Four days ago I wrote this:
In approaching these reforms, it’s undoubtedly best to take a fresh look, especially given that the Triad was as much a result of service in-fighting as a rational strategic choice.
Such a review is particularly necessary given that it has become apparent, over the last decade, that the Air Force itself has lost interest in its nuclear arsenal; a long series of incidents, from a nuclear weapon-laden B-52 taking off from Minot to the recent set of revelations about unpreparedness and unprofessionalism amongst missile crews.
A cynic, or a recently retired Secretary of Defense, might suggest that the USAF no longer sees its nuclear assets as a serious bureaucratic bargaining chip.
And so, given that the Air Force itself no longer seems to take its nuclear responsibilities very seriously, it might behoove us all to rethink how the United States ought to approach nuclear deterrence, especially in context of a threat environment radically different than the one that existed in 1963.
And now this:
The Air Force said on Wednesday that 34 officers responsible for launching the nation’s nuclear missiles had been suspended, and their security clearances revoked, for cheating on monthly proficiency tests that assess their knowledge of how to operate the warheads.
At a news conference, Deborah Lee James, the secretary of the Air Force, said the officers, at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana, either knew about or took part in texting answers to the routine monthly tests.
Eleven Air Force officers — including two accused in the Malmstrom cheating scandal, as well as one other nuclear missile officer — have also been the focus of suspicion in an illegal drugs investigation, defense officials said.
Although the Air Force has been plagued in recent years by scandals, the current revelations are particularly alarming because they involve America’s nuclear arsenal, where errors could be catastrophic.
It’s difficult to maintain discipline when no one in the command believes that they’ll ever have to actually perform their central duty. The three service system isn’t the only reason why it’s difficult to engage in serious reform (the nuclear labs themselves are influential), but it’s certainly part of the problem; the allocation of resources to modernization becomes a push-pull fight between the Air Force and the Navy instead of a sensible accounting of which Triad legs are most important and most survivable.