Air Force to Create New Nuclear Command

(Oct. 9) -A B-52 bomber like this mistakenly flew six nuclear-armed cruise missiles between to U.S. air bases last year (U.S. Air Force photo).
(Oct. 9) -A B-52 bomber like this mistakenly flew six nuclear-armed cruise missiles between to U.S. air bases last year (U.S. Air Force photo).

Top U.S. Air Force leaders last week agreed to create a new nuclear command, accepting the recommendations of a high-level task force that examined recent lapses in the service's nuclear security protocols (see GSN, Sept. 15).

The new command would oversee all Air Force nuclear-weapon operations, in particular the management of U.S. ICBMs and long-range bombers. Weaknesses in both those areas were revealed over the past 14 months, when Air Force personnel mistakenly loaded live nuclear weapons onto a B-52 strategic bomber (see GSN, Sept. 5, 2007) and wrongly shipped nuclear missile fuses to Taiwan (see GSN, March 25). The embarrassing incidents led to the dismissals of the service's top civilian and military leaders (see GSN, June 6).

New leadership appointed by Defense Secretary Robert Gates initiated a major review of nuclear procedures and received recommendations last month that were largely accepted at a leadership session last week.

"They are crucial steps toward attaining excellence in our nuclear enterprise and revitalization of the nuclear culture across the Air Force," said new Air Force Secretary Michael Donley after the Oct. 1-3 meetings at the Air Force Academy in Colorado.

The service plans to unveil a more detailed "Air Force Nuclear Roadmap" in the next few weeks, according to a release.

Headquarters

The decision to create a new command has spurred two U.S. senators to urge the Air Force to house the new headquarters in their states.

"I welcome the decision by the Air Force to streamline the chain of command for day-to-day stewardship of the nation's nuclear-capable forces by establishing this new major command," said North Dakota Senator Kent Conrad (R) in a statement yesterday. "The Minot Air Force Base is the only air base in the nation that hosts both bombers and missiles with nuclear missions, so it should be at the top of the list of potential homes for this new command."

Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu (D) also put in a pitch for Barksdale Air Force Base in her state, where B-52 bombers are based.

"Barksdale is extraordinarily well positioned to become the centerpiece for the Air Force's new global strike nuclear command," she said in comments released yesterday.

The August 2007 flight of nuclear-tipped cruise missiles originated at Minot and ended at Barksdale (Greg Webb, Global Security Newswire, Oct. 9).

October 9, 2008
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Top U.S. Air Force leaders last week agreed to create a new nuclear command, accepting the recommendations of a high-level task force that examined recent lapses in the service's nuclear security protocols (see GSN, Sept. 15).