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Air Force targets beleaguered nuke force with more funding, incentives

Jun. 18, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
An unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile launches May 28, 2013, at Vandenberg AFB, Calif.
An unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile launches May 28, 2013, at Vandenberg AFB, Calif. (Airman Yvonne Morales / Air Force)
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The Air Force is redirecting hundreds of millions of dollars to improve its beleaguered nuclear force and incentivize personnel who operate the nation’s intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Officials already have reallocated $50 million from the service’s 2014 budget to Global Strike Command, which oversees the service’s nuclear mission, and plan to spend an additional $350 million over the next five years, Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said Wednesday.

“Money [is] not everything but money’s important,” James told reporters in Washington. “These monies would go to sustainment and infrastructure type things that would go to some of the people issues ... and there could be more to come as we get into our next [budget planning] cycle.”

The Air Force nuclear community has suffered a string of setbacks, including failed inspections tests, a cheating scandal and low morale. Perhaps the most egregious problem surfaced in January, when dozens of officers at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana were accused of either participating in or knowing about a calculated effort to share answers on a monthly exam. Ten officers lost their jobs as a result.

James plans to make a number of corrective recommendations to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. Among them, she wants to elevate the Global Strike Command commander to a four-star general — from the current three-star rank — and increase the Air Force’s assistant chief of staff for strategic deterrence and nuclear integration from a two- to a three-star billet.

“There’s also undermanning in the nuclear force and ... [we’ve] already directed 1,100 additional people inserted into the nuclear force to get those manning levels up,” James said. These airmen “will be principally in the field, [and] we are going to 100-percent man eight critical nuclear specialties.”

Additionally, the Air Force has adjusted some of its force-shaping programs to push more airmen back into nuclear roles. For instance, officers in the nuclear and missile operations career field are no longer being targeted by involuntary separation programs, officials told Air Force Times in April.

New incentives, set to kick in during the “October or November time frame,” will include bonuses for new missileers who successfully complete initial skills training as well as targeted incentive pay for airmen assigned to secret missile sites in remote areas far from major bases, James said. The service is also offering college scholarships for missile duty via the Reserve Officer Training Corps, she said.

“I am certain that additional resources are still in order, and we’re going to have to talk about those resources as we get into the next [budget planning],” she said. “... We’re not going to fix this overnight. This is going to take persistent focus and persistent leadership and persistent attention for years to come.”

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