In Fresh Look at Nuclear Mission, Air Force Revisits 2009 Proposals

Global Security Newswire Staff
Feb. 12, 2014, 7:20 a.m.

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.

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