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FLASH: Former AF Missile Chief on Scandal List

UPDATE-- Lt. Gen. Michael A. Hamel, the former commander of the Air Force's Space and Missile Systems Center at Los Angeles Air Force Base, Calif., is one of the generals who has been punished in connection with the service's nuclear lapses. Hamel was reprimanded admonished, according to a source who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issue. He is retiring effective Oct. 1, according to the official Air Force web site. Hamel was responsible for managing the research, design, development, acquisition and sustainment of space and missile systems, launch, command and control, and operational satellite systems. The formal announcement of the punishments will be made at 3 p.m. today by Acting Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz.END UPDATE

In further fallout from the nuclear scandals that have plagued a beleaguered Air Force, the Pentagon is set to announce Thursday afternoon that at least seven general officers -- including at least one three-star general -- and five to seven colonels have been disciplined in connection with nuclear lapses, according to two sources familiar with the issue.

The generals are expected to be named; the colonels will remain anonymous.

A congressional aide confirmed the timing of the announcement but did not know how many officers were to be disciplined or what their punishments might be.

"They are holding this extraordinarily close," the aide said of Air Force and Pentagon officials.

Earlier sources – who sought anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter -- had indicated the number of general officers to be reprimanded stood at five, but that number has climbed since last week.

The Pentagon is expected to announce the names of the general officers and their punishments at 4 p.m. on Thursday, following a long meeting on Monday during which several of the punishments were reconsidered.

Sources declined to specify whether punishments were changed, nor would they name those to be disciplined. But there is clearly concern that the Air Force has rushed to judgment in an effort to put the nuclear mess behind it.

One source said he is not "convinced the Air Force did its own thorough investigation," adding the service accepted the Schlesinger and Donald reports about the nuclear lapses at face value "so they could make the 'sacrificial offering' and move on quickly."

A second source voiced similar concerns.

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.

Defense Secretary Robert 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.

A panel of 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.”

Most of the punishments to be announced are believed to be related to the mistaken shipment of nuclear fuses to Taiwan in 2006. The military was supposed to send helicopter batteries but mistakenly sent fuses used in the trigger mechanism for Minuteman missiles.

It is unclear whether the officials who are reprimanded Thursday will all be Airmen, with at least one source speculating that brass from the Defense Logistics Agency could get the axe.

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