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Hagel: ‘Systemic Problems’ Plague US Nuclear Force

Giuseppe Macri Tech Editor

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced Friday major changes and dollars coming to the U.S.’s nuclear force to address the “systemic problems” of low morale, a lack of manpower and mismanagement, all of which threaten the force’s safety and effectiveness.

Hagel announced the changes in response to internal and external reviews conducted by the Pentagon, which highlighted “a consistent lack of investment and support for our nuclear forces” over the years, which “has left us with too little margin to cope with mounting stresses,” AFP reports.

While speaking to reporters the secretary of defense said “billion of dollars” would be added to the $15 billion currently spent on the U.S. military’s nuclear enterprise — an increase the Department of Defense will try to up by 10 percent every year over the next half-decade.

The additional funding will go toward training to improve morale, increasing security, improving infrastructure and updating equipment in response to some alarming findings in the Pentagon’s reviews.

In one instance, the reviews found intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) maintenance crews in three states were sharing one wrench designed to turn the bolts on the warheads of Minuteman III missiles, and were shipping the wrench between each other to perform their duties.

The reviews themselves were sparked by the discovery of widespread cheating on proficiency exams by missileers responsible for overseeing ICMBs in the Air Force and Navy. The recent firing multiple senior officers for misconduct — including the two-star general in charge of the Air Force’s ICMBs for getting drunk and exhibiting “boorish behavior” in Russia last year — was also a factor.

“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.

Of the more-than 100 changes recommended in the reviews, officials have changed the parameters for proficiency test scoring, exempted 4,000 nuclear airmen from manpower reductions, added bonuses for certain specialties and a new medal specifically for nuclear forces.

The secretary blamed the management degrade on people taking their “eye off the ball,” but said the “good news” was none of the problems were beyond repair.

California Republican and House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon said in a Hill report the reviews illustrate the “sobering state of our nuclear force and the urgent investment needed to ensure its future effectiveness.”

Citing the reviews, McKeon called on President Obama to step back from his call to reduce the U.S.’s nuclear stockpile by one-third.

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