Commander disciplined for nuclear mistake


Richard Moore

Original source URL:

Commander disciplined for nuclear mistake
By Michael Hoffman, Military Times

The Air Force continued handing out disciplinary actions in response to the six 
nuclear warheads mistakenly flown on a B-52 bomber from Minot Air Force Base, 
N.D., to Barksdale Air Force Base, La., on Aug. 30. The squadron commander in 
charge of Minot's munitions crews was relieved of all duties pending the 

It was originally reported that five nuclear warheads were transported, but 
officers who tipped Military Times to the incident who have asked to remain 
anonymous since they are not authorized to discuss the incident, have since 
updated that number to six.

Air Force and defense officials would not confirm the missiles were armed with 
nuclear warheads Wednesday, citing longstanding policy, but they did confirm the
Air Force was "investigating an error made last Thursday during the transfer of 
munitions" from Minot to Barksdale.

The original plan was to transport non-nuclear Advanced Cruise Missiles, mounted
on the wings of a B-52, to Barksdale as part of a Defense Department effort to 
decommission 400 of the ACMs. It was not discovered that the six missiles had 
nuclear warheads until the plane landed at Barksdale, leaving the warheads 
unaccounted for during the approximately 3 and one-half hour flight between the 
two bases, the officers said.

President Bush was immediately alerted to the mistake and the Air Force launched
a service-wide investigation headed by Maj. Gen. Douglas Raaberg, director of 
Air and Space Operations at Air Combat Command Headquarters, said Air Force 
spokesman Lt. Col. Ed Thomas.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has requested daily briefings from Air Force 
Chief of Staff Gen. Michael Moseley on the progress of the investigation. Sen. 
Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., a member of the Senate Appropriations defense 
subcommittee, requested a full-classified briefing, not just the preliminary 
information being provided to lawmakers, to explain how a mistake of this 
magnitude could have happened.

Thomas said the transfer was conducted safely and the American public was never 
in any danger since the weapons were in Air Force custody and control at all 

But few critics were placated Wednesday by the Air Force's reassurances.

"Nothing like this has ever been reported before and we have been assured for 
decades that it was impossible," said Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., co-chair of 
the House Bi-partisan Task Force.

Non-proliferation treaty experts said the Air Force didn't violate any 
international nuclear treaties by transporting the nuclear warheads on the B-52,
but it was the first time since 1968 that it's been known publicly that nuclear 
warheads were transported on a U.S. bomber.

The Defense Department does transport nuclear warheads by air, but instead of 
bombers it uses C-17 or C-130 cargo aircraft.

"These reports are deeply disturbing," said Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo., chairman of
the House Armed Services Committee. "The American people, our friends, and our 
potential adversaries must be confident that the highest standards are in place 
when it comes to our nuclear arsenal."

The Defense Department uses a computerized tracking program to keep tabs on each
one of its nuclear warheads, said Hans Kristensen, director of the Nuclear 
Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists. For the six 
warheads to make it onto the B-52, each one would have had to be signed out of 
its storage bunker and transported to the bomber. Diligent safety protocols 
would have to have been ignored to load the warheads onto the plane, he said.

"I just can't imagine how all of this happened," said Philip Coyle, a senior 
adviser on nuclear weapons at the Center for Defense Information. "The 
procedures are so rigid; this is the last thing that's supposed to happen."

At no time was there a risk for a nuclear detonation, even if the B-52 crashed 
on its way to Barksdale, said Steve Fetter, a former Defense Department official
who worked on nuclear weapons policy in 1993-94. A crash would ignite the high 
explosives associated with the warhead, and possibly cause a leak of plutonium, 
but the warhead's elaborate safeguards would prevent a nuclear detonation from 
occurring, he said.

"The Air Force takes its mission to safeguard weapons seriously," Thomas said. 
"No effort will be spared to ensure that the matter is thoroughly and completely

Along with the 5th Munitions Squadron commander, the munitions crews involved in
mistakenly loading the nuclear warheads at Minot have been temporarily 
decertified from performing their duties involving munitions, pending corrective
actions or additional training, Thomas said.

The error comes after the Air Force announced last March the 5th Bomb Wing won 
two servicewide safety awards during fiscal year 2006.

"This is really shocking," Coyle said. "The Air Force can't tolerate it, and the
Pentagon can't tolerate it, either."

Posting archives: 

Escaping the Matrix website:
cyberjournal website:

How We the People can change the world:

Community Democracy Framework:

Moderator: •••@••.•••  (comments welcome)