Air Force Wants to Boost Global Strike Command’s Clout

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Air Force Lt. Gen. Stephen Wilson, the head of Global Strike Command, testifies before the Senate in March. Air Force brass have recommended that Wilson's position be elevated from a three-star to a four-star billet, partly in response to recent ethics scandals in the command's nuclear missile sector.
National Journal
Rachel Oswald
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Rachel Oswald
May 29, 2014, 10:45 a.m.

The U.S. Air Force wants to raise the clout of its strike com­mand as part of its re­sponse to a series of eth­ics lapses in the nuc­le­ar sec­tor.

The ci­vil­ian and mil­it­ary lead­ers of the ser­vice have re­com­men­ded to U.S. De­fense Sec­ret­ary Chuck Hagel that the po­s­i­tion of head of Glob­al Strike Com­mand be up­graded to a four-star bil­let from its cur­rent three-star rank, ac­cord­ing to a Wed­nes­day Air Force news story. The pro­pos­al is to be fur­ther de­veloped in the com­ing months and would re­quire con­gres­sion­al au­thor­iz­a­tion.

Glob­al Strike Com­mand man­ages the Air Force’s fleet of nuc­le­ar-cap­able bombers and its ar­sen­al of roughly 450 Minute­man 3 in­ter­con­tin­ent­al bal­list­ic mis­siles. The cur­rent head of the com­mand is Lt. Gen. Steph­en Wilson.

“This im­port­ant mis­sion in the Air Force de­serves the highest level of lead­er­ship over­sight sim­il­ar to our oth­er op­er­a­tion­al core mis­sion areas,” Air Force Sec­ret­ary De­borah Lee James said in provided com­ments.

The ser­vice also wants to el­ev­ate the po­s­i­tion of as­sist­ant chief of staff for stra­tegic de­terrence and nuc­le­ar in­teg­ra­tion from a two-star to a three-star po­s­i­tion. Maj. Gen. Gar­rett Har­en­cak presently oc­cu­pies that post.

The en­vi­sioned bil­let up­grades are the latest in a series of steps the Air Force has an­nounced to ad­dress what are seen as cul­tur­al de­fi­cien­cies that may have led many nuc­le­ar-mis­sile of­ficers at a Montana base to cheat — or turn a blind eye to cheat­ing — last year on a routine cer­ti­fic­a­tion test. The ser­vice is also in­vest­ig­at­ing al­leg­a­tions of drug pos­ses­sion by a few Glob­al Strike Com­mand of­fi­cials.

The eth­ics scan­dals touched off a num­ber of in­tern­al re­views in­to the Air Force’s nuc­le­ar weapons mis­sion. Ser­vice brass said they un­covered deep-seated cul­tur­al prob­lems among ICBM launch-con­trol of­ficers that they said stemmed, in part, from oner­ous test­ing de­mands and per­cep­tions that the job was a ca­reer “back­wa­ter.”

“This is our most crit­ic­ally im­port­ant mis­sion and these per­son­nel ac­tions show that,” Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh said in a re­leased state­ment. “And we are not just in­creas­ing the rank with­in the or­gan­iz­a­tion, we are also in­creas­ing the over­all man­power by more than 1,100 per­son­nel to ad­dress short­falls and of­fer our air­men a more stable work sched­ule and bet­ter qual­ity of life.”

Oth­er newly an­nounced per­son­nel changes in­clude adding more mid-level of­ficers to each of Glob­al Strike Com­mand’s Minute­man ICBM squad­rons and of­fer­ing bo­nuses to cer­tain spe­cial­ists.

The ser­vice press re­lease did not provide any es­tim­ates on how much it would cost to im­ple­ment the pro­posed changes in bil­lets and per­son­nel num­bers. “These ini­ti­at­ives will take time. But we’re put­ting our money where our mouth is and align­ing re­sources to go after those ini­ti­at­ives,” Wilson was quoted as say­ing.

James said the Air Force had already re­dir­ec­ted $50 mil­lion in cur­rent fisc­al-year funds “to ad­dress ur­gent, near-term nuc­le­ar sus­tain­ment short­falls.” An ad­di­tion­al $350 mil­lion from the ser­vice’s fu­ture years de­fense pro­gram also will be re­dir­ec­ted to the ef­fort, she said.

U.S. Rep­res­ent­at­ive Kev­in Cramer (R-N.D.), whose state hosts a Minute­man 3 mis­sile wing, ap­plauded the planned changes.

“These re­com­mend­a­tions … demon­strate the im­port­ance of the ICBM force as part of our na­tion’s nuc­le­ar de­terrence and the over­all de­fense strategy,” Kramer said in a Wed­nes­day state­ment. “In­creas­ing the level of lead­er­ship and in­tro­du­cing re­ten­tion in­cent­ives for high-caliber air­men will en­hance ac­count­ab­il­ity and mor­ale. The Air Force has my sup­port and I will do my part to make sure their re­com­mend­a­tions are im­ple­men­ted.”

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