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October 20, 2007
Nuclear Mistake has Air Force Cracking Down Hard
An investigation into the incident late last summer where B-52's flew from North Dakota to Louisiana with fully armed cruise missiles has resulted in disciplinary action taken against 70 airmen.
The details are mind boggling:
The missiles were supposed to be taken to Louisiana, but the warheads were supposed to have been removed beforehand. Their own "informal system?" This begs the question if or how many times it had happened in the past.
A main reason for the error was that crews had decided not to follow a complex schedule under which the status of the missiles is tracked while they are disarmed, loaded, moved and so on, one official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the record.
The airmen replaced the schedule with their own "informal" system, he said, though he didn't say why they did that nor how long they had been doing it their own way. "This was an unacceptable mistake and a clear deviation from our exacting standards," Air Force Secretary Michael W. Wynne said at a Pentagon press conference with Newton.
"We hold ourselves accountable to the American people and want to ensure proper corrective action has been taken."
Four officers were also punished:
Highest ranked among those punished were four officers who were relieved this week of their commands, including the 5th Bomb Wing commander at Minot - Col. Bruce Emig, who also has been the base commander since June. The Air Force is blaming poor training and the fact that serving in the nuclear weapons area has lost its appeal since the end of the cold war.
In addition, the wing has been "decertified from its wartime mission," Newton said. Some 65 airmen have been decertified from handling nuclear weapons. The certification process looks at a person's psychological profile, any medications they are taking and other factors in determining a person's reliability to handle weapons.
After it was loaded with the missiles, the B-52 sat overnight at Minot, flew the next morning to Louisiana, and then sat on a tarmac again for hours before anyone noticed the nuclear warheads.
That very well may be. But the idea of these things sitting around on tarmacs with nobody knowing where they are is very unsettling. Time for the Air Force to get deadly serious about their command and control of nuclear weapons before something catastrophic happens.