Defense Secretary Robert Gates will announce a range of punishments for at least five general officers and possibly several colonels for lapses connected with the nation's nuclear weapons.
Several senior Air Force generals declined to comment about the disciplinary actions this afternoon at the Air Force Association's annual conference. All the officers are reported to be from the Air Force. A congressional aide confirmed the Defense Department told lawmakers yesterday about the impending disciplinary actions. The aide did not know the names of those to be punished. Sources declined to identify them until the punishments were officially announced.
A report by Navy Adm. Kirkland H. Donald, director of naval nuclear propulsion, into the nuclear enterprise detailed a loss of oversight from senior Air Force leaders and lowered performance related to the nuclear mission.
Gates had to intervene personally and ordered Donald's review after sensitive nuclear parts were sent mistakenly to Taiwan and a B-52 bomber flew across the country carrying six armed nuclear cruise missiles.
Last week, a panel of august experts led by former Defense Secretary James Schlesinger said they had been surprised by the erosion of controls over nuclear weapons since the end of the Cold War and recommended that Air Force Space Command be folded into a new Air Force Strategic Command and urged 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 glamour" 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 glamour will now move back to the nuclear mission," he said.
The panel also recommended adding about 2,000 people to the ranks of those Air Force personnel who deal with nuclear matters, Schlesinger told reporters. 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.