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Nuke Panel Urges Big AF Changes

Saying they were surprised by the extent of the "erosion" in the quality of the Air Force's management of its nuclear weapons since the end of the Cold War, a panel of greybeards led by former Defense Secretary James Schlesinger wants Air Force Space Command folded into a new Air Force Strategic Command and urges a range of other measures to ensure airmen dealing with nukes "feel they are part of an important mission."

Bringing back something like Strategic Air Command is the biggest organizational and functional change recommended by the Task Force on DoD Nuclear Weapons management, which was created by Defense Secretary Gates after several high profile cock-ups involving nuclear weapons or their components. The creation of Space Command has meant that space had attracted "some of the glamor" and left missileers feeling like second tier players. Schlesinger noted that most officers, if they wanted promotions and a decent career path, had to become space qualified and stay in that slot. "Some of the glamor will now move back to the nuclear mission," he said. (Maybe this will mean a new version of that classic 1955 Jimmy Stewart movie, "Strategic Air Command?")

The panel also recommends adding about 2,000 people to the ranks of those Air Force personnel who deal with nuclear matters, Schlesinger told reporters at a Friday Pentagon briefing. They also want a single bomber numbered air force created that is responsible for the traditional service responsibilities of organizing, training and equipping. It would be assigned to the new Air Force Strategic Command.

One of the panel's main goals, aside from the primary goal of restoring a special sense of mission to those in the Air Force who deal with nuclear matters, is to restore confidence among America's allies that the US nuclear deterrence means something and is reliable. Schlesinger said he thought restoring this confidence would take six months to a year.

In addition, the Air Force itself has 180 action items it is working to rebuild the management and operations of its nuclear assets, Schlesinger said.

Although there had been rumors that the Air Force's cyber command, currently in limbo, would be folded into the new Strategic Command, that was not one of the panel's recommendations. "this is a problem that will have to be sorted out," Schlesinger said, adding that he did see similarities between the nuclear and cyber missions.

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