Jump to search Jump to main navigation Jump to main content Jump to footer navigation

Global Security Newswire

Daily News on Nuclear, Biological & Chemical Weapons, Terrorism and Related Issues

Produced by
NationalJournal logo

Air Force Deepens Security Training After Botched Drill on Stolen Nuke

U.S. Air Force personnel assigned to the 791st Missile Security Forces Squadron simulate the recovery of a nuclear weapon at Minot Air Force Base, N.D., earlier this month. The service has expanded its use of such drills after failing a test last year. U.S. Air Force personnel assigned to the 791st Missile Security Forces Squadron simulate the recovery of a nuclear weapon at Minot Air Force Base, N.D., earlier this month. The service has expanded its use of such drills after failing a test last year. (U.S. Defense Department photo)

The U.S. Air Force is broadening the training of security forces after a team failed a simulation last year on recapturing a seized nuclear missile.

The 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont., last August flunked an inspection when security personnel were unable to regain control of a nuclear weapon that was captured during a simulation of a hostile takeover of one of the base's underground launch centers. The Air Force in an internal review said the simulation failure represented a "critical deficiency" for the missile wing.

The service attributed the failure to a lack of proper training, particularly in the security personnel's unfamiliarity with "complex scenario" drills, as well as the absence of uniform simulations in the strategic missile enterprise, the Associated Press reported.

The internal review obtained by AP through open-record filings did not provide specifics about the simulation, including how seizure of a missile was achieved or how many security personnel took part in the scenario. In a retest two months later, Malmstrom's nuclear missile personnel passed the security section of the inspection

The Air Force's assessment of the August failure noted that corrective actions to improve response capabilities had been ordered, including organizing a "recapture" scenario at one ICBM silo in each of the missile wing's three squadrons that would employ "realistic, varied, simple-to-complex" simulations. Additionally, the service said it was moving to more closely assess the takeaways learned following these so-called "Empty Quiver" exercises.

The Air Force has 450 Minuteman 3 intercontinental ballistic missiles that are operated by its Global Strike Command and housed in silos in isolated facilities across several western states. Should antagonists manage to gain control of one of those launch centers, the principal security concern would be the fissile material contained inside the missile's warhead. An unauthorized firing of a Minuteman 3 is much less feared, as only the U.S. president possesses the codes required for a launch.

Global Strike Command spokesman Lt. Col. John Sheets told AP that all corrective measures outlined in the internal review have been implemented, except for a plan to conduct more thorough security-response trainings at Minuteman silos. This has been more complicated because agreements covering more extensive drills are necessary with private land owners hosting missile silos on their properties.

Note to our Readers

GSN ceased publication on July 31, 2014. Its articles and daily issues will remain archived and available on NTI’s website.

NTI Analysis

Country Profile

Flag of United States

United States

This article provides an overview of the United States’ historical and current policies relating to nuclear, chemical, biological and missile proliferation.

Learn More →