Malmstrom missile wing fails nuke inspection
By Michael Hoffman - Staff writer
Posted : Wednesday Nov 12, 2008 17:07:09 EST
The 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont., failed its nuclear surety inspection after inspectors found problems with wing’s Maintenance Group and its personnel reliability program, which monitors who can work with nuclear weapons, an Air Force official said.
Gen. Robert Kehler, head of Air Force Space Command, allowed the wing to keep its certification to handle nuclear weapons with Space Command inspectors scheduled to return in 90 days to re-inspect the areas where it found deficiencies, according to an official statement from Space Command.
The 341st is one of three Air Force wings that maintain the nation’s Minuteman III nuclear intercontinental ballistic missiles.
An NSI takes place every 18 months and measures a unit’s readiness to execute nuclear operations. The two-week inspection, which was held at the same time as an operational readiness exercise, ended Nov. 10.
Inspectors found minor deficiencies with the way security forces protected the weapons storage area during the inspection, said an Air Force officer briefed on the inspection results who asked to remain anonymous.
Earlier this year the 5th Bomb Wing at Minot Air Force Base, N.D., failed its NSI after problems were found with its security forces. Those problems have since been corrected, said 5th Bomb Wing commander Col. Joel Westa.
The 341st passed the missile operations portion of the inspection, the officer said, but standards are stringent enough that a unit fails if critical errors are found in any portion.
Air Force Space Command leaders do not plan on firing any members of the 341st command.
“Air Force Space Command leadership believes that the right leadership is in place at the 341st Missile Wing to put the essential corrective actions in place,” according to a Space Command press release.
The failure comes as the Air Force continues to overhaul how it executes and oversees nuclear inspections.
Task forces charged with critiquing the Air Force’s nuclear enterprise — including one led by former Defense Secretary James Schlesinger — have consistently faulted the service’s nuclear inspection regime.
“Over the past 10 years, inspection pass rates point to anomalies that indicate a systemic problem in the inspection regime,” according to the Schlesinger report.
Nuclear bases moved to no-notice inspections in June, though the 341st knew about this NSI because it had been previously scheduled.
Inspectors have become much more rigid with the increased scrutiny of the Air Force nuclear community — making it even harder to pass the challenging test, the Air Force officer said.
The 90th Missile Wing at F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyo., will be the next wing to receive an NSI; inspectors are scheduled to arrive Dec. 3.