U.S. Air Force Nuclear Missile Unit Fails Safety Test after ‘Tactical-Level Errors’

Mike O'Brien
Posted: 08/14/2013

A U.S. Air Force unit stationed at a remote nuclear missile installation in Montana failed a safety test this week.

A senior Air Force commander admitted the 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom Air Force Base made "tactical-level errors" in an exercise.

The exercise, which was part of an inspection that went on from August 5-13, was meant to test the unit's ability to operate safely.

The Air Force, however, was quick to point out that the failure did not indicate the U.S. nuclear arsenal was at risk.

Lt. Gen. James Kowalski said: "These inspections are designed to be tough to pass. A failure doesn't mean the wing isn't able to accomplish its mission.

"Commanders use these inspections to continually improve our training and procedures. These inspections allow us to identify causes and find solutions to problems in areas that aren't meeting our exacting standards."

The Air Force did not reveal exact details of the exercise but it admitted the 341st Missile Wing was rated "unsatisfactory" following the inspection.

Lt. Gen Kowalski said the airmen "fumbled" on a "small team exercise." He added that the service is now weighing whether to take disciplinary action.

The unit at Malmstrom is responsible for 150 Minuteman III nuclear missiles, which is about a third of the nation's land-based nuclear force.

The 341st Missile Wing is among several units charged with the task of controlling and maintaining the arsenal, keeping a 24-hour watch ready to fire the missiles upon a presidential order.

Earlier this year IDGA.org reported how 17 officers at Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota were temporarily stripped of their nuclear watch duties after receiving a bad grade for mastery of the missile launch operations.

Mike O'Brien
Posted: 08/14/2013