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."