In New Setback, Air Force Missile Team Fails Security Drill

Global Security Newswire Staff
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Global Security Newswire Staff
Aug. 14, 2013, 7:02 a.m.

An Air Force unit that over­sees one-third of Amer­ica’s land-based nuc­le­ar mis­siles failed a safety and se­cur­ity in­spec­tion, con­sti­tut­ing the second ser­i­ous Minute­man 3 mis­sion read­i­ness prob­lem this year, the As­so­ci­ated Press re­por­ted on Tues­day.

Lt. Gen­er­al James M. Kow­al­ski, com­mand­er of Air Force Glob­al Strike Com­mand — an or­gan­iz­a­tion cre­ated in 2009 as part of a broad ef­fort to al­le­vi­ate prob­lems in the ser­vice’s nuc­le­ar mis­sion — told AP that a team of “re­l­at­ively low-rank­ing” air­men sta­tioned at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont., “did not demon­strate the right pro­ced­ures” in a single ex­er­cise. The drill was part of a more ex­pans­ive in­spec­tion that star­ted last week and ended on Tues­day.

A writ­ten state­ment pos­ted on the com­mand’s web­site said the 341st Mis­sile Wing re­ceived an un­sat­is­fact­ory rat­ing after mak­ing “tac­tic­al level er­rors — not re­lated to com­mand and con­trol of nuc­le­ar weapons — dur­ing one of sev­er­al ex­er­cises con­duc­ted dur­ing the in­spec­tion. This fail­ure res­ul­ted in the en­tire in­spec­tion be­ing rated ‘un­sat­is­fact­ory.’”

The wing is one of three that con­trol 450 Minute­man 3 ICBMs, ac­cord­ing to AP.

The Air Force is “look­ing in­to” the pos­sib­il­ity of dis­cip­lin­ary ac­tion against the 341st, Kow­al­ski told the wire ser­vice. He noted, though, that the wing did well over­all, scor­ing ex­cel­lent or out­stand­ing in most of the 13 areas be­ing tested.

In March, the deputy com­mand­er of the 91st Mis­sile Wing — sta­tioned at Minot Air Force Base, N.D. — com­plained of “rot” in the group after an in­spec­tion gave its mis­sile crews the equi­val­ent of a “D” grade on Minute­man 3 launch op­er­a­tions, ac­cord­ing to AP. Al­though the 91st passed that in­spec­tion, the failed sim­u­la­tion of ICBM launch op­er­a­tions res­ul­ted in the tem­por­ary re­mov­al and re­train­ing of 19 per­son­nel.

In 2008, the 5th Bomb Wing at Minot failed the nuc­le­ar se­cur­ity com­pon­ent of an in­spec­tion. 

Eric Fan­ning, act­ing sec­ret­ary of the Air Force, will travel to Barks­dale Air Force Base, La., on Wed­nes­day to meet with Kow­al­ski and dis­cuss spe­cif­ics of the Malmstrom case, as well as as­pects of the over­all nuc­le­ar mis­sion, top Air Force spokes­man Brig. Gen. Les Kod­lick told AP. The trip was planned pri­or to the latest in­cid­ent.

The Air Force nuc­le­ar mis­sion has hit a num­ber of bumps since 2008, in­clud­ing a B-52 bomber flight over sev­er­al U.S. states dur­ing which the crew was un­aware that ac­tu­al weapons were on­board.

In an in­ter­view on Tues­day, Kow­al­ski said that the num­ber of prob­lems at the nuc­le­ar wings has de­creased since his com­mand was es­tab­lished in 2009, AP re­por­ted. The oc­ca­sion­al fail­ures do not point to a wide-reach­ing fail­ure to fol­low safety and se­cur­ity pro­to­cols, the gen­er­al as­ser­ted.

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