U.S. Air Force Failed Another Nuclear Security Test

Beau Wade/Air Force/AP

Security forces at an Air Force base in Montana failed to stop a simulated capture of a nuclear weapon, revealing a "critical deficiency," according to internal documents obtained by the Associated Press.

The Malmstrom Air Force Base was tested with an "Empty Quiver" scenario last August, in which a nuclear weapon is stolen from one of the base's 150 nuclear-tipped missiles. But security forces failed to recapture the weapon within a certain time frame, thereby flunking the test. In January, a commander at the base told the AP that the simulation "confused our airmen. We were off by a matter of seconds." Meanwhile, the internal report placed blame on several areas:

It said insufficient training was at the heart of the problem, beginning with a lack of familiarity among the security forces with "complex scenario" exercises. It also cited unspecified shortcomings in "leadership culture" and a lack of standardized simulations not only at Malmstrom but throughout the nuclear missile corps.

After this critical internal report, the base faced another test two months later and security forces passed.

The Air Force failure comes less than a year after Eric Schlosser's explosive book Command and Control, which found that the U.S. Air Force has come incredibly close to accidentally setting off nuclear weapons several times. At the "Damascus Incident" in 1980, for example, a worker at an Air Force base dropped a socket during regular missile maintenance and pierced a Titan II ballistic missile, sending rocket fuel spraying. That almost led to an accidental nuclear explosion in Arkansas.

In a conversation with The Wire last September, Schlosser noted that because of the Air Force's compartmentalization and secrecy, many of its leaders didn't know about the safety breaches until he uncovered them. That suggests that outside reporting by the AP and others is just as valuable as the Air Force's own internal investigations. The AP's  reporting over the last six months has numerous concerns with the Air Force's nuclear missile units, including low morale, poor training and leadership, and institutional neglect.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by Brocade

    Best of 2016 Federal Forum eBook

    Earlier this summer, Federal and tech industry leaders convened to talk security, machine learning, network modernization, DevOps, and much more at the 2016 Federal Forum. This eBook includes a useful summary highlighting the best content shared at the 2016 Federal Forum to help agencies modernize their network infrastructure.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    GBC Flash Poll Series: Merger & Acquisitions

    Download this GBC Flash Poll to learn more about federal perspectives on the impact of industry consolidation.

  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    A DevOps Roadmap for the Federal Government

    This GBC Report discusses how DevOps is steadily gaining traction among some of government's leading IT developers and agencies.

  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    Joint Enterprise Licensing Agreements

    Read this eBook to learn how defense agencies can achieve savings and efficiencies with an Enterprise Software Agreement.

  • Sponsored by Cloudera

    Government Forum Content Library

    Get all the essential resources needed for effective technology strategies in the federal landscape.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.