17 Lose Authority to Launch Nukes

Air Force sidelines unprecedented number of officers

By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff

Posted May 8, 2013 11:34 AM CDT

(Newser) – The AP today has a fascinating exclusive about ineptitude among the 91st Missile Wing at Minot Air Force Base. While the skills of some Air Force officers at a North Dakota base may not seem like something that would have major implications at first blush, know this: These officers have the authority to control—and, if necessary, launch—a nuclear missile; the Air Force has now stripped that authority from an unprecedented 17 of them on the heels of the previously unpublicized failings.

The AP explains that the "tip-off" to the trouble came during a March inspection at the facility, where two officers stand "alert" at all times in each of the underground launch control capsules, ready to launch an intercontinental ballistic missile upon presidential order. The Air Force publicly called it a "success"; in reality, the 91st Missile Wing earned the equivalent of a "D" grade when tested on its mastery of Minuteman III missile launch operations. Seventeen of its 150 officers were told they "will be a bench warmer for at least 60 days" in an internal email sent by the group's deputy commander and obtained by the AP, which reports that it's the biggest ever sidelining of launch crew members. Though the Air Force says security was never compromised and that the officers will return to duty after completing additional training, the AP asserts that the email—which spoke of "rot in the crew"—reflects a culture of indifference. Click for the full exclusive.

This 2002 file photo provided by the National Park Service shows the launch key mechanism at the deactivated Delta Nine Launch Facility near Wall, S.D.   (AP Photo/Minuteman Missile NHS)
This file photo provided by the National Park Service shows the inside of the deactivated Delta Nine Launch Facility near Wall, S.D., that is now open to the public.   (AP Photo/National Park Service, File)
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