Thursday, September 25, 2008

More Nuclear Accountability

In the aftermath of the Air Force's high-profile nuclear incidents, most of the media attention focused on the inadvertent shipment of six nuclear-armed cruise missiles between bases in North Dakota and Louisiana.

The event was sensational, by any standard. During their errant transfer, a B-52 carried the nuclear missiles across seven states, and the mistake wasn't discovered until hours after the bomber landed. Described as the worst nuclear incident in more than 20 years, the mishap prompted immediate notification of President Bush and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, triggering investigations and reviews that have continued for more than a year.

A number of officers and NCOs were sanctioned for their roles in the mishap. No less than five commanders (with the rank of Colonel or Lieutenant Colonel) lost their jobs, and scores of lower-ranking personnel received non-judicial punishment; many were also stripped of their certification to work with nuclear weapons, some permanently.

But the missile transfer wasn't the only nuclear incident in recent years. Less than six months after that B-52 took off with its unscheduled cargo, officials found a second, serious mistake involving nuclear components. In 2006, personnel at Hill AFB, Utah, accidentally shipped ICBM fuses to Taiwan, instead of requested helicopter parts. Making matters worse, the error wasn't discovered for almost two years, prompting another series of investigations and inquiries.

Now, the Defense Department is handing out punishment to those deemed responsible for the Hill incident. According to the Associated Press, at least eight generals, ranging in rank from one to three stars, have been disciplined as a result of the fuse shipment:

Defense officials said Wednesday that the six Air Force and two Army generals were given disciplinary letters that vary in seriousness but can often end careers or hopes of promotion.

The officers are mainly in logistical jobs and were involved to some degree in the mistaken shipment to Taiwan of four electrical fuses for ballistic missile nuclear warheads in 2006. The error did not come to light until this past March.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the actions are not being announced until Thursday.

According to officials, at least one Air Force general received a letter of reprimand, which is a more serious rebuke, while others got less severe letters of admonishment or counseling. The two Army brigadier generals, who worked at the Defense Logistics Agency in Virginia, received what are called “memorandums of concern,” also a lower level of punishment.

Nine other lower ranking Air Force officers also were disciplined, but no details were available.

The AP doesn't specify the assignments of the six USAF generals who were sanctioned, but base (and unit) involved in the errant shipment are part of Air Force Material Command, headquartered at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio.

There is some speculation that Lieutenant General Kevin Sullivan, the former commander of the Ogden Air Logistics Center, is among those facing punishment. Sullivan was in charge of the center at the time the fuses were shipped in 2006. A major general at the time, Sullivan was subsequently promoted and now serves as the Air Force's Deputy Chief of Staff for Logistics, Installation and Mission Support.

The Ogden Air Logistics Center provides worldwide logistical and engineering support to a variety of weapons systems, including ballistic missiles.

No comments: