In the wake of professional and ethical lapses and poor morale in the U.S. nuclear force, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced on Nov. 14 the results of two reviews of the Defense Department’s management of nuclear weapons and the steps the department is taking to address the numerous setbacks.
At a press briefing at the Pentagon, Hagel said that an internal and an external review “found evidence of systematic problems that if not addressed could undermine the safety, security, and effectiveness of the elements of the force in the future.” He attributed the problems to “a lack of sustained focus, attention, and resources, resulting in a pervasive sense that a career in the nuclear enterprise offers too few opportunities for growth and advancement.”
The Air Force, particularly the service’s intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) force, has been embarrassed by revelations over the past two years of failed nuclear security inspections at ICBM bases, misconduct by senior nuclear commanders, and cheating by missileers on performance tests. In response, Hagel in January ordered internal and external reviews of all U.S. nuclear forces. (See ACT, March 2014.)
Hagel announced numerous steps intended to fix the problems plaguing the force. These include changing the conduct of inspections to reduce the burden on airmen and sailors, eliminating micromanagement of nuclear personnel seen as overtaxed by excessive bureaucratic and administrative requirements, and elevating the head of Air Force Global Strike Command, which oversees the Air Force’s nuclear forces, from a three- to a four-star rank. Hagel also said the Defense Department will request a 10 percent annual increase in funding for nuclear weapons over the next five years. This will come on top of the $15-16 billion the department currently spends annually on the weapons.
Hagel, who announced his resignation on Nov. 24, emphasized the “critical role” nuclear weapons play in U.S. national security. “No other capability we have is more important,” he said.
The newly completed analyses are the sixth and seventh reviews of the nuclear enterprise the Defense Department has undertaken since 2007, when a B-52 bomber was mistakenly flown across the United States with six nuclear-armed, air-launched cruise missiles on board.
Hagel said that earlier reviews “were implemented without the necessary follow-through to assess that they were implemented effectively.” He pledged that senior department leaders would ensure that the new recommendations are being effectively implemented.