Friday, August 29, 2014
FAIRFIELD-SUISUN, CALIFORNIA
99 CENTS

Why nukes keep finding trouble: They’re really old

Nuclear Missteps

This photo taken June 25, 2014 shows an inert Minuteman 3 missile in a training launch tube at Minot Air Force Base, N.D. The nuclear missiles hidden in plain view across the prairies of northwest North Dakota reveal one reason why trouble keeps finding the nuclear Air Force. The “Big Stick,” as some call the 60-foot-tall Minuteman 3 missile, is just plain old. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

By
From page A11 | July 09, 2014 |

MINOT AIR FORCE BASE, N.D. — The Air Force asserts with pride that the nation’s nuclear missile system, more than 40 years old and designed during the Cold War to counter the now-defunct Soviet Union, is safe and secure. None has ever been used in combat or launched accidentally.

But it also admits to fraying at the edges: time-worn command posts, corroded launch silos, failing support equipment and an emergency-response helicopter fleet so antiquated that a replacement was deemed “critical” years ago.

The Minuteman is no ordinary weapon. The business end of the missile can deliver mass destruction across the globe as quickly as you could have a pizza delivered to your doorstep.

But even as the Minuteman has been updated over the years and remains ready for launch on short notice, the items that support it have grown old. That partly explains why missile corps morale has sagged and discipline has sometimes faltered, as revealed in a series of Associated Press reports documenting leadership, training, disciplinary and other problems in the ICBM force that has prompted worry at the highest levels of the Pentagon.

The airmen who operate, maintain and guard the Minuteman force at bases in North Dakota, Montana and Wyoming came to recognize a gap between the Air Force’s claim that the nuclear mission is “Job 1″ and its willingness to invest in it.

“One of the reasons for the low morale is that the nuclear forces feel unimportant, and they are often treated as such, very openly,” says Michelle Spencer, a defense consultant in Alabama who led a nuclear forces study for the Air Force published in 2012. She said in an interview the airmen — they’re called Missileers — became disillusioned by an obvious but unacknowledged lack of interest in nuclear priorities among the most senior Air Force leaders.

Spencer’s study found that Air Force leaders were “cynical about the nuclear mission, its future and its true — versus publicly stated — priority to the Air Force.” Several key leadership posts have since changed hands, and while Spencer says she sees important improvements, she’s worried about the Air Force’s commitment to getting the nuclear forces what they need.

This is no surprise to those responsible for nuclear weapons policy. An independent advisory group, in a report to the Pentagon last year, minced no words. It said the Air Force must show a “believable commitment” to modernizing the force.

“If the practice continues to be to demand that the troops compensate for manpower and skill shortfalls, operate in inferior facilities and perform with failing support equipment, there is high risk of failure” to meet the demands of the mission, it said.

Robert Goldich, a former defense analyst at the Congressional Research Service, said the ICBM force for years got “the short end of the stick” on personnel and resources.

“I honestly don’t think it’s much more complicated than that,” he said. “When that happened, people lost sight of how incredibly rigorous you’ve got to be to ensure quality control when nuclear weapons are involved.”

That may be changing. Air Force leaders are making a fresh push to fix things.

When Deborah Lee James became Air Force secretary, its top civilian official, in December, she quickly made her way to each of the three ICBM bases and came away with a conviction that rhetoric was not matched by resources.

“One thing I discovered is we didn’t always put our money where our mouth is when it comes to saying this is the No. 1 mission,” James told reporters June 30 during a return visit to F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming.

James says the fixes will require money — and a lot more. They will take more people and a major attitude adjustment.

“I happen to think the top thing that really drives an airman is feeling like they’re making a difference … protecting America,” she said earlier in June. Missileers ought to feel that way, she said, but she is not convinced they do. “And so, over time, we’ve got to change that around.”

James said the Air Force will find $50 million in this year’s budget to make urgent fixes, and will invest an additional $350 million in improvements over the coming five years. Even that, she said, is unlikely to be enough and more funds will be sought.

Her words are resonating with some, including Maj. Steve Gorman, a maintenance operations squadron commander at Minot. He already is seeing signs of change. He points to a recent decision to add 13 new maintenance positions here.

“That’s a huge thing for us,” Gorman said.

Since its initial deployment in 1970, the Minuteman 3 missile itself has been upgraded in all its main components. But much of the rest of the system that keeps the weapon viable and secure has fallen on hard times.

One example is the Huey helicopter fleet, which escorts road convoys that move Minuteman missiles, warheads and other key components. It also moves armed security forces into the missile fields in an emergency, even though it’s too slow, too small, too vulnerable to attack and cannot fly sufficient distances.

It’s also old — Vietnam War old.

The seven Hueys flown daily at Minot were built in 1969. The yearly cost of keeping them running has more than doubled over the past four years, according to Air Force statistics — from $12.9 million in 2010 to $27.8 million last year.

“Obviously we need a new helicopter, based on the mission,” said Maj. Gen. Jack Weinstein, who as commander of 20th Air Force is responsible for the operation, maintenance and security of the full fleet of Minuteman missiles.

That’s what the Air Force has been saying since at least 2006. A 2008 Air Force study cited a “critical need” to replace the Hueys “to mitigate missile field security vulnerabilities” and said this need had been identified two years earlier.

In an Associated Press interview June 25 while visiting Minot, Weinstein said he was trying to persuade his superiors to buy a new fleet of more capable helicopters, but he said it was unclear whether that would happen before 2020.

Weinstein is more optimistic about other opportunities to fix his missile corps. He is implementing a “force improvement program” that was developed from hundreds of recommendations by rank-and-file ICBM force members. It is intended to begin erasing the perception that the nuclear mission is not a top priority, and to give the nuclear missile corps more people, money, equipment, training, educational opportunities and financial incentives.

Lt. Col. Brian Young, deputy commander of the 91st Maintenance Group at Minot, said he senses a turning point as top brass reach out to enlisted airmen and non-commissioned officers to solicit ideas about how to fix the force.

“This feels completely different than any initiative I’ve been associated with in my 22 years” in the Air Force, he said.

 

The Associated Press

The Associated Press

LEAVE A COMMENT

Discussion | No comments

The Daily Republic does not necessarily condone the comments here, nor does it review every post. Read our full policy

.

Solano News

Vallejo Symphony launches new season Sept. 21

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: B1

 
Prolific pears rule Courtland area

By Susan Winlow | From Page: A1 | Gallery

1 critical after 2 shot at Fairfield bus stop

By Jess Sullivan | From Page: A1, 22 Comments | Gallery

 
New role for symphony conductor begins next year

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: B1

 
Vallejo festival will celebrate Wilderness Act anniversary

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: B1

Hood-Courtland: Small towns boast interesting facts

By Susan Winlow | From Page: A1

 
Opponents: State water plan will destroy Delta

By Susan Winlow | From Page: A1, 5 Comments | Gallery

 
No plea as Vacaville homicide suspect appears in court

By Jess Sullivan | From Page: A3, 11 Comments | Gallery

 
Vacaville man convicted of fifth DUI

By Jess Sullivan | From Page: A3, 8 Comments

 
Suisun police plan holiday weekend checkpoint

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: A3, 4 Comments

 
 
Solano continues to deal with earthquake

By Barry Eberling | From Page: A4, 2 Comments

 
 
Bunting earns praise for role in paint case

By Barry Eberling | From Page: A5

Fairfield police log: Aug. 27, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A8

 
Suisun City police log: Aug. 27, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A8

Weather for Aug. 29, 2014

By Daily Republic | From Page: B14

 
.

US / World

Mom won’t be charged in school confrontation

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5, 1 Comment

 
California Supreme Court pick confirmed

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

Assembly approves statewide ban on plastic bags

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5, 2 Comments | Gallery

 
Feds to resume leasing for fracking in California

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

High school buddies followed similar path to jihad

By The Associated Press | From Page: A6

 
Drugs killed Oklahoma inmate in troubled execution

By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

US rebukes Oklahoma for ditching school standards

By The Associated Press | From Page: A8

 
Suit claims police brutality at Ferguson protests

By The Associated Press | From Page: A8, 2 Comments

Flight diverts to Boston over reclined-seat upset

By The Associated Press | From Page: A8, 1 Comment

 
Testimony wraps up in former Va. governor trial

By The Associated Press | From Page: A8

Q&A: Few laws govern children at shooting range

By The Associated Press | From Page: A8

 
Gun tourism grows in popularity in recent years

By The Associated Press | From Page: A8

Obama sets no timeline for action on immigration

By The Associated Press | From Page: A8, 2 Comments

 
4 killed in New Mexico crash of medical flight

By The Associated Press | From Page: A8

Obama rules out US military action in Ukraine

By The Associated Press | From Page: A9

 
UN Security Council meets on Ukraine crisis

By The Associated Press | From Page: A9

Russian columns enter Ukraine; leader urges calm

By The Associated Press | From Page: A9 | Gallery

 
UN: Ebola disease caseload could reach 20,000

By The Associated Press | From Page: A13

Attempt to call missing jet may alter search area

By The Associated Press | From Page: A13 | Gallery

 
Europe seeks role in postwar Gaza

By The Associated Press | From Page: A13 | Gallery

UN: Armed group detains 43 peacekeepers in Syria

By The Associated Press | From Page: A13

 
A look at the Islamic State militants in Syria

By The Associated Press | From Page: A13

Jihadists kill dozens of captured Syrian soldiers

By The Associated Press | From Page: A13

 
.

Opinion

How about keeping our ISIS plan secret?

By Bud Stevenson | From Page: A11, 26 Comments

 
What should the US do about the Islamic State?

By Ben Boychuk and Joel Mathis | From Page: A11, 4 Comments

 
Question of the week: Is US policy on hostages correct?

By Daily Republic | From Page: A11

More ways to help stop bullies

By Letter to the Editor | From Page: A11

 
.

Living

Community Calendar: Aug. 29, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A2

 
Today in History: Aug. 29, 2014

By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

How do I deal with my overweight cousin who smells like cat urine?

By Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar | From Page: B13, 1 Comment

 
Horoscopes: Aug. 29, 2014

By Holiday Mathis | From Page: B13

.

Entertainment

Week in preview Aug. 29-Sept. 4

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: B1

 
Review: ‘As Above’ so-so

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Review: Ex-007 actor spying again in ‘Nov. Man’

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2 | Gallery

 
Review: The case against binge-watching TV

By The Associated Press | From Page: B3 | Gallery

Entertainment calendar: Aug. 29, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: B4

 
Jolie, Pitt wed privately at chateau in France

By The Associated Press | From Page: B5

TVGrid

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A9

 
.

Sports

Prep football preview: Rio Vista looks to get back to playoffs

By Marcus Lomtong | From Page: B7 | Gallery

 
Angels rally in 10th for 4-3 win over Oakland

By The Associated Press | From Page: B7

Record-setting Petit leads Giants past Rockies 4-1

By The Associated Press | From Page: B7 | Gallery

 
Borland returns pick for TD, 49ers beat Texans

By The Associated Press | From Page: B7 | Gallery

Carr’s 3 TDs lead Raiders past Seahawks 41-31

By The Associated Press | From Page: B7

 
USC coach accepts some blame in Shaw situation

By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

Williams overcomes 3 early double-faults to win at U.S. Open

By The Associated Press | From Page: B8 | Gallery

 
Mickelson in a bind with 4 straight playoff events

By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

Weakened US team aims for world basketball title

By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

 
Rise in flags makes NFL defenders wary of contact

By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

After Rice, NFL increases domestic violence bans

By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

 
Local youngster will play baseball on national stage

By Marcus Lomtong | From Page: B9, 1 Comment | Gallery

Week Zero prep football capsules

By Paul Farmer | From Page: B9

 
Stewart returning to competition after fatal crash

By The Associated Press | From Page: B10 | Gallery

Signups for Friday, Aug. 29, 2014

By Paul Farmer | From Page: B10

 
Sports on TV/Local sports for Friday, Aug. 29, 2014

By Paul Farmer | From Page: B11

This date in sports history for Friday, Aug. 29, 2014

By The Associated Press | From Page: B11

 
Power looks for elusive IndyCar title at Fontana

By The Associated Press | From Page: B14

.

Business

M235i revives classic BMW memories

By Ann M. Job | From Page: C1

 
Ukraine conflict weighs on markets; Retailers fall

By The Associated Press | From Page: B6

Abercrombie name to shrink from clothing

By The Associated Press | From Page: B6, 1 Comment | Gallery

 
Survey: Americans’ pessimism on economy has grown

By The Associated Press | From Page: B6

Apple to unveil next products at Sept. 9 event

By The Associated Press | From Page: B6, 1 Comment | Gallery

 
Average US 30-year mortgage rate at 4.1 percent

By The Associated Press | From Page: B6

Obama touts revised economic growth numbers

By The Associated Press | From Page: B6

 
US economy grew at brisk 4.2 pct. rate in Q2

By The Associated Press | From Page: B6

.

Obituaries

Frank W. Moy Jr.

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4, 1 Comment

 
Gary Allen Person

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

.

Comics

Peanuts

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B12

 
Zits

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B12

B.C.

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B12

 
Rose is Rose

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B12

Frank and Ernest

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B12

 
Wizard of Id

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B12

Sally Forth

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B12

 
Garfield

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B12

Dilbert

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B12

 
Get Fuzzy

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B12

For Better or Worse

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B12

 
Baldo

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B12

Pickles

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B12

 
Beetle Bailey

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B12

Blondie

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B12

 
Baby Blues

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B12

Sudoku

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B13

 
Cryptoquote

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B13

Crossword

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B13

 
Word Sleuth

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B13