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Hagel Says Military Has Lost Focus on Importance of Nuclear Mission

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel speaks to service members at Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, Ga., on Wednesday. The secretary said the military's focus in recent years on overseas land wars had led to less attention being given to the nuclear deterrence mission. U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel speaks to service members at Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, Ga., on Wednesday. The secretary said the military's focus in recent years on overseas land wars had led to less attention being given to the nuclear deterrence mission. (U.S. Defense Department photo)

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have caused the U.S. military to lose focus on its nuclear mission, says U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.

"I think over the years we've let our focus on the nuclear deterrence aspect of our national security drift a little," Hagel said during a Wednesday speech at the Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay in Georgia. "That's somewhat understandable when we understand that for 13 years this country has been at war in long, large land mass wars. And because of that, priority has been put on those wars, both in funding, leadership, attention."

The defense chief said it was past time to re-prioritize "the importance of the nuclear enterprise." He was speaking to personnel assigned to the Navy's strategic weapons mission, which consists of a fleet of 14 Ohio-class submarines armed with nuclear-tipped Trident ballistic missiles.

Hagel's visit comes as the Defense Department is comparing the results of multiple studies into ethics and professionalism problems that came to light in recent months in the Navy and Air Force's nuclear enterprises. Pentagon officials are presently analyzing the recommendations offered from an internal investigation as well as an outside assessment led by former senior defense officials.

"I'm in the process now, working with our leaders, to decide which recommendations we are going to go forward with," Hagel said.

The Air Force's Global Strike Command, which manages the country's arsenal of intercontinental ballistic missiles and nuclear-capable bombers, has experienced a number of recent scandals. They include: widespread test-cheating at an ICBM base in Montana, allegations of drug possession by some missile launch officers and repeat security lapses by nuclear missile personnel.

The Navy has also had its own embarrassments. In February, it was revealed that the service had launched an investigation into accusations that a large number of senior sailors were cheating on their reactor propulsion certification exams. The results of that probe have yet to be announced, according to the Associated Press. The Navy's Ohio submarines rely on nuclear propulsion technology.

Additionally, a Navy admiral was demoted a rank and removed from his post as the deputy head of Strategic Command in 2013 after it was found that he used fake poker chips to gamble at a casino.

Meanwhile, two Navy admirals on Monday sent a letter to Congress warning against proceeding with proposed spending reductions to the service's atomic reactor program, Defense News reported.

"The persistent cuts have put [naval reactors] in the position of being unable to provide for a safe and reliable nuclear fleet, design and test the reactor plant for the Ohio Replacement Program, and safely and responsibly manage aging infrastructure and the facilities for processing naval spent nuclear fuel," said Chief of Naval Operations Navy Adm. Jonathan Greenert and Navy Adm. John Richardson, director of the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program.

The leaders were protesting a proposed $162 million cut to the National Nuclear Security Administration's fiscal 2015 budget request for its naval atomic propulsion program. The cut was contained in the House Appropriations Committee's energy and water bill, which was passed out of committee last month.

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

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