Home / Robert Farley / Where are My Missiles?

Where are My Missiles?


So, the Air Force is still having problems with its nuclear weapons:

The Air Force swears there was no panic. But for three-quarters of an hour Saturday morning, launch control officers at F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming couldn’t reliably communicate or monitor the status of 50 Minuteman III nuclear missiles. Gulp.

Backup security and communications systems, located elsewhere on the base, allowed the intercontinental ballistic missiles to be continually monitored. But the outage is considered serious enough that the very highest rungs on the chain of command — including the President — are being briefed on the incident today.

A single hardware failure appears to have been the root cause of the disruption, which snarled communications on the network that links the five launch control centers and 50 silos of the 319th Missile Squadron. Multiple error codes were reported, including “launch facility down.”

Whatever the specific cause of this incident, the wider pattern speaks to an organization no longer particularly interested in this mission. ICBMs are no longer sexy; the best officers go into other fields, training and recruitment suffer, and maintenance becomes a problem. Further incidents like this are inevitable.

Moreover, I fail to see the logic of this:

The incident comes at a particularly tricky time for the Obama administration, which is struggling to get the Senate to ratify a nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia. In conservative political circles, there’s a distrust of the nuclear cuts — and a demand that they be matched with investments in atomic weapon upgrades. Saturday’s shutdown will undoubtedly bolster that view.

Really? The failure of the Air Force to maintain control over 50 ICBMs will bolster the view that the United States needs to invest in a new generation of nuclear weapons? You’ll excuse me if I fail to see how we get from A to B on that one. The nuclear warheads atop the missiles did not fail; communications to the delivery systems did. Having the spiffiest RRW in the whole darned world wouldn’t have mattered a bit, and indeed would have been a profound waste of money if the missiles hadn’t fired. I wasn’t aware that we had to buy into the “This is excellent news for John McCain!” trope every time the Air Force screwed up. New START opponents may well invoke this incident, but there’s no reason that sensible people should pretend to take them seriously.

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