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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