The US Air Force disclosed on Wednesday that 34 officers entrusted with the world’s deadliest weapons have been removed from launch duty for allegedly cheating, or tolerating cheating, on routine proficiency tests.
A “profoundly disappointed” Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James, the service’s top civilian official, told a Pentagon news conference on Wednesday that the alleged cheating at Malmstrom base in Montana was discovered during an investigation into drug possession by 11 officers, two of whom are also in the nuclear force and suspected of participating in the cheating ring.
A spokesman for US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel told AP the Pentagon chief, who just last week visited a nuclear missile base and praised the force for its professionalism, was “deeply troubled” by the allegations.
James said she will travel to each of the Air Force’s three nuclear missile bases next week on a fact-finding mission to learn more about conditions within the missile launch force and the more senior officers who manage them.
“I want all of you to know that, based on everything I know today, I have great confidence in the security and the effectiveness of our ICBM [intercontinental ballistic missile] force,” she said. “I want you to know that this was a failure of some of our airmen. It was not a failure of the nuclear mission.” James, who has been in the job for only four weeks, said the entire ICBM launch officer force of about 600 is being retested this week.
There are about 190 ICBM launch officers stationed at Malmstrom. The drug investigation that led to the discovery of the alleged cheating was disclosed by the Pentagon last week. It said then that it involved 10 officers at six bases – five in the US and one in England. On Wednesday, the Air Force said the number of suspects has grown to 11.
The scandal is the latest in a series of Air Force nuclear stumbles, including deliberate violations of safety rules, failures of inspections, breakdowns in training, and evidence that the men and women who operate the missiles from underground command posts are suffering burnout.
In October, the commander of the nuclear missile force was fired for engaging in embarrassing behaviour, including drunkenness, while leading a US delegation to a nuclear exercise in Russia.
(FRANCE 24 with AP)
Date created : 2014-01-16