Tuesday, July 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

 
Library teens plan summer reading party

By Glen Faison | From Page: A5

 
Weather for Tuesday, July 29, 2014

By Daily Republic staff | From Page:

 
Big-rig driver strikes telephone lines in Fairfield

By Ryan McCarthy | From Page: A5, 1 Comment | Gallery

 
Fairfield police log: July 27, 2014

By Glen Faison | From Page: A12

Suisun City police log: June 27, 2014

By Glen Faison | From Page: A12

 
Caltrans makes I-80 lane change

By Barry Eberling | From Page: A5, 3 Comments

 
Fairfield tries to end Cordelia Road detour

By Barry Eberling | From Page: A3, 14 Comments | Gallery

 
‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ primed for big screen

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: A7

.

US / World

 
Sacramento Gold Rush Days canceled due to drought

By The Associated Press | From Page:

Annoying minor floods are increasing on US coasts

By The Associated Press | From Page: , 1 Comment

 
Man charged in teen’s 9-month disappearance

By The Associated Press | From Page: | Gallery

 
Deal to improve veterans’ health care costs $17B

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

Suspect dead, 2 marshals and cop wounded in NYC

By The Associated Press | From Page: | Gallery

 
New fears about Ebola spread after plane scare

By The Associated Press | From Page:

In Iraq’s Mosul, radicals unleash their vision

By The Associated Press | From Page: , 1 Comment

 
Fighting in Ukraine prompts residents to flee

By The Associated Press | From Page: | Gallery

 
Witnesses: Thunderstorm hit beach without warning

By The Associated Press | From Page: | Gallery

Suspect’s mom also charged in Long Beach burglary

By The Associated Press | From Page:

 
City: Emails show ‘cozy’ ties of PG&E, regulator

By The Associated Press | From Page: | Gallery

Pool water dumped in South Tahoe; resort fires 3

By The Associated Press | From Page:

 
Additional charge filed in California wildfire

By The Associated Press | From Page:

California governor takes dig at Texas guard plan

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

 
.

Opinion

Editorial cartoons for July 29, 2014

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page:

 
 
.

Living

Horoscopes for July 29, 2014

By Holiday Mathis | From Page: B5

 
Today in History for July 29, 2014

By The Associated Press | From Page:

I don’t want to have intimate contact since learning I had a STD

By Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar | From Page:

 
Community Calendar: July 29, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page:

.

Entertainment

Kevin Bacon brings his ‘Six Degrees’ to Comic-Con

By The Associated Press | From Page:

 
Sarah Palin launches online subscription channel

By The Associated Press | From Page: | Gallery

‘Sharknado’ sequel has bite and lots of laughs

By Frazier Moore | From Page: | Gallery

 
TVGrid July 29

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

.

Sports

Giants lose 5th straight, 5-0 to Pirates

By The Associated Press | From Page:

 
 
Lakers finally confirm Byron Scott is new coach

By The Associated Press | From Page:

Raiders relying on healthy Watson to solidify line

By The Associated Press | From Page:

 
This date in sports history for Tuesday, July 29, 2014

By The Associated Press | From Page:

Quarterback Johnny Manziel’s day at Browns camp

By The Associated Press | From Page: | Gallery

 
Judge OKs record-setting $2B sale of Clippers

By The Associated Press | From Page: | Gallery

Humphrey to savor Hall of Fame day with ‘wingman’

By The Associated Press | From Page:

 
Rays’ Archer: ‘Never saw Hank Aaron flip his bat’

By The Associated Press | From Page:

 
Reed HOF induction gives Bills cause to celebrate

By The Associated Press | From Page: | Gallery

In the Pits: Gordon eyeing 5th title after big Brickyard win

By Jenna Fryer | From Page: | Gallery

 
Marketing agreement an obstacle in US bid for 2024

By The Associated Press | From Page:

Sailors to navigate dirty water in 1st Rio test

By The Associated Press | From Page:

 
Manningham back with Giants, with no guarantees

By The Associated Press | From Page:

.

Business

Contracts to buy US homes slip in June

By The Associated Press | From Page: | Gallery

 
FAA proposes to fine Southwest Airlines $12M

By The Associated Press | From Page: | Gallery

Stocks pause as traders await key economic news

By The Associated Press | From Page:

 
Zillow buying Trulia to build real estate titan

By The Associated Press | From Page: | Gallery

Dollar Tree steps up fight, buys Family Dollar

By The Associated Press | From Page: | Gallery

 
.

Obituaries

.

Comics

B.C. July 29

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Get Fuzzy July 29

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Baldo July 29

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Baby Blues July 29

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Rose is Rose July 29

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Zits July 29

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Crossword July 29

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

 
Garfield July 29

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Pickles July 29

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Beetle Bailey July 29

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Frank and Ernest July 29

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Word Sleuth July 29

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

Peanuts July 29

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Cryptoquote July 29

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

For Better or Worse July 29

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Bridge July 29

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

Wizard of Id July 29

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Dilbert July 29

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Sally Forth July 29

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Blondie July 29

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Sudoku July 29

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5