Minot Air Force Base (North Dakota, US): Pledging firm action to support the men and women who handle the world's most powerful and deadly weapons, the Pentagon will spend an additional USD 10 billion to correct deep problems of neglect and mismanagement within the nation's nuclear forces, Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel said.
Hagel ordered top-to-bottom changes in the nuclear arsenal's management, which he said had been allowed over the years to backslide, afflicted by broken and missing equipment, poor leadership and inadequate training and staffing.
Hagel told a Pentagon news conference yesterday morning, before flying to Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota where many of the nuclear force troubles began, that the Defence Department will boost spending on the nuclear forces by about 10 per cent a year for the next five years, saying there is no problem on this issue the Pentagon can't fix. That would be a total increase of about USD 10 billion over the five years.
Currently the Pentagon spends about USD 15 billion a year on the nuclear mission.
"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," said Hagel, who was flanked by senior Air Force and Navy officers. "The root cause has been a lack of sustained focus, attention and resources, resulting in a pervasive sense that a career in the nuclear enterprise offers too few opportunities for growth and advancement."
Hagel, who was getting briefings at Minot yesterday and then planning to speak to airmen there, ordered two reviews in February, one by Pentagon officials and a second by outside experts, as a result of a series of Associated Press stories that revealed lapses in leadership, morale, safety and security at the nation's three nuclear Air Force bases.
Hagel acknowledged years of neglect since the Cold War's end rendered America's nuclear mission less relevant in a world of drones and counterterrorism. And he vowed renewed accountability.
One of Hagel's predecessors, Robert Gates, fired his top military and civilian Air Force leaders in 2008 because of similar problems. But Hagel said, "Previous reviews of our nuclear enterprise lacked clear follow-up mechanisms."
The new reviews concluded that the management structure of US nuclear forces is so incoherent that top-level officials often are unaware of trouble below them. The reviews also found a "disconnect" between what nuclear force leaders say and what they provide to troops in the field.
To illustrate the degree of decay in the intercontinental ballistic missile force, the reviews found that maintenance crews had access to only one tool set required to tighten bolts on the warhead end of the Minuteman 3 missile, and that this single tool set was being used by crews at all three ICBM bases, in North Dakota, Wyoming and Montana. When one crew needed it, it was sent by another, by Federal Express.
Hagel said yesterday the crews now have tool kits at each of the three bases and will soon get two each.