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Air Force Nuclear Unit Fails Key Security Test via TIME

(WASHINGTON) — An Air Force unit that operates one-third of the nation’s land-based nuclear missiles has failed a safety and security inspection, marking the second major setback this year for a force charged with the military’s most sensitive mission, the general in charge of the nuclear air force told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

Lt. Gen. James M. Kowalski, commander of Air Force Global Strike Command, said a team of “relatively low-ranking” airmen failed one exercise as part of a broader inspection, which began last week and ended Tuesday. He said that for security reasons he could not be specific about the team or the exercise.

“This unit fumbled on this exercise,” Kowalski said by telephone from his headquarters at Barksdale Air Force Base, La., adding that this did not call into question the safety or control of nuclear weapons at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana.

“The team did not demonstrate the right procedures,” he said, and as a result was rated a failure.

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Following a series of nuclear embarrassments in 2008 — including the inadvertent transport of six nuclear-tipped missiles on a B-52 bomber, whose pilot did not know they were aboard when he flew from Minot to Barksdale Air Force Base, La. — then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates fired the top two Air Force officials.

Kowalski’s command was created in late 2009 as part of an effort to fix what was broken in the nuclear force. In Tuesday’s interview he said he is encouraged that inspections after 2009 began finding an increasing number of problems at the ICBM wings, followed by a decrease since 2011. He said this tells him that the Air Force has come up with more rigorous, effective means of inspecting, and that they are spurring change.

“This is a difficult inspection,” he said, so occasional failures do not point to a systemic failure to adhere to safety and security regulations.

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