Air Force Defends Shielding Nuclear Force from Service Cutbacks

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
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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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