Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has directed a review of U.S. strategic nuclear deterrence forces and their ability to carry out their mission, Pentagon Press Secretary Navy Adm. John Kirby said Jan. 23.
At a Pentagon press briefing, Kirby said the secretary still has confidence in the strategic deterrence force, but seeks to upgrade the entire nuclear enterprise.
“He also recognizes that to keep it safe, secure and effective well into the future,” he said, “the whole nuclear enterprise must be supported by both a modern physical infrastructure, as well as highly capable, skilled and motivated members of the military.”
Hagel was encouraged by the talent and professionalism of the Intercontinental Ballistic Missile force during his visit to F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyo., earlier this month, Kirby said.
“But he was also reminded of the fact, while there, that not all of them live up to the same high standards required by the gravity of that work.”
“The secretary shares the frustration of Air Force Secretary [Deborah Lee] James, and Air Force Chief of Staff General [Mark A.] Welsh, about recent reports of drug use and cheating inside the ICBM force,” Kirby said.
The secretary welcomes the attention they are giving it and appreciates their leadership, Kirby said, and noted that Hagel spoke with James this morning to get a sense of her observations.
“He also spoke this week with Admiral [Cecil D.] Haney, the strategic command commander, who likewise, assured the secretary that he is committed to addressing these issues,” he said.
Kirby said lapses by those responsible for overseeing the strategic deterrence enterprise, combined with recently raised allegations, have created “legitimate concerns about the department’s stewardship of one of our most sensitive and important missions.”
He said Hagel believes it’s time for the entire department to place a renewed emphasis on examining the health of the nuclear force, and particularly, issues that affect the morale, professionalism, performance and leadership.
“He has, today, issued a memo to the senior leaders of this department, as well as those of the Air Force and the Navy, calling for the following initial steps,” Kirby said.
In the next two weeks, he said, the defense secretary and Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will hold a meeting with key nuclear enterprise stakeholders to raise and address any personnel challenges in the nuclear force.
Kirby said the secretary will direct senior leaders to develop and implement an action plan, to be delivered to him in 60 days, to:
• Examine the underlying leadership and management principles governing the strategic deterrence enterprise and the health of the culture that implements those principles.
• Identify successful personnel management practices within the strategic deterrence enterprise.
• Identify key gaps and/or problems concerning the growth and development of the personnel within the nuclear enterprise.
• Identify remedies for any gaps or problems.
• Direct action to rapidly implement identified remedies and any other required actions.
“Finally, the secretary is calling an independent review to conduct a broader examination of the strategic deterrence enterprise as it relates to personnel,” Kirby said.
The review will involve a small number of “experienced” former officials who will assess the quality and effectiveness of the action plan, and provide a sense of any persistent challenges that could affect the performance of the deterrence mission, and then provide recommendations.
“This review will be completed no later than 90 days after its start,” he said. “We hope to get it started within the next couple of weeks.”
“Secretary Hagel has made it clear there is no mission more vital to our national security than that of strategic nuclear deterrence,” Kirby said. “He has called it a ‘no-fail’ mission.”
Hagel, he said, recognizes that the majority of the nuclear deterrence force performs “honorably and with great pride,” but a series of individual failures has given him pause.
“The secretary looks forward to meeting with senior leaders in the coming days,” Kirby said, “and to moving ahead with the important work of ensuring this department, in every way, continues to protect and defend our national interests.”