Air Force Wants to Boost Global Strike Command’s Clout

Air Force Lt. Gen. Stephen Wilson, the head of Global Strike Command, testifies before the Senate in March. Air Force brass have recommended that Wilson's position be elevated from a three-star to a four-star billet, partly in response to recent ethics scandals in the command's nuclear missile sector.
National Journal
Rachel Oswald
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Rachel Oswald
May 29, 2014, 10:45 a.m.

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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