The U.S. Air Force has launched an investigation into illicit, off-duty drug use by troops who protect its nuclear weapons, senior service officials said Friday, the latest black eye for a nuclear force that has suffered several scandals in recent years.
The probe centers on 14 enlisted troops between the ranks of airman and airman first class who serve with the 90th Security Forces Group at F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wyo., said Gen. Robin Rand, commander of Air Force Global Strike Command. He said the investigation focuses on “illegal drug activity,” but would not say whether the allegation focuses on use, sales or both. He also would not say what kind of drugs are involved, or whether the investigation could implicate more personnel.
“I’m not going to go into the specific details,” Rand said. “I will tell you that it came to light because of one airman who had suspected drug activity by another and he reported that to his chain of command. We’re going to stop at that point, and I’m not going to speculate on the others at this time because it is under investigation.”
The Associated Press reported Friday that the investigation may focus at least in part on cocaine. Those involved have been suspended from their jobs while the Air Force Office of Special Investigation examines the case.
The investigation comes as the service continues to make changes to the nuclear force following a cheating scandal involving missile launch officers that surfaced two years ago. Global Strike Command manages two of three “legs” of the U.S. nuclear arsenal, which includes bombers and intercontinental ballistic missiles operated by the Air Force and Navy submarines that can launch missiles at sea.
The so-called force improvement plan the Air Force launched after the cheating scandal provided a voice to the nuclear security forces, who were eventually provided new uniforms, better equipment and more personnel to cut down hours. But they continue to use aging, Vietnam-era Huey helicopters and to ask for upgrades.
The cheating scandal surfaced at the 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana in 2013. It was uncovered after the Air Force began investigating illegal drug use on several bases, some of which have nuclear missiles and some which do not. Both issues are considered especially sensitive in the nuclear force, considering the power of the weapons involved.
In 2014, the Air Force fired nine officers overseeing nuclear weapons, saying that while they did not facilitate or know about the cheating, they fostered a zero-defects culture that encouraged it. Dozens of missile launch officers are believed to have shared the answers to nuclear launch tests through text messages in order to register perfect scores.