Nuclear Review Finds Fault With Leaders, Sides with Lower-Ranking Personnel
An independent review of the Defense Department’s nuclear enterprise released Nov. 14 found a large disconnect between senior leaders and the lower-ranking personnel charged with safeguarding, maintaining and deploying the nation’s nuclear weapons arsenal.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel released the report at a Pentagon press conference before flying to Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota, to further discuss its findings with personnel there.
Hagel announced a series of proposals to revamp and replenish the military’s moribund nuclear forces, which have been rocked by a series of scandals. His proposal includes an additional $1.5 billion to be put towards the forces, a 10 percent increase over current levels.
Hagel in February appointed retired Air Force Gen. Larry Welch and retired Navy Adm. John C. Harvey Jr. to lead the independent review. The team visited more than a dozen facilities and interviewed personnel from all ranks, the 60-page report said. The review was completed in June, but released in November.
Their findings were highly critical of senior leaders, who were failing to support those under their command.
“Senior leadership declares that the nuclear mission is uniquely important. Yet, in their daily work, sailors, airmen and Marines experience shortages in the materiel, qualified personnel, facilities and funding support delivered to the forces,” the report said.
The military’s nuclear enterprise has been rocked by a series of scandals beginning in 2007 when an armed nuclear warhead was mistakenly flown from Minot to Louisiana.
The reaction to this incident was to create a culture of “inspection” — the personnel reliability program — where more importance was placed on reviews than the actual mission, the report said. An entire wing could fail if one airman had a bad day, it added. Inspectors came to have more power than the commanders, and morale declined under this unforgiving regime after 2007, it said.
“The forces see immediate, sometimes draconian, reaction to incidents that create negative publicity, followed after a few months by a return to business as usual. They do not see proactive approaches that resolve the issues negatively impacting their mission needs,” the report said.
As for the so-called nuclear enterprise, the report found that it was largely a window dressing.
“The review did not find a coherent, integrated structure and synchronized set of activities that could be characterized as a DoD ‘nuclear enterprise.’ Instead, the review found a loose federation of separate nuclear activities often imbedded in and indistinguishable from support for and execution of a wide range of non-nuclear activities,” the report said.
The review also found antiquated equipment, and a complete lack of will on the part of the Navy and Air Force to remedy the situation.
As for the Air Force, “missile crews in various Launch Control Centers cite equipment that remains broken for months or years, work orders that are five-years or more old, and conditions that shut down an LCC, which have been repeat issues for a decade. The LCCs are badly in need of an end-to-end survey of discrepancies and an urgent continuing program to address and correct the issues,” the report said.
Hagel in the press conference blamed chronic underfunding of the military’s nuclear enterprise during the Afghanistan and Iraq wars as a factor for this lack of materiel support.
“The internal and external reviews I ordered show that a consistent lack of investment and support for our nuclear forces over far too many years has left us with too little margin to cope with mounting stresses,” Hagel said.
“We will need to make billions of dollars of additional investments in the nuclear enterprise over the next five years,” he added.
“As long as we have nuclear weapons, we will and we must ensure that they are safe, secure and effective,” Hagel said.