U.S. missile launch-control officers at a base in North Dakota performed worse than was originally understood on a March 2013 readiness inspection.
The missileers at Minot Air Force Base would have flunked their part of the live examination were it not for the superior scores earned by others on the missile-operations team, including cook staff and facility managers, the Associated Press reported on Thursday. The compilation of scores meant that the 91st Missile Wing earned the equivalent of a "D" rating for its demonstrated knowledge of Minuteman 3 intercontinental ballistic-missile firing procedures.
The performance and attitude issues of some Minot missileers was so poor during the inspection that certifications for 19 launch officers were taken away last April.
Of 11 missile crew personnel tested on a launch simulator during the review, three officers received an "unqualified" rating, which the Air Force characterizes as showing "an unacceptable level of safety, performance or knowledge."
Subsequent inspections of the Minot missileers have resulted in excellent grades.
A formal Air Force investigation into the reasons for the poor 2013 inspection found that a core contributing factor was inadequate utilization of regular, written proficiency exams. The investigation found that Minot senior officers did not encourage a "culture of accountability" and failed to ensure that test-taking was supervised.
"'Group testing' was viewed as 'taking care of each other,'" reads one Air Force document, acquired by AP.
Minot thus far has not been implicated in an Air Force probe into cheating by missileers on routine proficiency exams. That investigation to date has focused on Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana, where more than 90 launch officers have been benched for either direct or indirect involvement in a test-cheating ring. However, the revelations about a lax examination environment at Minot suggest that cheating could be a problem at the North Dakota base, as well, according to AP.
Multiple recent scandals in the Air Force's ICBM mission involving cheating, drug possession and failure to follow security rules prompted Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to order a wholesale review of personnel issues inside the military's various nuclear activities. The Air Force says it is studying options for reforming its missileer culture.