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Statement on the Nuclear Enterprise Review & Reforms

Good morning.

Earlier this year, following revelations about troubling lapses and poor morale in our nation's nuclear forces, I ordered comprehensive internal and external reviews of our entire nuclear enterprise, spanning the Air Force's ground- and air-based nuclear deterrent as well as the Navy's submarine-based systems.

I tasked both teams to examine the health of the nuclear enterprise, focusing on personnel training, testing, command oversight, mission performance, and funding.  This morning with me here on the stage are individuals who have played a particularly important role in these reviews.  But probably most importantly, they have the responsibility to carry out the recommendations that came from these reviews.  And I believe you know that after I leave this morning, the Deputy Secretary, Bob Work, and others here will stay on the stage and answer more specific questions.

But I want to thank Secretary Work.

Admiral, thank you very, very much for what you have done as Vice Chief of Naval Operations, because your component is critical to this.

Admiral Haney, thank you for your continued leadership at STRATCOM.  Your component also is an integral element of our strategic forces.

Our Secretary of the Air Force, Secretary James, who will be leaving with me right after this news conference, and we'll go to Minot Air Force Base in Minot, North Dakota, and spend the day, for your continued leadership, General Wilson, thank you for what you do with your forces and your team.

These individuals, as well as other leaders, have all been integral, as I said, to what we are doing and the internal review part of this.

Our internal and external reviewers visited all of our domestic operational nuclear bases and many of their key support facilities. They interviewed hundreds of personnel, officers, enlisted, civilians, and contractors.

The review team leaders from the external review part of this are with us this morning. And I want to particularly thank Admiral Harvey and General Larry Welch, Admiral Fanta, and Madelyn Creedon for your leadership.

Madelyn headed up the internal review and General Welch and Admiral Haney headed up the external review.

The work that they put into this, the dedication, literally hundreds of hours, was pretty spectacular.

And to all of you and your teams and those who supported you, we are grateful.

Thank you.

Today, I'm announcing:

  • The results of those reviews,
  • The actions that DOD has already taken to carry forward and carry out the recommendations of those reviews; and
  • The actions we are in the process of taking to address the reviews' findings and ensure the continued safety, security, and effectiveness of America's nuclear deterrent.


First, I want to be clear about the importance of the Defense Department's nuclear mission and its role in defending our nation.

Our nuclear deterrent plays a critical role in ensuring U.S. national security, and it's DOD's highest priority mission.  No other capability we have is more important.  Our nuclear triad deters nuclear attack on the United States and our allies and our partners.  It prevents potential adversaries from trying to escalate their way out of failed conventional aggression.  And it provides the means for effective response should deterrence fail.

Consistent with President Obama's guidance, our policy is to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our nation's security strategy and to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons. We'll continue to do both, but that doesn't diminish our responsibilities.  As the President has made clear, as long as we have nuclear weapons, we will - and we must - ensure that they are safe, secure, and effective.

DOD's senior leaders and I are in full agreement.  We're in full agreement that, today, America's nuclear deterrent remains safe, secure, and effective.  That is thanks to the heroic efforts of the airmen, sailors and Marine who, despite sometimes insufficient resources and manpower, stretch themselves to maintain and guard and protect and operate the nuclear enterprise every day.

However, 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.  The reviews found evidence of systematic problems that, if not addressed, could undermine the safety, security, and effectiveness of the elements of the force in the future. These problems include manning, infrastructure, and skill deficiencies; a culture of micro-management and over-inspection; and inadequate communication, follow- up, and accountability by senior department in nuclear enterprise leadership.

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.  I know this from my many conversations with personnel in our nuclear force.

For the past several months, DOD has been taking action to resolve the key problems and implement more than 100 recommendations from the internal and external reviews.  Some of these recommendations involve changes in organization, policies, and culture.  Others require an increase in resources, allocated to the nuclear mission.  We must address all of the underlying problems.

Let me begin with the many steps we've already taken, starting with improving oversight.

First, I established a Nuclear Deterrent Enterprise Review Group, which brings together the entire senior leadership of DOD's nuclear enterprise - not only from here at the Pentagon, but also from Strategic Command in Nebraska, and Air Force Global Strike Command in Louisiana.  

Previous reviews of our nuclear enterprise lacked clear follow-up mechanisms.  Recommendations were implemented without the necessary follow-through to assess that they were implemented effectively.  There was a lack of accountability.

To fix that, I've directed our analysts in DOD's Office of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation to track both the status of the actions we're taking, the progress we're making, and the impact on the health of our nuclear force.  We will need to know what's working and what's not.   Each month they will report their findings to Deputy Secretary Work - who I've asked to help lead this effort - as well as the other members of the review group, who will all report to me approximately every 90 days.

I will hold our leaders accountable - up and down the chain of command - to ensure that words are matched with actions.

We must change the cultural perception of our nuclear enterprise, which has particularly suffered in the Air Force.  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 and valued.  That's why I have granted the Air Force authority to elevate Global Strike Command to a four-star billet and Air Staff's head of Strategic Deterrence and Nuclear Integration to a three-star billet.  They will no longer be outranked by their non-nuclear counterparts, giving the nuclear Air Force the second-to-none leadership it deserves. And last week, Secretary James, who has been a tremendous leader on this issue, personally awarded the first 25 Nuclear Deterrence Operations Service Medals, a new medal created to recognize the critical contributions that our nuclear force airmen make to America's security.  Cultural change must permeate down through the individual with every airman in our nuclear enterprise - knowing how much we value them and their service.

We already are starting to match much needed leadership and oversight with much needed investments. Earlier this year, the Air Force established a force improvement program for Global Strike Command and reallocated over $160 million in Fiscal Year 2014 and $150 million in Fiscal Year 2015 to address the most urgent shortfalls in equipment, facilities and manning.

Some of this will fund incentive pay for critical nuclear assignments, helping retain our best airmen and keeping our focus on what matters most - our people.  The Air Force has exempted 4,000 airmen from manpower reductions, while adding over 1,100 billets to forces under Global Strike Command to fill gaps in operations, maintenance, security and other critical areas.

Our efforts must be sustained over the long term, which is why we are in the process of doing much more.

DOD will soon finish updating and standardizing how we conduct inspections and elevate our personnel across the nuclear enterprise, eliminating micro-management, 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.  Meanwhile, the Air Force is planning construction to improve weapons storage facilities; will replace helicopters for its ballistic missile security forces; and is in the midst of revamping how it trains, evaluates, and manages the nuclear force.

Both services are elevating - and reinforcing - the nuclear mission, including in the budget request they're preparing for Fiscal Year 2016. We will need to make billions of dollars of additional investments in the nuclear enterprise over the next five years.  This new funding, which will be detailed in our budget submission next year, will be critical to continue improving upkeep and security, while addressing shortfalls that undermine morale of the nuclear force.

There is much more we need to do leading up to our nuclear modernization program in the next decade.

Over the last year, I've traveled to see missileers at F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming and called launch control officers underground at Malstrom Air Force Base in Montana.  I visited nuclear weapons maintainers at Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico, and met with STRATCOM senior and junior officers at Offutt Air Force Base in Omaha, and met with sailors in the ballistic missile submarine U.S.S Tennessee at Kings Bay, Georgia.  And right after this press conference, as I noted, Secretary of the Air Force James and I will leave for Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota, to speak with missileers, bomber crews, and support teams that are now stationed there.

My message to them today and to their colleagues across the military is simple: Our nuclear enterprise is foundational to America's national security.  And the resources and attention we commit to the nuclear force must reflect that.  We need our best people in this enterprise.

I will now take a couple of questions before Secretary James and I leave. And, as I said, this team will stay behind and answer further questions that you may have.