Friday, November 21, 2008

What Happened at Barksdale?

In the aftermath of those infamous nuclear incidents at Minot AFB, North Dakota and Hill AFB, Utah, the Air Force has implemented major reforms within its nuclear enterprise.

Among the many changes is a new evaluation program, built around "no notice" inspections. Under the old system, nuclear-capable units received notice of evaluations months in advance, giving them time to prepare.

However, a number of Air Force wings still managed to flunk their nuclear surety inspections, which measures unit readiness in categories ranging from maintenance to safety. By one estimate, roughly half of the service's nuclear units failed their inspections over the past decade.

The "no-notice" approach is designed to help reverse that trend, forcing units to prepare for evaluations that could, quite literally, occur at any time.

But will the new inspection scheme achieve the desired results? The jury's still out on that one, for a couple of reasons. First, the new evaluation system is in its infancy, and secondly, it's hard to tell how units are faring under no-notice inspections.

Case in point: the 2nd Bomb Wing at Barksdale AFB, Louisiana. Last week, the B-52 unit became the first Air Force wing to undergo a no-notice NSI. But results of the evaluation have not been released, raising speculation that the wing fared poorly.

In fairness, the USAF discourages the public release of inspection results. But, if you do a Google search of results for Operational Readiness Inspections or NSIs, you'll find plenty of units who trumpet the outcome of successful evaluations, and a few that acknowledge less-than-impressive results.

Earlier this month, the 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom AFB, Montana announced that it had failed a nuclear surety inspection, but there would be no changes in wing leadership. In May of this year, the 5th Bomb Wing at Minot also flunked an NSI, but those results were first revealed by this blog, not the unit's public affairs office. The unit later confirmed that there were discrepancies in the evaluation, which prompted another visit from inspection teams in August. During that inspection, the 5th Wing earned passing grades.

Officially, the results of the Barksdale NSI have not been released and there's no requirement for the 2nd Bomb Wing to disclose them. But in light of recent failures, the public is entitled to greater transparency regarding Air Force nuclear operations. That's why the unit would be well-served by revealing the overall grade on its recent NSI, without divulging details that could compromise security.

But don't hold your breath. Barksdale never announced the results of its previous nuclear inspection, which occurred less than a month after the Minot mishap in 2007. In From the Cold filed a Freedom of Information Act request for results of that evaluation. We're still waiting for a response.


Carioca Canuck said...

Someone should sit these clowns down and show them the film "A Gathering of Eagles".........

No notice is the way it should screw up, you get fired. Period.

kitanis said...

In the later part of my career. I noticed that inspections were being runned like a sporting events.. Multiple excersises to prepare for the main inspection.. to get a "good score".

I agree.. No Notice inspections should be the norm and leadership should be be accountable. But that same leadership should be holding the troops accountable to procedures at all times.

commoncents said...

Great post!

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Ed Rasimus said...

Do we have a bit of wheel reinvention here? ORI's for strategic and tactical forces date back to the advent of the nuclear force. TAC-Evals and safety inspections and HHQ IG Team visits and who knows what else. Some scheduled but most were no-notice. Plus your own local Stan-Eval bunch to check up on subordinate units within the wing.

I don't think this is some "new" creation. I also think we need to remember that the entire inspection system is supposed to be about correcting and improving, not about punishing.

An inspection visit generates a report and the report has details of shortcomings. They get fixed and corrective action is reported. A subsequent visit verifies the effectiveness of the fix.

And, let us also not forget that in a bureaucracy like the military inspections can often be "witch hunts" specifically to justify a staff change or to make a point.

There is always a bit more than meets the eye.

BuckeySandy said...

Really, I think there might be a couple of us old fart retirees that might have an old copy of the regulations.

That's what happens when you go from a regulation that has the same "kick" as an order to Air Force Instructions that were always a bit more lax and did not have the "kick" that regulations had.

In the "bad old days" an airman's screw-up might get that person extra duty, and intense training, but for the NCOs and Officers, espeically for those career fields that handled and controlled nukes, or access to them... end game, career over.

I knew of more than one Command Post Superintendent (Senior NCO) and Chief (OIC of the Command Post) fired over controller teams' scores on TAC-Evals or ORIs