WASHINGTON, Nov. 14, 2014 —
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has announced a series of measures to increase investment in America’s nuclear deterrent after reviews found evidence of systemic problems in the enterprise.
Hagel announced the changes at a Pentagon press conference today before traveling to Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota, to speak with missileers about them. The changes are the result of internal and external reviews Hagel ordered after a series of Associated Press stories disclosed problems in the nuclear force.
Retired Air Force Gen. Larry D. Welch and retired Navy Adm. John C. Harvey Jr. co-chaired the external review.
Nuclear Arsenal Safe
Hagel prefaced his remarks by assuring Americans that the nuclear arsenal is safe and secure. It can and must be better though, he said. “As long as we have nuclear weapons, we will and we must ensure that they are safe, secure and effective,” Hagel said.
Hagel said underfunding and a focus on two wars allowed the status of the nuclear deterrent to degrade. Service members accomplished the missions in the nuclear enterprise thanks to their own “heroic efforts.”
“The internal and external reviews I ordered show that a consistent lack of investment and support for our nuclear forces over far too many years has left us with too little margin to cope with mounting stresses,” Hagel said.
The reviews found evidence of systematic problems. These include manning, infrastructure and skill deficiencies. The reviews found “a culture of micromanagement and over-inspection,” the secretary said. Finally, the reviews found inadequate communication, follow-up and accountability.
“The root cause has been a lack of sustained focus, attention and resources, resulting in a pervasive sense that a career in the nuclear enterprise offers too few opportunities for growth and advancement,” Hagel said.
The secretary vowed to hold senior leaders accountable to ensure words match actions. “We must change the cultural perception of a nuclear enterprise, which has particularly suffered in the Air Force,” he said. “We must restore the prestige that attracted the brightest minds of the Cold War era, so our most talented young men and women see the nuclear pathway as promising in value.”
As part of this, the commander of the Air Force Global Strike Command will now be elevated to a four-star.
More funding is also crucial. The Air Force established a force improvement program for Global Strike Command and reallocated over $160 million in fiscal 2014 and $150 million in fiscal 2015. These will address some of the most urgent shortfalls. Hagel said missileers had to Fed-Ex a special wrench used in fastening warheads to missiles from base to base.
Some of the money will go to incentive pay for critical nuclear assignments.
Long-term changes are on the way, the secretary said. DoD is updating and standardizing inspections. The department wants to eliminate micromanagement, redundancies and administrative burdens that overtax the force and ultimately harm the mission.
“The Navy is reducing administrative distractions and is planning to both hire more than 2,500 workers and overhaul aging infrastructure at public shipyards, strategic weapons facilities and reactor training systems,” the secretary said.
The Air Force is planning construction to improve weapons storage facilities, will replace its Vietnam-era helicopters for ballistic missile security forces and is revamping training, evaluations and management of the nuclear force.
“Both services are elevating and reinforcing the nuclear mission, including in the budget request they’re preparing for fiscal year 2016,” Hagel said. “We will need to make billions of dollars of additional investments in the nuclear enterprise over the next five years.”
The secretary said the services are looking at a 10 percent increase in funding over five years. Today, the U.S. spends about $15 billion to $16 billion on our nuclear enterprise.