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      The Nuclear “Crisis” That Wasn’t

       Lt. General Arlen D. Jameson, USAF (Retired) 

 

In May 2013, several media outlets reported on the suspension of 17 nuclear missile launch officers following a nuclear missile wing inspection at Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota, with some reports implying that these suspensions amount to a crisis in the United States’ nuclear force. They do not. In fact, they imply the exact opposite: the Air Force has learned from past mistakes and is acting proactively to ensure the continued safety and security of our nuclear weapons. 

In March, Minot’s 91st Missile Wing, which is responsible for maintaining 150 nuclear-tipped
intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), underwent a periodic inspection of the unit’s ability to perform it’s operational mission along with inspection of safety and other key areas. The unit passed the inspection with an overall “Satisfactory” rating, and was rated “Outstanding,” “Excellent,” or “Satisfactory” in 21 out of the 22 individual categories that were inspected. However, the unit received a “Marginal” rating on its ability to conduct missile launch operations, which prompted the suspension, decertification and retraining of 17 of the unit’s 150 launch officers. A marginal rating in one sub area is far from unprecedented in the history of our nuclear forces. The inspections are demanding and the scenarios require instant closely coordinated actions by the crew to satisfy the highly experienced, closely observing inspectors. No wing commander is happy with even one marginal sub area rating out of 22 and this commander is no exception; he took immediate and aggressive action to identify those relatively few crew members who needed additional training to assure their skills are honed and their performance beyond question.

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