Air Force disciplines 15 officers in nuclear mishap

Six generals, nine colonels sanctioned for role in mistaken shipment to Taiwan.

Air Force leaders on Thursday announced they had taken administrative action against 15 officers for their role in the shipment of four intercontinental ballistic missile nose-cone fuse assemblies to Taiwan in August 2006.

The mistaken shipment, which was only discovered earlier this year, was sent in response to an order for helicopter batteries, raising serious questions about how well the military is tracking and handling sensitive nuclear-related materiel.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates initiated an investigation into the matter, which led him to fire the top civilian and military Air Force leaders. He later named Michael Donley as acting secretary and Gen. Norton Schwartz as chief of staff, and in July ordered the two leaders to review the investigation to determine appropriate disciplinary actions against officers implicated in the report.

At a Pentagon briefing on Thursday afternoon, Donley and Schwartz said the punishments were necessary to restore accountability to the service's nuclear mission. Some officers have been removed from command or reassigned to other duties, essentially ending their careers. Air Force leaders asked other officers to remain in service to "be part of the solution," Donley said.

"These actions are administrative in nature but can carry with them substantial consequences for the careers of these officers, including their potential to command, to be promoted, or to retire in their current grade," he said. "We recognize the years of dedicated service that these officers have given, but we cannot ignore the breaches of trust that have occurred on their watch."

Among the generals sanctioned, Lt. Gen. Kevin Sullivan, deputy chief of staff for logistics, installations and mission support, received the most serious punishment -- a letter of reprimand. The letter said he failed to adequately address logistics policy deficiencies and take action to correct previously identified systemic problems in ICBM logistics. Sullivan also was cited for poor oversight while serving as commander of Ogden Air Logistics Center at Hill Air Force Base in Utah.

Letters of reprimand are typically career-ending events. According to the Air Force, Sullivan has requested retirement.

Five other generals received letters of admonishment:

  • Lt. Gen. Michael Hamel, for failing to effectively exercise responsibility for ICBM system sustainment and for not correcting recurring deficiencies in engineering support of ICBM components while serving as commander of the Space and Missile Systems Center. Hamel had previously requested retirement.
  • Maj. Gen. Roger Burg, commander of 20th Air Force, for failing to exercise effective oversight of ICBM sustainment-related activities and for not identifying and correcting deficiencies in shipping and receiving sensitive components. Burg will remain in command to continue corrective actions he started.
  • Maj. Gen. Kathleen Close, commander of the Ogden Air Logistics Center, for not exercising effective command oversight of depot maintenance, engineering activities and materiel control of sensitive components; for not recognizing systemic weaknesses in supply chain management; and for failing to correct previously identified deficiencies. She also will remain in command.
  • Brig. Gen. Francis Bruno, for failure to identify and correct weaknesses in logistics management and maintenance support for ICBM components and for not correcting previously identified problems at the service's air logistics centers when he served as director of logistics for Air Force Materiel Command. He will retire Oct. 1.
  • Brig. Gen. Arthur Cameron III was admonished for not identifying and correcting problems in depot maintenance operations involving sensitive components, and for failing to correct previously identified discrepancies in materiel control and maintenance when he served as commander of the 309th Maintenance Wing at Ogden Air Logistics Center. He received a routine reassignment before any personnel actions were initiated.

In addition, five colonels received letters of reprimand for poor command oversight. All were commanders of units that contributed to the improper shipment to Taiwan, or units with deficient performance. Two have been removed from command, one of whom is retiring. The three other officers, who left their commands earlier, will remain in their current positions.

Three colonels, all commanders, received letters of admonishment. One was removed from command. Another was allowed to continue in command. The third was reassigned in a normal tour rotation and will remain in his new assignment.

The final colonel to be disciplined received a letter of counseling for failing to exercise effective command oversight in a unit not involved in the Taiwan incident.

"In holding these officers accountable we considered the needs of the Air Force," said Donley. Because some had vital knowledge and because "their ability to serve has not been compromised," they were asked to stay on and help restore accountability in the nuclear mission, he said.

Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said in a statement, "The disciplinary actions announced today are regrettable, but are necessary to address recent leadership failures. The Air Force must now focus on improving its security culture to ensure that such incidents do not happen again."

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