The Air Force Chief of Staff and the Secretary of the Air Force were both fired yesterday in response to a report that heavily criticized the top levels of leadership in the USAF with regard to their handling of nuclear weapons:
The most egregious example of the problems with nuclear weapons occurred last August when the Air Force transferred 6 nuclear weapons without proper procedures being followed. But there has been other incidents as well:
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. T. Michael Moseley and Secretary Michael W. Wynne were forced to resign Thursday during hastily arranged meetings with their Pentagon bosses.
Moseley was summoned from the Corona leadership summit at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, to an early morning meeting at the Pentagon with Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to discuss a report on the Air Force's problems handling nuclear weapons.
The report, by Navy Adm. Kirkland Donald, director of naval nuclear propulsion, revealed widespread problems and convinced Defense Secretary Robert Gates that senior officials must be held accountable.
Moseley resigned in response.
Later in the morning, Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England was dispatched to Wright-Patterson to ask for Wynne's resignation, sources said. Wynne resigned during the meeting.
At a Pentagon press briefing Thursday afternoon, Gates said his decision to seek their resignations was "based entirely" on the Donald report, which uncovered a "gradual erosion of nuclear standards and a lack of effective oversight by Air Force leadership."
The unprecedented firing of both the civilian and military chiefs of a service branch highlights Secretary Gate's determination to bring accountability to the Pentagon. In this case, he appears to have been more than justified in carrying out his action.
Those grievances include criticism of the Air Force's nuclear weapons handling, two major acquisitions programs that have been stalled by protests, the service's inability to rush more surveillance drones to the war zones, apparent conflicts of interest of current and retired senior officials related to a $50 million contract to produce a multimedia show for the Thunderbirds, and repeated clashes with Pentagon leaders over the number of F-22s the Air Force will buy and other budget issues.
The most serious blow to the credibility of the Air Force and its leadership has been a scandal spawned by the service's accidental transfer in August of six nuclear-tipped cruise missiles from Minot Air Force Base, N.D., to Barksdale Air Force Base, La.
A B-52 from the 5th Bomb Wing at Minot was supposed to transfer unarmed air-launched cruise missiles to Barksdale to be decommissioned, but munitions loaders accidentally attached nuclear-armed missiles to the pylons. The missiles were flown to Barksdale and sat unguarded on the tarmac for several hours before anyone realized what happened, some 30 hours after the mistake was made.
The 5th Bomb Wing commander, two group commanders and the 5th Munitions Squadron commander were relieved of their commands.