Leadership: Losing Track of Nukes

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April 15,2008: Last Summer, there was much angst in the U.S. Department of Defense when it was discovered that six nuclear cruise missiles had accidentally been mounted on a B-52 and flown halfway across the country. How could this happen?

Many investigations and studies later, it turns out the fault lies mainly with the demise of SAC (Strategic Air Command) in 1992. Throughout the Cold War, SAC was seen as the ever-powerful, ever-vigilant military organization that preserved peace by scaring potential enemies half to death. SAC controlled most of the U.S. nuclear weapons (the U.S. Navy controlled the nukes for its sea launched missiles and aircraft). SAC controlled the bombers and ICBMs, as well as the nuclear weapons they carried. SAC considered itself an elite operation, and was pretty intense about whatever it did. SAC made sure the nukes were secure and well taken care of. But when SAC was disbanded, the nukes were disbursed to two different organizations (bombers to the ACC, or Air Combat Command, and the ICBMs to the Space Command). Neither of these outfits was as tight-assed as SAC, and that's what eventually led to the unauthorized flight of the nuclear armed cruise missiles.

The navy, meanwhile, had no problems after the Cold War, because nothing changed. They still had their nukes (although, as with the Air Force and Army, fear fewer of them because of nuclear disarmament treaties entered into right at the end of the Cold War), and still took care of them the same way (marines were involved in this security, which is always a good thing).

SAC made nuclear weapons security look easy, and that lulled ACC into a false sense of security. ACC stored nuclear warheads just like any other warhead, and it became easy to get them mixed up. Read the paperwork wrong, and there you have it. The SAC crowd may have been a little intense, but they knew what they were dealing with, and took care of business for nearly half a century.

 


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