The Washington Post put a major story about the six nuclear armed cruise missiles unwittingly flown across the country on the cover of the weekend edition (Pincus, Walter and Joby Warrick, “The Saga of a Bent Spear,” 23 September 2007, p. A1). Details on the exact point of failure remain under wraps, but it sounds like an instance of a single failure leading to a chain of subsequent failures.
The article goes on to point out that this is just the final, high-profile outcome of a longstanding, but not yet newsworthy problem:
A secret 1998 history of the Air Combat Command warned of “diminished attention for even ‘the minimum standards’ of nuclear weapons’ maintenance, support and security” once such arms became less vital, according to a declassified copy obtained by Hans Kristensen, director of the Federation of American Scientists’ nuclear information project.
The Air Force’s inspector general in 2003 found that half of the “nuclear surety” inspections conducted that year resulted in failing grades — the worst performance since inspections of weapons-handling began. Minot’s 5th Bomb Wing was among the units that failed, and the Louisiana-based 2nd Bomb Wing at Barksdale garnered an unsatisfactory rating in 2005.
Both units passed subsequent nuclear inspections, and Minot was given high marks in a 2006 inspection. The 2003 report on the 5th Bomb Wing attributed its poor performance to the demands of supporting combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Wartime stresses had “resulted in a lack of time to focus and practice nuclear operations,” the report stated.
It’s worth noting that it’s not just the Army that is being degraded by the excess demands of the administration’s war in Iraq.