The Navy discovered a cheating scandal that involved senior enlisted sailors taking a training test dealing with Navy nuclear reactors, service officials announced Tuesday.
Adm. Jonathan Greenert, the chief of Naval Operations, said Tuesday that the cheating involved senior enlisted members of the training staff at the Charleston, S.C., Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program.
"To say I'm disappointed would be an understatement, whenever I hear about integrity issues," Greenert said at a Pentagon briefing. "We expect more from our sailors, especially our senior sailors."
Adm. John Richardson, director of the Propulsion Program, said the cheating was discovered earlier this week when those allegedly involved in the cheating ring tried to induce another sailor into joining in compromising the tests. The sailor instead reported the cheating to commanders, Richardson said.
Richardson said those who compromised tests numbered fewer than 20, but he declined to state how many were suspected of being involved as an investigation continues.
Greenert said "we don't know where it's going to go. We may find more. We're in the early stages of this."
Last week, Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James disclosed that at least 92 nuclear missile launch officers at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana were suspected of involvement in cheating on monthly proficiency tests.
The 92 Air Force officers, all lieutenants and captains, were de-certified from their duties in charge of Minuteman III nuclear missiles and ordered to undergo re-training and re-testing while an investigation continues and penalties are considered.
Richardson and Greenert said that the suspects in the Charleston investigation were also being suspended from duty and barred from access to the school or classified information.
"If these allegations are substantiated, we will hold those responsible accountable," Greenert said. Richardson said penalties could include forced retirement from the Navy. To date, no commanders in either the Air Force or Navy cheating scandals have been disciplined.
As director of the Navy's nuclear propulsion programs, "I take full responsibility for this incident," Richardson said. The only incident comparable to the suspected cheating at Charleston occurred in 2010 aboard the nuclear attack submarine Memphis, Richardson said.
The commanding officer of the Memphis, Cmdr. Charles Maher, was relieved of command and 13 crew members suspected of cheating on tests to qualify for operation of the sub's nuclear reactor were taken off the sub and most were later forced out of the Navy.
The cheating on the Memphis allegedly involved the e-mailing of answers. Richardson said e-mails were not used in the suspected cheating at Charleston, but he cautioned that the investigation was only beginning.
At Charleston, the Navy maintains two converted nuclear submarines which serve as schools for training in the operation, maintenance and security of reactors that provide power for propulsion of aircraft carriers and submarines.
In the Air Force scandal, Air Force officials said that the cheating appeared to be a "systemic" personnel problem that may have stemmed from the belief among young officers that they had to score 100 percent on the tests to gain advancement.
"We don't really see that as a dynamic here" in the Navy investigation, Richardson said. "I don't perceive that there's an element of 'you have to make the highest grade,'" Richardson said.