WASHINGTON — Five years ago the Air Force considered a series of proposals to boost morale and fix performance and security lapses in its nuclear missile corps, according to internal emails and documents obtained by The Associated Press. But many fell short or died on the vine, and now, with the force again in crisis, it’s retracing those earlier steps.
The new effort is more far-reaching, on a tighter timetable and backed by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. So it appears to hold more promise for an Air Force under scrutiny after a variety of embarrassing setbacks and missteps raised questions about whether some of the world’s most fearsome weapons are being properly managed.
The earlier approach, shown in internal Air Force documents and emails from 2008-09, included some of the ideas being floated again today by a new set of Air Force leaders, including bonus pay and other incentives to make more attractive the work of the men and women who operate, maintain and secure an Air Force fleet of 450 Minuteman 3 nuclear-tipped missiles. Then, as now, the Air Force also looked for ways to eliminate the most damaging “disincentives” — parts of the job that can make missile duty onerous.
“Keep the faith,” one commander wrote to his ICBM troops in an email in early 2009.
Faith, however, seemed to falter.
A series of AP reports last year documented training failures, low morale, deliberate violations of security rules, leadership lapses and other missteps. The AP also disclosed an unpublished study that found evidence of “burnout” and frustration among missile launch officers and ICBM security forces. In response, Hagel said something must be done promptly to restore public confidence in the nuclear force and ensure the weapons are under competent control.
Hagel came forward shortly after the disclosure of an Air Force drug investigation and an exam-cheating scandal within the ICBM force whose full dimensions are still being investigated. Hagel has given the Air Force wide latitude to find solutions to what he called “personnel failures,” but he wants action by late March.