[Background: In March 2013, the 91st Missile Wing was inspected and received a “marginal” rating on Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) operations, the unit’s lowest rating received in the inspection and the equivalent of a “D.” As a result of the failure, 19 ICBM officers were suspended in April 2013. In an effort to find out the specifics of the inspection failure and the results of any subsequent reviews or analyses done, STTP submitted a FOIA request in May 2013 and, being unsuccessful, started a civil action in November 2013.]
In February 2014, STTP finally received the first round of documents from STRATCOM and the United States Air Force regarding the inspection failure of nuclear missileers at Minot Air Force Base (see Speaking Truth to Power v. United States Strategic Command, et al). These documents being incomplete and insufficient, STTP pushed back for more.
The second round of documents, linked below, include a slide show by the AF Global Strike Command entitled “91 MW ICBM Ops AFSO Event” from May 16th to 19th, 2013. This document lays out the four identified “Root Causes” for why the unit’s technical proficiency was substandard: Inadequate Training, Measurement Tools Not Properly Implemented, Lack of Leadership, and Insufficient Leadership Manning. Of particular concern are some of the reasons in the second category: the training exams were not proctored, and “group testing” was viewed by the unit as “taking care of each other.” In other words, testing was a collaborative process. The necessity of good teamwork skills aside, the statement reeks of cheating and unaccountability. Listed within the third root cause category is the statement that a “culture of toleration” allowed for “unprofessional and non-compliant behaviors.” Towards the end of the briefing is the statement that “The ICBM mission is of critical importance to the Nation and we need qualified, proficient and motivated personnel to perform this duty.” Yes, we sure do.
The stated reasons for the failures were punctuated by an analysis of their severity. A slideshow entitled “GSC Data Analysis” of May 15, 2013 highlights that the 91st Missile Wing had twice the errors of the 341st. Not only that, but test scores continued to drop after the CUI inspection failure. In the two months following the inspection (April and May 2013) the number of classroom errors doubled from those of the previous ten months combined (from May 2012 to March 2013). Between March and May 2013, test scores dropped from 97-100 to a score of 94-95. Could a crack-down after the failure have resulted in exposing even more weaknesses?
The new documents from the Air Force also include a "Root Cause Report" and Operations Assessment by Task Force 214 done from September 4-7, 2013. STRATCOM additionally provided 25 pages are print-outs of e-mails between STRATCOM and the AF from May, June, and July 2013.
The inspection failure of last year falls within a string of recent mishaps by the folks that man our nuclear arms, including blatant cheating on proficiency exams at the Malmstrom Air Force Base, officer drug use, and a survey conducted by RAND which exposed low morale amongst missileers. Given that we are in a situation where our military has the capability of annihilating mankind, the importance of a safe nuclear arsenal cannot be overstated. And given the numerous close calls putting us at peril, the reality of a safe nuclear arsenal has proven unobtainable.