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USAF Strips 17 Officers of Nuclear Launch Authority 173

Posted by Soulskill
from the push-button-bad-guys-go-boom dept.
Freshly Exhumed writes "In an unprecedented action, a United States Air Force commander has stripped 17 of his officers of their authority to control and launch nuclear missiles. After a string of failings that the group's deputy commander said stemmed from 'rot' within the ranks, the suspensions followed a March inspection of the 91st Missile Wing at Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota, that resulted in a 'D' grade for the team tested on its mastery of the Minuteman III missile launch operations system. The 17 are being assigned to intensive retraining courses of 60 to 90 days, according to Lt. Col. John Dorrian, an Air Force spokesman."
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USAF Strips 17 Officers of Nuclear Launch Authority

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 08, 2013 @03:36PM (#43667921)

    and replace them all with electronics.

  • Always the same (Score:5, Insightful)

    by AmiMoJo (196126) * <mojoNO@SPAMworld3.net> on Wednesday May 08, 2013 @03:41PM (#43668003) Homepage

    The weak link is always humans. The USAF had the best of intentions, was well funded and had oversight. Even so this was allowed to happen. At least they caught it.

    • by zaxus (105404)

      The weak link is always humans.

      Which is why we will soon be switching all nuclear launch authority to WOPR and/or Skynet...

    • Re:Always the same (Score:5, Insightful)

      by girlintraining (1395911) on Wednesday May 08, 2013 @05:29PM (#43669155)

      The weak link is always humans. The USAF had the best of intentions, was well funded and had oversight. Even so this was allowed to happen. At least they caught it.

      Back up. If you look more closely, even a 'D' rating doesn't mean there was ever any danger of an accidental nuclear release, or lost/misplaced inventory, etc. This relates specifically and only to combat-readiness. These are the guys that sit in a room for days, hours, weeks at a go, with nothing to do but wait for the red lights and klaxxon alarms that say WW3 just started. They got a poor review because they were too slow in their reaction times, amongst other things as it relates to launch readiness.

      This is the same thing that every military unit, in every branch, deals with sooner or later. Everyone's performance slips sooner or later, even if you're special forces. That's why these audits are done, everywhere, all the time. It's routine, and these reviews are part of everybody's service file. A poor review doesn't even necessarily mean you're going to lose out on a promotion opportunity in the long run. People are benched for retraining all the time. Mind you, the first step is usually additional training in situ, but given the seriousness of their job, I can understand skipping that.

      But let's be clear: This is the military performing as expected. This is a routine thing, and it's only making the news because it involves nuclear weapons. If it happened anywhere else, it'd be a non-event.

      • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

        I think you missed my point. I wasn't saying it was a safety issue, merely that no matter how high the stakes and how hard you try these things still happen.

        The USAF is, as you say, the gold standard. Civilian nuclear power is considerably less motivated and less well funded, with less oversight. That's why I take issue with the "oh if we just put better people in charge" brigade, and their friends in the "we can make it idiot proof" troop.

        • I think you missed my point. I wasn't saying it was a safety issue, merely that no matter how high the stakes and how hard you try these things still happen.

          Which is, frankly, a pointless point to make.

          The USAF is, as you say, the gold standard. Civilian nuclear power is considerably less motivated and less well funded, with less oversight. That's why I take issue with the "oh if we just put better people in charge" brigade, and their friends in the "we can make it idiot proof" troop.

          No, but you can add auditing and process controls to manage and reduce the problems to a very small percentage. Which is what the USAF has done, and done well. This isn't evidence of a failure in process, but rather a validation of it. And I didn't say Chair Force is the gold standard...

          My vote is for the Marines. ;)

        • by Obfuscant (592200) on Wednesday May 08, 2013 @05:57PM (#43669439)

          The USAF is, as you say, the gold standard. Civilian nuclear power is considerably less motivated and less well funded, with less oversight.

          You're right. I'm all for removing nuclear launch authority from the operators of civilian nuclear power plants.

      • But let's be clear: This is the military performing as expected. This is a routine thing, and it's only making the news because it involves nuclear weapons. If it happened anywhere else, it'd be a non-event.

        I suspect it's only making the news because it's slow news day... Otherwise, you're spot on. These kinds of failures, while not common, do happen. It happened to me back in the 1980's while serving onboard USS Henry L. Stimson (Blue). The WEPS dicked up some paperwork, resulting in a failure with imm

  • Unprecenented? (Score:5, Informative)

    by chiefmojorising (114811) on Wednesday May 08, 2013 @03:42PM (#43668021)

    Hardly. This happened more than once during the cold war under SAC. Hell, entire wings have been decertified before. You don't have to go back farther than 2007 to find something similar (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2007_United_States_Air_Force_nuclear_weapons_incident).

    There was an article in Air Force Magazine a couple months back about SAC history that touched on this a bit:

    http://www.airforcemag.com/MagazineArchive/Pages/2013/March%202013/0313SAC.aspx [airforcemag.com]

    • Unprecedented? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 08, 2013 @05:33PM (#43669197)

      Absoutely, this is not unprecedented. I'm a bit puzzled lately by this obsession with AF bashing by the press.
      First off, it's extremely simple to fail -anything- involving nuclear weapons. Failing to dot an i type stuff... so when it takes about 'potential to compromise codes', it's relative.
      Second, these young officers didn't "have the authority to launch weapons". Only the president does. Better phrased as "authority to be near nuclear weapons and follow launch procedures when authorized and provided necessary codes".
      Third, this authority is often stripped temporarily on a routine basis for lots of reasons. Look up Personnel Reliability Program (PRP). Have a bitter divorce going on? PRP gets yanked. Foreclosed on? PRP yanked. Temporarily, not a career-ender, but better safe then sorry.
      Finally, why the heck are Senators involved?? A group of young officers needed their attention grabbed... a mid-level officer (Lieutenant Colonel) grabbed them by the horns and shwacked then with a blunt email about what the expectations are. And this is bad how? Hire thousands of young employees into a job, and some of them will fail to meet your expectations, no matter how high/low they are. So a good leader tries to fix the employees. Looks like that's what this guy is trying to do in an email that was never meant to go public.

      I'd be much more concerned about this is every single nuclear inspection in the military never reported any issues.

    • Re:Unprecenented? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Otis B. Dilroy III (2110816) on Wednesday May 08, 2013 @06:31PM (#43669851)
      During the cuban missle crisis my dad was a flight line mechanic at Fairchild AFB outside Spokane WA.
      At that time Fairchild was a B52 base.
      He said that every B52 they had was in the aIr loaded with nukes, wating for orders.
      The nukes had to be armed in the air before dropping so that they wouldn't go off in case of a crash or accidental drop.
      During post-flight inspections, it was discovered that one B52 went up with all of its nukes armed. If it had dropped a bomb due to mechanical failure or crashed, big boom
      I can only imagine the size of the boom that occurred on base when it was discoevred.
  • by iamwhoiamtoday (1177507) on Wednesday May 08, 2013 @03:43PM (#43668035)

    About time that the results of an inspection actually spurred the brass to do something about it.
    So often, stuff just gets swept under the rug. I'm actually concerned over this, not because "oh look, we found 17 folks out of compliance", but more because "if this is what they are publisicing, what isn't being said?".

    As much as I love seeing Officers getting called out, it really makes me worry about the Chair Farce's ability to get stuff right.

    • Re:About Time. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by idontgno (624372) on Wednesday May 08, 2013 @04:22PM (#43668449) Journal

      In the Air Force, bad readiness inspection results usually get action. What they don't usually get is publicity.

      This was a leak. I don't want to be too cynical about my military alma mater, but expect a serious leak-hunt along with all of the anticipated corrective actions, remedial training, and legal action.

      • by mjwx (966435)

        In the Air Force, bad readiness inspection results usually get action. What they don't usually get is publicity.

        This was a leak. I don't want to be too cynical about my military alma mater, but expect a serious leak-hunt along with all of the anticipated corrective actions, remedial training, and legal action.

        Not military, but in the corporate world the easiest and most effective way to get the heat taken of your failure is find (or generate) a bigger failure that can be blamed on someone else.

  • Is that "drop and give me 20" type stuff? In other places, it's called "gardening leave" or maybe "leaving to spend more time with his family"
  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Wednesday May 08, 2013 @03:44PM (#43668061) Journal

    Isn't '60-90 days of retraining' about the same as what you get for failing a class in high school and getting forced to take summer classes if you want to graduate?

    • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

      by Hognoxious (631665)

      I'd retrain them to clean toilets. Permanently.

      • by mikael (484)

        In the UK civil service, if you really ****'ed up, they wouldn't fire you, but simply redeploy you to something like "inventory control officer". You would spend the rest of your career travelling to and walking through every facility under your watch and scanning barcodes until the day you retired. Though, some people actually enjoyed that work, meeting new people and getting to travel for free.

        • by tnk1 (899206)

          Would you still get your KCMG? Or would you top out at CMG for the screw up?

      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        If you can figure out how to clean toilets permanently, you can make a mint.

  • Minecraft (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DarthVain (724186) on Wednesday May 08, 2013 @03:50PM (#43668121)

    Yes but do they still have mine shaft access, that is what I want to know?! How else are we going to keep the commies from infiltrating our precious fluids? Grain alcohol for me I tell you what!

    Seriously however, scoring a "D" in Minuteman Mastery should get your keys revoked. Somehow 60-90 days training doesn't make me feel any better if that is all it takes to get their access back....

  • by GodfatherofSoul (174979) on Wednesday May 08, 2013 @03:51PM (#43668135)

    When I was in ROTC our squad officer said basically everyone up the chain of command was written up (permanent records) because one security guard with a shotgun was out of position in a nuke facility.

  • . . . in scenic North Korea. Wacky delusional dictator Kim Jong Un has promised them an exciting life in his missile silos, highlighted by Shirts & Skins hoops with Dennis Rodman.

    . . . on Roller Skates . . . !

  • Must hurt to know that you can't do something you'd probably never have to do anyways.

    I know it's every boys dream to be able to launch a nuke.

    yes, I am being sarcastic.

  • by GPLDAN (732269)
    Is this where we queue the Black Sabbath music?

    Generals gathered in their masses.....
  • I hope (Score:3, Insightful)

    by lesincompetent (2836253) on Wednesday May 08, 2013 @04:31PM (#43668551)
    I hope USAF Brigadier General Jack D. Ripper has been stripped of his nuclear authority too!
  • I'm not shocked that they'd have problems with people in a very stressful yet very boring job with little likelihood of ever being called on to do anything. Not to mention a big dose of moral self-doubts.

    Time to retire silo'd missiles anyway. They are a relic of the past.

  • by Sir Holo (531007) on Wednesday May 08, 2013 @04:47PM (#43668719)
    Organizational rot sets in when there is nothing really "new" or interesting for employees to do, little opportunity for promotion, all spread over a number of years. How could it not?

    An easy and secure job sounds like an attractive thing on its face, but really, it's not, and often eventually turns into a "club." And it's boring.

    Quote FTA, by a former launch-control officer, "Minuteman launch crews have long been marginalized and demoralized by the fact that the Air Force's culture and fast-track careers revolve around flying planes, not sitting in underground bunkers baby-sitting nuclear-armed missiles."
  • by reboot246 (623534) on Wednesday May 08, 2013 @05:26PM (#43669131) Homepage
    Looks like somebody got put on his Super High Intensity Training list.
  • Joshua replied "Would you like to play a game?".
  • "Nuclear missile laun.. and then it cuts off what do you do then?

  • by Charliemopps (1157495) on Wednesday May 08, 2013 @06:51PM (#43670067)

    This isn't that big of a deal. I know someone that had this job for a while. According to him (and of course this is just something a friend of mine told me over beers so take it for what it's worth) it's a miserable job. You're just stuck, bored to death for very very long periods of time. You have no sunlight. Everyone in the room has sworn and oath and passed psychological tests that prove they will kill you if you threaten a launch or are in any other way ordered to kill you. So it's not like you can really be friends with any of them in any real way. Even when you do get to come out after a tour, you're in the middle of no-where. It's just a vast empty plane. And the entire purpose of you being there is to destroy all of humanity. As bored as you are you have plenty of time to dwell on the nature of your job... your life... why you're th.... BWAP BWAP BWAP!!!!! ALERT ALERT!!! oooo... missed it by 2.3 seconds. Fuck it all to hell.

  • If they removed the ability to control and launch nukes from 17 people, my mind imagines this to still only be a portion of the overall number. Just how many people CAN launch nukes?

"Consistency requires you to be as ignorant today as you were a year ago." -- Bernard Berenson

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