Hagel vows to allot billions to fix nuclear forces’ failings
WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has concluded that problems in the nation’s nuclear forces are rooted in a lack of investment, inattention by high-level leaders and sagging morale and is ordering top-to-bottom changes, vowing to invest billions of dollars to fix the management of the world’s most deadly weapons, two senior Defense officials said Thursday.
A series of stories by The Associated Press revealed numerous problems in management, morale, security and safety. Hagel ordered two lengthy reviews of the nuclear force, which resulted in several firings, demotions and other disciplinary action against a range of Air Force personnel from generals to airmen.
Hagel’s moves, while not dramatic, are designed to get at the core of the problem, the officials said.
They discussed the reviews and Hagel’s response to them on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to be cited by name.
Hagel was expected to announce his decisions at a news conference Friday and fly to Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota, home of a Minuteman 3 missile unit whose recent setbacks are emblematic of the trouble dogging the broader force.
The Air Force has been hit hardest by the problems, particularly its Minuteman 3 intercontinental ballistic missile force based in North Dakota, Montana and Wyoming. The AP documented numerous missteps over the past two years, including misbehavior by ICBM force leaders, lapses in training, violations of security rules and exam cheating.
The Navy, which operates nuclear-armed submarines, had an exam-cheating scandal this year and has suffered from a shortage of personnel.
Hagel’s reviews concluded that the structure of nuclear forces is so incoherent that it cannot be properly managed, and that this problem explains why top-level officials often are unaware of trouble below them.
The reviews found that a combination of problems amount to fundamental flaws, rather than random or periodic slip-ups that can be fixed easily, the Defense officials said. They said the nuclear forces are meeting the demands of the mission but finding it increasingly difficult to cope.
When he ordered the reviews in February, shortly after the Air Force announced it was investigating an exam-cheating ring at one ICBM base and a related drug investigation implicating missile crew members, Hagel was said to be flabbergasted that such misbehavior could be infecting the force.
Among his more significant moves, Hagel authorized the Air Force to put a four-star general in charge of its nuclear forces, the two Defense officials said.