Hagel wants billions to overhaul nuke system
WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced plans Friday to overhaul management of the nation’s nuclear weapons, calling for billions of dollars to upgrade equipment, improve training, increase oversight and address security lapses and poor morale.
Speaking at the Pentagon, Hagel said that two reviews he ordered last spring have concluded that sweeping changes are required to address systemic problems that could undermine the safety, security and effectiveness of the United States’ nuclear arsenal.
A series of scandals involving cheating on tests, drug use, violations of security rules and lax supervision have rocked the Pentagon’s nuclear operations force over the past two years. The Air Force has fired at least two nuclear commanders and disciplined others.
Hagel said the ground wars in Iraq and Afghanistan caused the military to take “our eye off the ball” when it came to nuclear weapons.
“We were not paying the attention we should have,” he said.
The investigation found that maintenance crews at three bases where intercontinental missiles are stored had only one wrench among them that was capable of tightening the bolts that affix thermonuclear warheads to their Minuteman III missiles.
The crews had to FedEx the special wrench to one another at the three bases, Hagel said.
“We now have a wrench at each location,” he added. “We’re going to have two wrenches soon.”
The two reviews recommended more than 100 changes, and Hagel said he would make leadership changes, improve training and inspections, and seek an increase in funding.
Hagel said it would cost “several billion dollars” over the next five years to address the shortfalls identified in the reviews.