Air Force Commander: Unit Failed ICBM Test by Tiny Margin

Global Security Newswire Staff
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Global Security Newswire Staff
Aug. 21, 2013, 8:02 a.m.

The head of an Air Force ICBM wing that last week failed a safety and se­cur­ity ex­am­in­a­tion said his team missed the stand­ard only by the barest of mar­gins — “a frac­tion of a decim­al point,” Mil­it­ary Times re­por­ted on Monday.

The 341st Mis­sile Wing at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana was giv­en a fail­ing grade for its per­form­ance in a single ex­er­cise that was part of a broad­er in­spec­tion. That fail­ing grade, though, af­fected the en­tire in­spec­tion. The 341st Mis­sile Wing over­sees one-third of the na­tion’s 450 Minute­man 3 ICBMs.

Wing com­mand­er Col. Rob Stan­ley would not dis­close which part of his unit was re­spons­ible for the failed ex­er­cise, say­ing this in­form­a­tion could be mis­used by ad­versar­ies.   “The thing that we were rated un­sat­is­fact­ory on, I have every con­fid­ence in the world if it were a real-world situ­ation, it would have been flaw­less, but our stand­ards are so geared to­ward per­fec­tion — as they should be — that in this sim­u­lated en­vir­on­ment that we have to put them through to test them, if they fall even slightly, we have to rate the whole thing as un­sat­is­fact­ory,” the col­on­el said in an in­ter­view.   Be­cause of the in­spec­tion fail­ure, a “very small num­ber of some very young folks” have lost their op­er­at­ing cer­ti­fic­a­tions and are now be­ing re­trained, Stan­ley said. The re­fresh­er course is an­ti­cip­ated to last sev­er­al days. None of the in­volved mil­it­ary per­son­nel will be pun­ished, the pub­lic­a­tion re­por­ted.   The Air Force in re­cent years has had a string of em­bar­rass­ing epis­odes in­volving slip-ups by air­men with roles in the nuc­le­ar-weapons mis­sion. The most re­cent in­spec­tion fail­ure adds to a pub­lic per­cep­tion prob­lem for the Air Force’s Glob­al Strike Com­mand, which was es­tab­lished in 2009 to im­prove the ser­vice’s man­age­ment of its nuc­le­ar-cap­able stra­tegic mis­siles and bombers.   “How can you build pub­lic trust with an in­spec­tion sys­tem where nuc­le­ar units con­tin­ue to fail?” Hans Kristensen, head of the Fed­er­a­tion of Amer­ic­an Sci­ent­ists’ Nuc­le­ar In­form­a­tion Pro­ject, said to Mil­it­ary Times over e-mail.   Earli­er this year, the 91st Mis­sile Wing at Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota re­ceived a less-than-sat­is­fact­ory rat­ing when it was tested on its ICBM-launch op­er­a­tions   “The lead­er­ship should not con­note a mind­set that fail­ing an in­spec­tion is a good thing be­cause it re­veals things that should be fixed,” Kristensen said. “Units with re­spons­ib­il­ity for nuc­le­ar weapons should not fail in­spec­tions. Peri­od.”   In three months, of­fi­cials from Glob­al Strike Com­mand and the De­fense Threat Re­duc­tion Agency will re­as­sess the Air Force wing on those parts of the ex­am­in­a­tion that it failed.   “I wish they could come today,” Stan­ley said. “We’re ready for them, and our folks that came up short are ready to get up and fight and prove that they are much bet­ter than is be­ing por­trayed in the me­dia right now.”
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