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 July 21, 2014

News: IDF releases Iron Dome interception rate - Israel’s Iron Dome system has successfully intercepted 86 percent of the Palestinian rockets that it has engaged during Operation ‘Protective Edge’, according to the Israel Defense Forces.   Business: The turnaround of France’s defense giant Thales - Within seconds of meeting Jean-Bernard Levy it becomes apparent that h...
 
 

News Briefs July 21, 2014

Corruption investigated in Kansas National Guard The Kansas Adjutant General’s office says federal authorities are investigating possible corruption involving outside medical companies’ contracts with the Kansas Army National Guard. Sharon Watson, spokeswoman for the adjutant general’s office, confirmed the investigation Friday to The Lawrence Journal-World but declined to rel...
 
 
Air Force photograph by Rick Goodfriend

B61 undergoes testing in AEDC wind tunnel

Air Force photograph by Rick Goodfriend Arnold Engineering Development Complex engineers recently joined researchers with Sandia National Laboratories to perform a wind tunnel test on a full-scale mock-up B61. Pictured with the...
 

 
Army photograph by Charles Kennedy

New CT scanner finds diverse, important uses for researchers

Army photograph by Charles Kennedy Turning a now-standard tool for medical diagnostics and therapeutics to a host of new applications, the U. S. Army Research Laboratory’s Survivability/Lethality Analysis Directorate rece...
 
 

Ingalls Shipbuilding awarded $23.5 million LHA 8 affordability contract

Huntington Ingalls Industries’ Ingalls Shipbuilding division has been awarded an affordability design contract for $23.5 million for early industry involvement to reduce the construction and life-cycle cost for the amphibious assault ship LHA 8. “Ingalls Shipbuilding has been constructing large-deck amphibious ships for nearly 50 years, and this contract will build on our company...
 
 
Marine Corps photograph

DOD identifies missing World War II Marine

Marine Corps photograph Marines wounded during the landing on Tarawa in November 1943 are towed out on rubber boats to larger vessels that will take them to base hospitals. The Department of Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office...
 




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>