet base on the East Coast. The Navy says the plane came to the Virginia Beach base Oct....
 
 

Time to turn to American technology for space launch

For the first time since the Cold War, the United States has deployed armored reinforcements to Europe. To counter Russia’s aggression, several hundred troops and 20 tanks are now in the Baltic. Yet the U.S. military is still injecting millions into the Russian military industrial complex. In late August, the United Launch Alliance – the...
 

 
Air Force photograph by Joe Davila

Boeing, Air Force demonstrate Minuteman III readiness in flight test

Air Force photograph by Joe Davila Boeing supported the launch of an unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., on Sept. 23, 2014. Boeing supported the U.S. Air Force’s succ...
 
 

Pentagon going to court for refusing to release Sikorsky data

PETALUMA, Calif. – The Pentagon is refusing to release any data on any prime contractors participating in the 25-year-old Comprehensive Subcontracting Plan Test Program. The American Small Business League launched a program in 2010 to expose the fraud and abuse against small businesses the CSPTP had allowed. As a test the ASBL requested the most...
 
 
Northrop Grumman photograph

Raytheon Griffin C flight tests demonstrate in-flight retargeting capability

Northrop Grumman photograph Northrop Grumman has received a contract from the U.S. Marine Corps for low-rate initial production of the AN/TPS-80 Ground/Air Task Oriented Radar (G/ATOR). G/ATOR is the first ground-based multi-mi...
 




0 Comments


Be the first to comment!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>