Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is ordering top-to-bottom changes in how the U.S. nuclear force is operated and managed. This decision comes after a series of Associated Press stories revealed problems with management and morale in the people who control the worldâ€™s deadliest weapons. 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. HagelÂ believes that problems in the nation’s nuclear forces are rooted in a lack of investment, inattention by high-level leaders and sagging morale. Two reviews were ordered by Hagel earlier this year of the nuclear weapons programs, and they outlined a variety of deficiencies. 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 Navy, which operates nuclear-armed submarines, had a scandal of its own involving exam-cheating and has suffered from a shortage of personnel. Hagel’s reviews concluded that the structure of U.S. nuclear forces is so incoherent that it cannot be properly managed in its current form. He claims that this problem explains why top-level officials often are unaware of trouble below them. Hagel ordered two reviews in February, shortly after scandals in the Air Force and Navy Â prompted scrutiny. According to senior defense officials, 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 force, known as Global Strike Command. Itâ€™s currently a three-star position. He also OK’d a proposal to upgrade the top nuclear force official at Air Force headquarters in the Pentagon from a two-star general to a three-star, officials said. He concluded that despite tight Pentagon budgets, billions of dollars more will be needed over the next five years to upgrade equipment. The defense officials said Hagel would propose an amount between $1 billion and $10 billion in additional investment. An exact amount had not yet been determined. Hans Kristensen, a nuclear expert with the Federation of American Scientists, said he was skeptical that it would make much difference.
“Throwing money after problems may fix some technical issues but it is unlikely to resolve the dissolution that must come from sitting in a silo hole in the Midwest with missiles on high alert to respond to a nuclear attack that is unlikely to ever come.”
Just last week the Air Force fired two nuclear commanders and disciplined a third, providing evidence that leadership lapses are continuing even as top Air Force officials attempt to bring stability to the ICBM force.