Worn-Out Infrastructure Seen Contributing to Low Missileer Morale

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July 8, 2014, 8:06 a.m.

De­grad­ing in­fra­struc­ture at U.S. nuc­le­ar mis­sile bases is thought to have neg­at­ively im­pacted the mor­ale of air­men, the As­so­ci­ated Press re­ports.

While the na­tion’s ar­sen­al of dec­ades-old Minute­man 3 bal­list­ic mis­siles is care­fully main­tained to en­sure the weapons will fire prop­erly when de­sired, much less at­ten­tion and care has gone in­to keep­ing up the in­fra­struc­ture that young Air Force per­son­nel rely on to carry out their nuc­le­ar mis­sion, the news agency re­por­ted in a Tues­day art­icle.

The Air Force has ac­know­ledged that much of its stra­tegic mis­sile in­fra­struc­ture, such as un­der­ground launch-con­trol cen­ters and liv­ing quar­ters, is badly in need of a facelift or, in the case of a fleet of emer­gency heli­copters, an all-out re­place­ment.

At the same time, the Air Force says its op­er­a­tion­al re­spons­ib­il­ity for U.S. in­ter­con­tin­ent­al bal­list­ic mis­siles is one of its most im­port­ant mis­sions. The air­men as­signed to the care of nuc­le­ar mis­siles, though, have ob­served for years an ap­par­ent dis­con­nect between what the ser­vice says about the mis­sion and the re­sources it throws its way, ac­cord­ing to AP.

Ex-Con­gres­sion­al Re­search Ser­vice de­fense spe­cial­ist Robert Goldich said the Air Force’s nuc­le­ar mis­sion has been at “the short end of the stick” in terms of as­signed staff and budget.

“I hon­estly don’t think it’s much more com­plic­ated than that,” Goldich told AP. “When that happened, people lost sight of how in­cred­ibly rig­or­ous you’ve got to be to en­sure qual­ity con­trol when nuc­le­ar weapons are in­volved.”

Low mor­ale has been blamed by Air Force brass on a num­ber of re­cent scan­dals in the nuc­le­ar mis­sileer corps. Re­cent in­cid­ents that have em­bar­rassed the ser­vice in­clude the dis­cov­ery of a test-cheat­ing ring at a base in Montana, al­leg­a­tions of drug pos­ses­sion by some mis­sile-launch of­ficers, and oc­ca­sion­al fail­ures by mis­sileers to fol­low all se­cur­ity rules.

“One of the reas­ons for the low mor­ale is that the nuc­le­ar forces feel un­im­port­ant, and they are of­ten treated as such, very openly,” said Michelle Spen­cer, who pre­vi­ously worked as a nuc­le­ar weapons con­sult­ant for the Air Force.

An in­de­pend­ent ad­vis­ory pan­el in a 2013 study sub­mit­ted to the De­fense De­part­ment said the ser­vice needed to demon­strate a “be­liev­able com­mit­ment” to up­dat­ing its nuc­le­ar mis­sile force.

“If the prac­tice con­tin­ues to be to de­mand that the troops com­pensate for man­power and skill short­falls, op­er­ate in in­feri­or fa­cil­it­ies and per­form with fail­ing sup­port equip­ment, there is a high risk of fail­ure,” the re­port stated.

The Air Force has re­spon­ded to the re­cent scan­dals by an­noun­cing it will pro­tect thou­sands of jobs in its nuc­le­ar mis­sion from job cuts that are im­pact­ing oth­er parts of the mil­it­ary, cre­ate a new mid-level man­ager po­s­i­tion to bet­ter trans­late com­mand or­ders to nuc­le­ar per­son­nel, seek an el­ev­a­tion in rank for the head of its Glob­al Strike Com­mand, and au­thor­ize bo­nus pay for some mis­sile spe­cial­ists.

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