What’s Going On With The Commanders Of The U.S. Nuclear Force?
Another top General in charge of much of the nation’s nuclear weapons force has been sacked:
First it was bad attitudes among young officers in nuclear missile launch centers. Now it’s alleged bad behavior by two of the nuclear arsenal’s top commanders.
Together the missteps spell trouble for a nuclear force doubted by some for its relevance, defended by others as vital to national security and now compelled to explain how the firing of key commanders this week should not shake public confidence.
The Air Force on Friday fired Maj. Gen. Michael Carey, who was in charge of its nuclear missiles. Two days earlier the Navy sacked Vice Adm. Tim Giardina, the second-in-command at U.S. Strategic Command, which writes the military’s nuclear war plans and would transmit launch orders should the nation ever go to nuclear war.
In an Associated Press interview Friday, the nation’s most senior nuclear commander, Air Force Gen. Robert Kehler, said he told his bosses, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and the Joint Chiefs chairman, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, that despite the two “unfortunate behavioral incidents,” the nuclear force is stable.
“I still have 100 percent confidence that the nation’s nuclear deterrent force is safe, secure and effective,” Kehler said from his Strategic Command headquarters in Nebraska.
Together, the Carey and Giardina dismissals add a new dimension to a set of serious problems facing the military’s nuclear force.
The ICBM segment in particular has had several recent setbacks, including a failed safety and security inspection at a base in Montana in August, followed by the firing of the colonel there in charge of security forces. In May, The Associated Press revealed that 17 Minuteman 3 missile launch control officers at Minot Air Force Base, N.D., had been taken off duty in a reflection of what one officer there called “rot” inside the ICBM force.
On Friday the Air Force removed Maj. Gen. Michael Carey, a 35-year veteran, from his command of 20th Air Force, responsible for all 450 of the service’s intercontinental ballistic missiles. Carey, who took his post in June 2012, will be reassigned pending the outcome of an investigation into personal misbehavior, the service said.
The Air Force would not specify what Carey did to get fired, but two officials with knowledge of the investigation indicated that it was linked to alcohol use.
On Wednesday the Navy said Giardina was relieved of command amid an investigation of gambling issues. He was demoted from three- to two-star rank and reassigned to a Navy staff job until the Naval Criminal Investigative Service probe is completed.
This isn’t the first shakeup in the nation’s nuclear forces this year. Back in July, I noted that seventeen Air Force officers had been stripped of their authority to launch missiles after a review of their unit’s effectiveness came back with a very unsatisfactory rating. Whether this is connected to that incident, or to other similar incidents of declining effectiveness in this part off the nation’s defenses. As I asked back then, one wonders if this is a symptom of the fact that this part of the military has, in some sense, become less important than it was during the Cold War. Is complacency leading to ineffectiveness?
We’ll likely never know for sure what the latest actions were all about, but it strikes me that this ought to be something that Congress should look into.
H/T: Stephen Green