Earlier this month, Defense Secretary Robert Gates took the unprecedented step of demanding the resignations of the Air Force Secretary and the service’s Chief of Staff. In explaining his decision, Dr. Gates cited the erosion of Air Force nuclear standards and the inability of senior leadership to reverse that trend. The resignations came just days after the defense chief received a damning report on Air Force nuclear safeguards.
So far, the Pentagon has not released even a redacted copy of that assessment, compiled by Navy Admiral Kirkland Donald. But Demetri Sevastopulo of the Financial Times has obtained limited details of that report, and they affirm serious problems within the Air Force nuclear program.
Mr. Sevastopulo’s sources are described as “government officials” who are familiar with the Donald inquiry. Reading between the lines, it seems clear that his sources are on Capitol Hill, since the information was passed after Admiral Donald’s briefed members of Congress on Wednesday. At this rate, a full “leak” of the report is probably imminent.
According to the FT, the Donald investigation found more than 1,000 nuclear components missing from the DoD inventory. It is assumed that most of those items were under Air Force control, since the Donald investigation focused on the service’s nuclear program.
The inquiry was prompted by a pair of high-profile nuclear incidents involving Air Force personnel. Last August, a B-52 bomber mistakenly ferried six nuclear-tipped cruise missiles between bases in North Dakota and Louisiana. Earlier this year, it was revealed that a logistics unit at Hill AFB, Utah inadvertently shipped nuclear missile nose cones to Taiwan.
While there is no indication that any of the missing items would up in the wrong hands, a senior defense official told the FT that Admiral Donald’s report “identified issues about record keeping” for sensitive nuclear components. His investigation also revealed a “lack of effective oversight by Air Force leadership,” a finding that resulted in the resignations of USAF Secretary Mike Wynne, and the service’s Chief of Staff, General Michael Moseley.
Details of the Donald investigation represent yet another blow for the Air Force, which has suffered through a series of scandals and blunders over the past five years. The Admiral’s presentation on USAF nuclear problems was delivered on the same day that the Government Accountability Office upheld Boeing’s protest of the Air Force tanker contract—a move that one analyst described as a “sweeping denunciation” of the service’s acquisition programs.
And, if that weren’t enough, the USAF Inspector General confirmed earlier this week that the Chief of the Air Force Reserve, Lieutenant General John Bradley, is under investigation.
The nature of the inquiry has not been revealed, but Bradley’s retirement, originally scheduled for 24 June, has been put on hold until the investigation is completed.