Air Force Benches 17 ICBM Officers After Failed Inspection

On the radar: Failures and indiscipline; Small stockpile, huge expense; An open letter on missile defense; President Park in Washington; North Korea’s missile mockups; France’s arsenal and defense spending; and Rodman asks for a solid.

May 8, 2013 | Edited by Benjamin Loehrke and Alyssa Demus

Rot in the ranks - The Air Force stripped 17 officers of their ability to launch nuclear missiles after a series of failed inspections. This public failure is a symptom of broader “rot” in the missile wing’s performance and discipline, noted the group’s deputy commander.

--What happened: In a March inspection, the 91st Missile Wing at Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota earned a near-failing grade when tested on its ability to perform Minuteman III missile launch operations. Senior officers at Minot decided to take the unprecedented step of sidelining 17 officers and seeking disciplinary action against another officer who purposefully broke missile safety rules.

--Comforting: “officers who lost their certification to operate ICBMs are now getting more training with the expectation that they will return to normal duty within about two months. The missiles remain on their normal war footing,” reports Robert Burns for AP

Stockpile, budget preservation - In his first term President Obama made a commitment to reduce the role and number of nuclear weapons in the U.S. arsenal. Yet, his 2014 budget proposal - which boosts funding for nuclear weapons programs to $7.9 billion - often contrasts with that policy goal.

--The president justified the increased funding by saying that U.S. “national security depends on it.” Experts in the field disagree. Some say stockpile stewardship “has been far more expensive than it needs to be,” given the current threats and capabilities needed to address those threats. Others say that budgets remain high to “keep people employed,” and politicians placated. Jeff Tollefson has the full story at Scientific American.

--Graph: “The US Department of Energy is Spending as much to maintain its nuclear weapons now as it did at the end of the Cold War, when it had thousands more warheads.”

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Quote - “The absence of mission definition, the absence of an architecture and the continuing ad-hoc political exhortations to spend more money on contractor concepts without proper government oversight shows that the United States has never had ‘an articulated missile defense strategy’ from President Reagan’s speech onward,” writes an anonymous analyst in response to some political messaging on missile defense from Rep. Michael Turner (R-OH) in a letter to President Obama.

--The author’s modest recommendations include: “Jointly establish the acceptable risk levels and resource constraints appropriate to achieve the missile defense national security mission without endangering the fiscal security of the nation.” Open letter at Arms Control Wonk.

Park and denuclearization - “Both the United States and the Republic of Korea are determined to achieve the peaceful denuclearization of North Korea and are working with other Six-Party Talks partners and the international community to insist that North Korea adheres to its international obligations and commitments,” says a joint declaration from South Korean President Park Geun-hye and President Barack Obama.

--”While we invite North Korea to take the path that leads out of isolation and to join the community of nations as a responsible member, we are resolved to continue to defend our citizens against North Korea’s provocations by strengthening our comprehensive, interoperable, and combined defense capabilities, to include shared efforts to counter the missile threat posed by North Korea and integrated intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance systems.” Statement posted at

--President Park will address a joint session of Congress today. Here’s how the presidents’ meeting yesterday played in the news: “Obama, South Korea’s Park present united front against North Korea at joint appearance” by Scott Wilson and Karen DeYoung for The Washington Post.

Tweet - @Diplomat_APAC: India says Pakistan's tactical nukes will be met with "massive" nuke response that will "inflict unacceptable damage"

Real fake or full fiction? - As tensions with North Korea subside, one question remains unanswered: could the North’s missiles reach U.S. territory? Last April, it appeared as though the answer might be “yes” when North Korea unveiled the KN-08, or what looked like a road-mobile ICBM. However, when experts took a closer look, doubts about the missiles’ authenticity arose.

--When examining photos and videos of the missiles, experts noticed “that some things seemed off.” Each of the six missiles looked slightly different from the next; “fuel ports were in weird places...cables looked like they weren’t laid correctly; and the missile’s warheads appeared to be made of cheap metal sheeting, or perhaps wood,” which led many experts to conclude they were not the real deal. However, it is common practice to make mock-up missiles before missiles are built. So are the fakes part of a real program or pure fiction asks Geoff Brumfiel at NPR? Full story here.

Remarks - “Advancing the Prague Nuclear Risk Reduction Agenda,” remarks by former Under Secretary of State Ellen Tauscher at the Arms Control Association Annual Meeting. May 6, 2013. (pdf)

The last to désarme - While France intends decrease to defense spending, it’s recent defense white paper “says nothing about changing or reducing French nuclear forces,” writes Lt. Gen. Frank Klotz at The National Interest.

--France’s nuclear modernization programs are well-underway - feilding new subs, fighters and weapons - leaving only the potential for marginal savings from any operations and maintenance if France were to reduce its arsenal. “Given the prominent and continued role that nuclear forces play in the overall French strategy, the government is apparently not willing to go after them,” writes Klotz. Full post here.

Tweet - @ctbto_alerts: Finally - all legal resources on the #nuclear-test ban treaty #CTBT, neatly together, in all available languages.


--Senate Armed Services Subcommittee hearing on strategic forces programs in the NNSA budget. With Neile Miller, Don Cook, Adm. John Richardson, David Huizenga and David Trimble. May 8th at 2:30pm. Webcast here.

--"Plutopia: Nuclear Families, Atomic Cities, and the Great Soviet and American Plutonium Disasters." Kate Brown. May 8, 4:00-5:30pm @ Wilson Center, sixth floor, Reagan Building. Details here. http:/

--House Armed Services Subcommittee hearing on strategic forces programs in the NNSA budget. With Gen. Robert Kehler, Madelyn Creedon, Neile Miller, Don Cook, Adm. John Richardson, Andrew Weber, David Huizenga and Peter Winokur. May 9th from 9:00-11:00am. Webcast here.


Tweet - @dennisrodman: I'm calling on the Supreme Leader of North Korea or as I call him "Kim", to do me a solid and cut Kenneth Bae loose.