WASHINGTON — The Air Force stripped an unprecedented 17 officers of their authority to control — and, if necessary, launch — nuclear missiles after a string of unpublicized failings, including a remarkably dim review of their unit’s launch skills. The group’s deputy commander said it is suffering “rot” within its ranks.
“We are, in fact, in a crisis right now,” the commander, Lt. Col. Jay Folds, wrote in an internal email obtained by The Associated Press and confirmed by the Air Force.
Asked about this at a Senate hearing Wednesday, Air Force Secretary Michael Donley, the service’s top official, explained the problem by stressing that launch control officers are relatively junior in rank — lieutenants and captains — and need to be reminded continually of the importance of “this awesome responsibility” for which they have been trained.
Donley said commanders must “ride herd” on the launch crews, and he said the Minot revelation shows that the Air Force has strengthened its inspection system. He said he is confident that the nuclear missile force is secure.
At the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel was briefed on the Minot matter by his senior staff and asked for additional information, according to his spokesman, George Little.