Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The USAF's "New" Nuclear Plan

The Air Force is putting the finishing touches on a strategic plan to "reinvigorate" its troubled nuclear program, with emphasis on accountability, self-assessment and reinvestment in personnel and equipment.

In From the Cold has obtained a draft copy of the plan, described as a "road map" for fixing problems in the service's nuclear enterprise, and preventing similar troubles in the future.

The strategic plan has been under development for several months, undergoing a series of revisions so far. The version provided to this blog was labeled "Draft Version 3.0," dated 23 September; copies were disseminated to Air Force nuclear-capable units last week, with a 25 September suspense for comments and revisions.

Nearly 200 pages in length, the road map provides a detailed assessment of troubles facing the USAF's nuclear program, and an outline for remedying them. The plan is blunt in describing the need for exacting standards in how the service handles nuclear weapons, trains its personnel and evaluates units that carry out the nuclear mission:

Successful stewardship of nuclear capability is achieved through rigid adherence to standards, personal accountability at all levels with constant leadership commitment and focus. Our culture of reliability, discipline, adherence to standards, and rigorous self-assessment relies on realistic training and exercises combined with robust inspection and leadership oversight. In the Air Force nuclear enterprise, systems and processes require redundancies and safeguards to achieve failsafe operations. There is no tolerance for complacency or shortcuts. These attributes contribute directly to the highest quality professional nuclear force.

We secure, maintain, operate, and sustain our nuclear capability with precision and reliability. The systemic reliability of the AF nuclear enterprise from stockpile to target, from system design to sunset, ensures that we are responsible, trusted contributors to strategic deterrence.

The plan's authors make it clear that the Air Force will "go beyond" the six themes listed in the Schlesinger Task Force report. That assessment panel, led by former Defense Secretary James Schlesinger, highlighted major deficiencies in the service's nuclear enterprise, including:

--"Ineffective processes for uncovering and addressing nuclear-related compliance and capability issues."

-- The lack of a critical self-assessment culture

-- A serious erosion of nuclear-related expertise

--Underinvestment in the nuclear deterrent mission

--"No comprehensive process" for "sustained investment advocacy."

--An "atrophy" of the Air Force nuclear culture

The Schlesinger report summarized problems identified in the aftermath of two serious nuclear incidents that occurred over the last year. In late August 2007, nuclear-tipped cruise missiles were mistakenly transported by a B-52 bomber from Minot AFB, North Dakota, to Barksdale AFB, Louisiana. Officials described the accidental transfer as the nation's worst nuclear mishap in nearly 30 years.

Less than seven months later, the service revealed that personnel at Hill AFB, Utah had shipped ICBM fuses to Taiwan, instead of the helicopter parts that had been requested. The erroneous shipment occurred in 2006, but wasn't discovered until March of this year.

The pair of high-profile incidents prompted a series of investigations by the Air Force and the Defense Department. One of those probes, led by Navy Admiral Kirkland Donald, found continuing deficiencies in the USAF nuclear program, and led to the unprecedented resignations (in early June) of the Air Force Secretary, Michael Wynne, and the service's Chief of Staff, General Michael Moseley.

All told, more than 20 officers and 60 enlisted members have been punished for their roles in the nuclear mishaps. The most recent sanctions were imposed last week, when 15 officers, including six generals, received administrative punishment for the accidental missile fuse shipment to Taiwan.

To prevent similar mistakes in the future, the proposed road map promises to "rebuild a nuclear culture of compliance," based on a robust inspection and self-assessment process. The plan also vows to restore nuclear expertise through "training, education, career 21 development and force development initiatives."

In support of those efforts, the document mandates adequate resources for nuclear programs; creation of an operational structure that "centralizes" the nuclear mission, and "securing public confidence" in the service's nuclear stewardship.

As part of the overall effort, the strategic plan charges the Air Staff's Requirements Directorate (A8) to create "Strategic Investment Plans," for nuclear systems, with inputs from the Air Council and the USAF's various commands. The Air Force also plans to create a separate headquarters directorate (A10) to focus on "policy, plans, requirements, strategy, guidance integration and synchronization" for its nuclear programs.

Eight of the nine chapters in the road map provide detailed "action plans" for achieving the goals listed in the document's executive summary. Each of those sections contain a "problem statement," list "root causes" of the issue, and a strategy for correcting those deficiencies.

The plan does not represent "final guidance" for fixing the Air Force's nuclear enterprise. Major commands and other organizations involved in the nuclear mission will create their own directives, providing additional instructions for conducting nuclear activities. The road map is described as the "foundation" for "reinvigorating" the USAF's nuclear program. It is not intended to govern day-to-day activities.

A final version of the unclassified plan is expected to be approved in the coming weeks. Markings at the top of each page in the draft document emphasize that it is "pre-decisional--not for public release."

The road map was compiled by the Air Force Nuclear Task Force (AFNTF), charged with evaluating and consolidating findings from six major investigations and assessments of the service's nuclear program.

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