Some of the reform proposals the U.S. Air Force is weighing for its strategic missile corps already were attempted five years ago.
Pay raises and other enticements are among the options under consideration for officers and enlisted personnel who protect and manage the country's silo-based ballistic missiles. First looked at in 2009, new reforms could be more far-ranging in upcoming implementation, the Associated Press reported on Tuesday, citing an analysis of internal service papers and emails.
Air Force Col. Robert Stanley, who leads the 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont., told AP he supports the service offering employment incentives to missileers. "We've been asking for that for a long time," he said.
The Air Force is looking for ways to enhance morale and dedication in its intercontinental ballistic-missile mission following a number of embarrassing incidents in the nuclear corps in the last year, including an ongoing investigation into a certification test-cheating ring at Malmstrom.
The service has grappled with nuclear-arena problems before. In 2006, airmen inadvertently shipped ballistic missile fuse components to Taiwan and, in 2007, mistakenly loaded a bomber with nuclear-armed cruise missiles and flew it across the United States. These high-profile incidents led then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates to consolidate oversight for the Air Force's bomber and nuclear-missile missions in a new organization, the service's Global Strike Command.
That command, which oversees the nation's arsenal of approximately 450 Minuteman 3 missiles, last week announced a new "grassroots" initiative aimed at soliciting suggestions from nuclear mission rank-and-file personnel on how to improve working conditions.
But the Air Force already tried that back in 2008 and 2009, when it invited its strategic missile personnel to suggest options for improving professionalism. "We need you to tell us what needs to be fixed," reads a private 2009 survey prepared for nuclear missile airmen.
A group of nuclear missile personnel in 2009 drafted a menu of 42 options for improving morale that included pay raises, education support, achievement awards, and improving the atmosphere at missile outposts. It is not clear if any of those suggested improvements were ever implemented.
Former Congressional Research Service defense policy analyst Robert Goldich told AP he was skeptical that mere financial enticements would succeed in addressing the nuclear-missile workforce problems, which top Pentagon officials have acknowledged are deep-rooted.
"If the missile force can't convince its people that what they are doing is really important, that it isn't a military and strategic backwater and/or obsolete, no combination of programmatic incentives can really fix things," Goldich said.