Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Air Force benches 17 missile officers, nuclear expert cites malaise in the branch

This isn’t the Air Force’s week. First, its sexual assault prevention czar earns a negative congressional unit citation for alleged sexual battery. Now the AP’s Robert Burns reports that the service sidelined 17 nuclear launch officers essentially for sucking at their jobs. Which raises the question in my mind: Which is the worse job, being ...

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This isn't the Air Force's week. First, its sexual assault prevention czar earns a negative congressional unit citation for alleged sexual battery. Now the AP's Robert Burns reports that the service sidelined 17 nuclear launch officers essentially for sucking at their jobs.

Which raises the question in my mind: Which is the worse job, being a missile officer these days, or being a sexual harassment officer? And can you imagine being the sexual assault officer in a missile unit in North Dakota?

More seriously, the estimable Burns quotes Bruce Blair, a nuclear weapons expert, as warning that, "The nuclear air force is suffering from a deep malaise caused by the declining relevance of their mission since the Cold War's end over 20 years ago....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."

This isn’t the Air Force’s week. First, its sexual assault prevention czar earns a negative congressional unit citation for alleged sexual battery. Now the AP’s Robert Burns reports that the service sidelined 17 nuclear launch officers essentially for sucking at their jobs.

Which raises the question in my mind: Which is the worse job, being a missile officer these days, or being a sexual harassment officer? And can you imagine being the sexual assault officer in a missile unit in North Dakota?

More seriously, the estimable Burns quotes Bruce Blair, a nuclear weapons expert, as warning that, “The nuclear air force is suffering from a deep malaise caused by the declining relevance of their mission since the Cold War’s end over 20 years ago….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.”

Can you imagine a nuclear attack being launched simply because a unit was so incompetent that someone hit the wrong buttons and codes? No? Well, how about a bomber crew flying across the United States without being aware it was carrying nuclear weapons? (That happened in 2007.)

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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