Another Air Force Team Fails Nuclear Inspection

A U.S. strategic missile group failed a nuclear safety review this month, becoming at least the fifth Air Force unit to fail an inspection this year, Air Force Times reported yesterday (see GSN, Nov. 19).

The "nuclear surety inspection" at the 90th Missile Wing at F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyo., is still under way, but poor record-keeping by a maintenance group has already triggered a failure because an inadequate result from any portion of the inspection automatically leads to rejection of the entire wing, according to the Times.

The inspection failure continues a string of disappointing performances at Air Force nuclear installations that started last year when personnel at Minot Air Force Base, N.D., mistakenly loaded nuclear-armed cruise missile onto an aircraft that then flew to a base in Louisiana (see GSN, Sept. 5, 2007). Later, officials discovered that F.E. Warren personnel had mislabeled some nuclear-weapon components that were accidentally shipped to Taiwan (see GSN, March 25).

The security embarrassments led Defense Secretary Robert Gates to replace the Air Force's top officials and to launch a major review of the service's nuclear weapon management practices (see GSN, Oct. 27).

This year, inspectors have conducted 22 nuclear surety inspections, compared to 18 total in 2006 and 2007, the Times reported.

The 90th Missile Wing commander, Col. Michael Morgan, acknowledged that his unit needed to improve. Inspectors are scheduled to return to the base in roughly 90 days.

"The inspector general gave us an exceptionally thorough review, looking deep into all areas,” Morgan said. “Improvement continues, but as highlighted by this inspection, we need to do much better in administrative and equipment control processes" (Michael Hoffman, Air Force Times, Dec. 18).

Meanwhile, Air Force Secretary Michael Donley has chosen a leader for a new command established to refocus the service's attention on its nuclear mission (see GSN, Oct. 9).

Brig. Gen. James Kowalski was tapped to head the Global Strike Command, which will be headquartered at Bolling Air Force Base, D.C., until permanent offices are selected.

"With Air Force Global Strike Command, we are establishing a single organization operationally focused on the nuclear and global strike missions," Donley said in a press release. "AFGSC represents a crucial commitment to our responsibility for day-to-day excellence and unquestionable stewardship of the nuclear and strategic deterrence missions" (U.S. Air Force release, Dec. 18).

December 19, 2008
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A U.S. strategic missile group failed a nuclear safety review this month, becoming at least the fifth Air Force unit to fail an inspection this year, Air Force Times reported yesterday (see GSN, Nov. 19).