Air Force Defends Shielding Nuclear Force from Service Cutbacks

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Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James and service Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh speak to reporters at the Pentagon on Wednesday. The leaders defended a decision to shield nuclear-weapons personnel from the cutbacks that are being implemented in other parts of the service.
National Journal
Rachel Oswald
July 31, 2014, 7:48 a.m.

Air Force brass on Wed­nes­day de­fen­ded their de­cision to spare nuc­le­ar-arms per­son­nel from the force cut­backs hap­pen­ing in oth­er parts of the ser­vice.

The Air Force an­nounced in June that it had de­cided to re­tain 4,000 air­men work­ing in the nuc­le­ar mis­sion who would oth­er­wise have faced pos­sible in­vol­un­tary sep­ar­a­tion from the ser­vice. In ex­plain­ing the de­cision, Air Force Sec­ret­ary De­borah Lee James said it was ne­ces­sary to have “full man­ning in our nuc­le­ar po­s­i­tions” be­cause of the “vi­tal im­port­ance of this mis­sion.” Earli­er this spring, the sec­ret­ary told the Air Force Times that due to budget con­straints the ser­vice in­ten­ded to re­duce its act­ive-duty force by 16,700 per­son­nel in the next fisc­al year.

At a Pentagon press con­fer­ence, James said it was ne­ces­sary for the Air Force to pri­or­it­ize its mis­sions. “Nuc­le­ar is num­ber one. And people need to un­der­stand that,” she was quoted as say­ing in an of­fi­cial tran­script.

The Air Force this year has pub­licly shown more con­cern for its stra­tegic de­terrence mis­sion, after a num­ber of scan­dals high­lighted low mor­ale and a lack of pro­fes­sion­al­ism by some air­men as­signed to main­tain, op­er­ate and pro­tect the ser­vice’s ar­sen­al of stra­tegic nuc­le­ar-tipped mis­siles.

Of­fi­cial in­vest­ig­a­tions and in­de­pend­ent ana­lys­is of the prob­lem con­cluded that a num­ber of mis­sileers per­ceived that the nuc­le­ar arms mis­sion had be­come a lower pri­or­ity for ser­vice lead­ers, as evid­enced, for ex­ample, by the lack of at­ten­tion be­ing giv­en to their de­grad­ing sup­port in­fra­struc­ture.

“We’re shift­ing re­sources and we’re shift­ing per­son­nel,” James said on Wed­nes­day. “The per­son­nel aren’t all there on sta­tion yet, but they’ll be com­ing.”

The Air Force in June said it was re­dir­ect­ing $50 mil­lion in fisc­al 2014 funds to­ward the im­me­di­ate re­hab­il­it­a­tion of the in­fra­struc­ture that nuc­le­ar air­men rely on. The money also would help to ad­dress cer­tain “people is­sues,” ac­cord­ing to the ser­vice.

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