WASHINGTON — With public trust and safety at stake, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered immediate actions Thursday to define the depth of trouble inside the nation’s nuclear force, which has been rocked by disclosures about security lapses, poor discipline, weak morale and other problems that raise questions about nuclear security.
It amounted to the most significant expression of high-level Pentagon concern about the nuclear force since 2008, when then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates fired the top uniformed and civilian officials in the Air Force following a series of mistakes that included an unauthorized flight of nuclear-armed cruise missiles across the country.
Hagel had recently said he was considering what may lay behind problems in the nuclear Air Force, but his chief spokesman said Thursday that the defense secretary concluded urgent remedies were needed.
“To the degree there are systemic problems in the training and professional standards of the nuclear career field, the secretary wants them solved,” spokesman Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby said. “To the degree there are gaps in our understanding or implementation of those standards, he wants them closed. And to the degree leaders have failed in their duties, he wants them held to account.”
Hagel summoned top military officials to a Pentagon conference, to be held within two weeks, to “raise and address” any personnel problems infesting the nuclear force, and he ordered an “action plan” be written within 60 days to explore nuclear force personnel issues, identify remedies and put those fixes into place quickly. Hagel said he and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, will host the nuclear summit.
The Pentagon chief also said he would assemble a small group of outsiders with expertise in the nuclear field to conduct a broader review of the U.S. nuclear force.
“Personnel failures within this force threaten to jeopardize the trust the American people have placed in us to keep our nuclear weapons safe and secure,” Hagel wrote in a memo to a dozen top officials, including heads of the Air Force and Navy.
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