The handling of US nuclear weapons and policy were recently center‐stage due to two different events. First was the release on October 24 of a report billed as a nuclear weapons roadmap for the future by the US Air Force. Titled “Reinvigorating the Air Force Nuclear Enterprise”, it called for the establishment of a global strike command and a headquarters for air force staff to handle nuclear assets.
This in itself is not a bad thing, and it is worth remembering what led to it. The secretary of the air force created the air force nuclear task force to develop a strategic roadmap after air force officials discovering three serious security miscues. First, in August 2007, a B-52 Stratofortress bomber mistakenly flew six warheads from Minot air force base, in North Dakota, to Barksdale air force base in Louisiana. Second, during the same incident there was an unauthorized transfer of nuclear cruise missiles munitions from Minot to Barksdale. Additionally, an inadvertent shipment of sensitive nuclear missile components, labeled as helicopter batteries, was shipped to Taiwan in 2006.
Even before the B-52 security misadventures at Minot had so badly eroded US nuclear security, things had already digressed to such a level that instead of using orange cones and multiple placards to distinguish racks of non‐nuclear missiles from nuclear‐tipped ones, the 5th Bomb Wing was using 8‐by‐10‐inch sheets of paper placed on the pylons.
To improve current operations and properly train personnel, air force officials will undertake a series of action plans to address the root causes of the recent problems. The action plans implement approximately 100 recommendations, including:
- Increase institutional focus and oversight by establishing an air force global strike command, led by a lieutenant general, and a strategic deterrence and nuclear integration staff office.
- Consolidate sustainment functions under air force materiel command’s air force nuclear weapons center.
- Implement a centralized nuclear surety inspection process.
- Implement a global deterrent force approach for bomber operations that balances current global commitments with dedicated periods for personnel to focus on nuclear operations training and proficiency.
- Consolidate planning, programming, budgeting and execution of nuclear enterprise elements.
- Create strategic investment plans that address long‐term nuclear requirements, including those for cruise missiles, bombers, dual‐capable aircraft and intercontinental ballistic missiles.
- Establish positive inventory control measures for nuclear weapons‐related material.
It is intriguing to read the “roadmap” to see what officials believe is the reason for lax security over US nuclear weapons. In what could be described as Strangeglovian reasoning, many blame the Cold War, or to be more precise, the Cold War’s end. The executive summary reads: