A Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont., missile maintenance team works on an intercontinental ballistic missile. An Air Force unit that operates one-third of the nation's land-based nuclear missiles at Malmstrom has failed a safety and security inspection for the third time in five years. (Air Force via AP)
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An Air Force nuclear missile wing has failed an inspection for the third time in five years.
The 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont., received an “unsatisfactory” rating on the inspection, which finished Aug. 13 and was designed to evaluate the wing’s “ability to execute operations while complying with nuclear surety standards,” according to a Global Strike Command release.
The wing, commanded by Col. Robert Stanley, failed because of tactical-level errors during one exercise conducted during the inspection. Lt. Gen. Jim Kowalski, Global Strike commander, said the failure does not put the nation’s nuclear arsenal at risk.
“These inspections are designed to be tough to pass,” he said in the release. “A failure doesn’t mean the wing isn’t able to accomplish its mission.”
The wing handles 150 Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles at the base. The command has not announced if any personnel will be affected following this inspection.
The wing’s commander, Col. Robert Stanley, said in a statement that he could not explain the details of the inspection and its results because it “would give America’s adversaries far too much information about how we operate.” He said the inspection is complex and as exact as possible.
“Imagine being in a college physics class, and working through five pages of calculations on a problem,” he said. “But, you receive no credit if your answer is off by even a decimal. That is the nature of our job, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Nuclear missile crews are separate from all other military crews, because their success cannot be defined by battlefield victories, instead success has to be tested by simulating a combat environment. The wing rated “outstanding” or “excellent” in 10 of 13 areas, “satisfactory” in one and “unacceptable” in two others that resulted in the deficiency.
“It does highlight an area in which we will be working closely to ensure some very young airmen understand their roles and responsibilities much more clearly,” he said. “We’ve already started that process.”
In 90 days, inspectors from both the Defense Threat Reduction Agency and Global Strike Command will come back to evaluate the areas that were ruled to be “unsatisfactory.”
The failed inspection comes about three months after the Air Force sidelined 19 missile officers from the 91st Missile Wing at Minot Air Force Base, N.D., after the wing was rated “unsatisfactory” on one aspect of the inspection. The wing passed the overall inspection. That inspection was a consolidated unit inspection, which includes previously independent evaluations, such as operational readiness inspections. The Malmstrom failure was a nuclear surety inspection handled by the Global Strike Command inspector general to specifically evaluate the nuclear mission.
Following the inspection at Minot, Global Strike Command and U.S. Strategic Command announced more inspections into all of the missile wings.
This is not the first time the 341st has failed an inspection. Problems with the wing’s maintenance group and its personnel reliability program caused the wing to fail its nuclear surety inspection in 2008. At the time, the missile force operated under Air Forces Space Command, headed by Gen. Robert Kehler, who now leads U.S. Strategic Command. Kehler said then that he believed the right leadership was in place at the 341st. The commander at the time, then-Col. Michael Fortney, was promoted to brigadier general in 2011 and is now director of operations for at Global Strike Command headquarters.
The 341st Missile Wing, still under Fortney’s command, also failed an inspection in February 2010, along with the 16th Munitions Squadron at Malmstrom.