By Ann Scott Tyson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 25, 2008
At least six Air Force generals, ranking from one to three stars, have had disciplinary actions taken against them for their role in the mistaken shipment of fuses for nuclear warheads to Taiwan, defense officials said yesterday.
Several lower-ranking Air Force officers also have received sanctions, the officials said, following investigations into the 2006 mishap that underscored the Air Force's failure to properly oversee the nation's nuclear arsenal, which Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has called its most important mission.
One Pentagon official called the disciplinary sanctions "extensive and severe," suggesting that they would spell an end to the careers or advancement prospects of the officers involved. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because the Air Force had not yet made an announcement.
In addition to the punitive measures against Air Force officers, two Army generals were also given disciplinary letters, the Associated Press reported yesterday. It said that according to officials, at least one Air Force general received a letter of reprimand, which is a more serious rebuke, while others got less severe letters of admonishment or counseling, and the two Army brigadier generals received what are called "memorandums of concern," also a lower level of punishment. It said the Air Force and Army officers punished are mainly in logistical jobs and were involved to some degree in the mistaken shipment to Taiwan of four electrical fuses for ballistic missile nuclear warheads in 2006. The error did not come to light until this past March.
That incident -- and another serious mistake in August 2007, when the Air Force unknowingly flew nuclear warheads between North Dakota and Louisiana -- led Gates to take the unprecedented step in June of firing the Air Forces' two top civilian and military leaders, Gen. T. Michael Moseley, then Air Force chief of staff, and Air Force Secretary Michael W. Wynne.
Gates then nominated new leaders -- acting Air Force Secretary Michael B. Donley and the Air Force chief of staff, Gen. Norton A. Schwartz -- who decided on the disciplinary actions, expected to be announced today by the Air Force.
Earlier this month, Gates reiterated that he considers nuclear weapons management the military's "most sensitive mission" and one critical to maintaining the confidence of foreign allies in the U.S. nuclear deterrent.
An initial, internal report found that the Air Force had neglected this mission and had a culture that lacked accountability for the poor performance. Earlier this month, an independent task force appointed by Gates criticized what it called a serious erosion of Air Force management of the nuclear arsenal and recommended the consolidation of nuclear weapons responsibilities under a single command.