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Hagel Mandates Major Scrub of U.S. Nuclear Forces

Air Force airmen and personnel of the 90th Missile Wing listen as Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, not shown, addresses them earlier this month at F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wyo. Hagel on Thursday ordered a thorough review of personnel problems associated with U.S. nuclear-weapons forces. Air Force airmen and personnel of the 90th Missile Wing listen as Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, not shown, addresses them earlier this month at F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wyo. Hagel on Thursday ordered a thorough review of personnel problems associated with U.S. nuclear-weapons forces. (U.S. Defense Department photo)

The Pentagon on Thursday launched a thorough review of U.S. nuclear-force personnel matters following multiple scandals in the missile-launch officer corps.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in the next two weeks will convene a meeting at the Pentagon with senior military officials to discuss any unresolved issues with troops assigned to operate the arsenal of silo-based missiles, nuclear-armed submarines and strategic bombers. He also has directed that an "action plan" be drafted within the next two months to analyze and offer remedies for the professionalism and morale problems that appear to be plaguing nuclear staff, the Associated Press reported.

"To the degree there are systemic problems in the training and professional standards of the nuclear career field, the secretary wants them solved," Pentagon spokesman, Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby said at a press conference. "To the degree there are gaps in our understanding or implementation of those standards, he wants them closed. And to the degree leaders have failed in their duties, he wants them held to account."

Thursday's announcement comes on the heels of revelations about widespread test-cheating among missileers at the Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana and a probe into drug possession by some Air Force Global Strike Command officers. On top of that, there was the firing last year of the general officer who then led ground-based nuclear missile operations, who allegedly got drunk and behaved inappropriately during an official visit to Russia. It was also revealed that some missile launch officers had been napping while on duty with the blast doors to underground control centers left open -- a security violation.

Hagel is additionally convening an independent team of nuclear experts to carry out a wider analysis of issues with the U.S. nuclear cadre.

"Personnel failures within this force threaten to jeopardize the trust the American people have placed in us to keep our nuclear weapons safe and secure," the secretary said in a letter to top military officials, including the leaders of the Air Force and Navy.

Not up for discussion at this time, according to AP, is making cuts to the size of the U.S. nuclear arsenal beyond those to which Washington has already committed under the New START accord with Russia.

Hagel wants attention focused on personnel issues associated with the Air Force Minuteman 3 intercontinental ballistic missile force. However, to be on the safe side, the Navy's nuclear workforce -- which operates Trident D-5 ballistic missiles aboard Ohio-class submarines -- also will be examined, Kirby said.

"What the secretary wants to know is, what else don't I know" about issues with nuclear personnel, the spokesman said.

Hagel has signaled he is amenable to increasing the pay of missileers, the New York Times reported. ICBM launch-control jobs reportedly are seen by many airmen as boring, career-ending positions, which has affected the number of officers who volunteer for the mission area.

The defense chief ordered the nuclear review following a phone call with the new civilian leader of the Air Force, Secretary Deborah Lee James, who spent this week talking with ICBM crews in North Dakota and elsewhere, the Los Angeles Times reported.

This is hardly the first time a U.S. secretary of Defense has moved to correct nuclear personnel problems.

In 2008, then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates dismissed the Air Force's top military and civilian leaders and ordered the service to merge its nuclear bomber and ICBM missions into the Global Strike Command. Those steps came after it was learned that service members in 2006 accidentally shipped ICBM trigger parts to Taiwan, and in 2007 mistakenly sent a B-52 loaded with nuclear-armed missiles across the United States.

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