U.S. Air Force Releases Nuclear Roadmap

(Oct. 27) -The U.S. Air Force plans a new Global Strike Command that will oversee nuclear-capable aircraft such as this B-2 bomber, shown during a refueling exercise (DOD Photo).
(Oct. 27) -The U.S. Air Force plans a new Global Strike Command that will oversee nuclear-capable aircraft such as this B-2 bomber, shown during a refueling exercise (DOD Photo).

Warning of nuclear proliferation, the U.S. Air Force announced plans Friday to “re-establish our nuclear culture” and “restore our allies’ and public’s confidence in our nuclear stewardship role” (see GSN, Oct. 23).

The new roadmap, an 80-page report entitled Reinvigorating the Air Force Nuclear Enterprise, was spurred by recent nuclear-weapon security lapses, including the accidental transfer of nuclear arms between two air bases.

That and other incidents were caused by “the failure of leadership at many levels to provide proper emphasis on the nuclear mission,” the report says. Defense Secretary Robert Gates asked for and received the resignations of the Air Force chief of staff and the Air Force secretary earlier this year.

Their replacements, Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz and Secretary Michael Donley, vowed in a preface to Friday’s report to make necessary reforms: “The Air Force intends to fully restore its credibility by improving unity of command and effort, developing the technical skills of Air Force personnel, reinforcing the nuclear mission responsibilities, promoting a culture of compliance and precision and improving enterprise-wide oversight.”

Improving management over nuclear weapons is needed, the report argues, because the United States will continue to rely on nuclear deterrence.

“Because of their immense destructive power, nuclear weapons … deter in a way that simply cannot be duplicated by other weapons,” the report says. Furthermore, “more countries possess nuclear weapons than during the Cold War, and that number is likely to grow.”

In fact, the number of nuclear-armed nations has remained the same since the collapse of the Soviet Union. North Korea conducted a nuclear test in 2006, but South Africa dismantled a small nuclear arsenal in the early 1990s. The other nuclear powers are China, France, India, Israel, Pakistan, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Consolidated Command

Topping the list of Air Force changes is the establishment of a Global Strike Command, intended to consolidate control over the service’s nuclear bombers and missiles.

Other measures include setting service-wide standards for nuclear training, inspections and inventory control.

Gates has scheduled a speech tomorrow to discuss long-term U.S. nuclear strategy (Greg Webb, Global Security Newswire, Oct. 27).

October 27, 2008
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Warning of nuclear proliferation, the U.S. Air Force announced plans Friday to “re-establish our nuclear culture” and “restore our allies’ and public’s confidence in our nuclear stewardship role” (see GSN, Oct. 23).