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Missile Fields Scandalized from Top to Bottom

By John Laforge | CounterPunch | July 20, 2015

Over the last several years, a surprising number of high-ranking military officers have been investigated, punished or fired over conduct unbecoming, sexual harassment, sexual violence, retaliation against subordinates, recruiting fraud and financial improprieties. In 2014, a Pentagon study found that reports of rapes and sexual assaults in the military increased eight percent, and this came on the heels of a 50 percent increase in reported rapes and sexual assaults in 2013.

Simultaneously, nuclear weapons-related scandals have rocked the Air Force and the Navy, resulting in hundreds of demotions, firings, courts-martial and forced retirements.

Just to note a few:  Feb. 5, 2014, “Navy Opens Inquiry into Cheating in Reactor Training”; April 18, 2014, “Another Charge in Navy Bribe Case”; Nov. 14, 2014, “Pentagon Studies Reveal Major Nuclear Problems”; and Jan. 7, 2015, “California: Navy Commander Admits Taking Bribes.”

Officers among the 9,600 personnel in the Minuteman III missile system have been accused of and penalized for distributing illegal narcotics, violating safety and security rules, failing proficiency exercises, sleeping at the controls, cheating on exams, “burnout,” sexual assaults, spousal abuse, and even illegally flying nuclear-armed Cruise missiles across the country. Two Pentagon reports in 2014 urged then Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to allocate between $1-10 billion to quickly fix management and infrastructure in the nuclear weapons system.

An Air Force study obtained by the Associated Press in 2013 found that court-martial rates in the Minuteman missile fields in 2011 and 2012 were more than twice as high as in the overall Air Force. A lengthy article by Nina Burleigh in the June 18 Rolling Stone reports there are currently four courts-martial – for drug use, rape, assault, sexual assault on an unconscious person, and larceny – underway at the Minot Air Force Base alone. Minot is the only AFB in the country to host both B-52 Stratofortress bombers and Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Missile field duty, whether in Minot, Wyoming or Montana, is understood by the personnel assigned to it as a career cul-de-sac, plagued with long hours of isolation and boredom, and haunted by high-level discussions of eliminating the missiles. The missileers’ jobs, and those of their colleagues and superior officers could be cancelled at any time, and even former Secretary Hagel signed a 2012 report recommending exactly that.

In 2014, the AP referred to, “a flagging sense of purpose,” “stunning breakdowns in discipline, training, morale, security, leadership,” and “a decrepit Minuteman III missile force that few airmen want to join and even fewer view as a career-enhancing mission.” Even the Air Force Secretary in 2013, Michael Donley, said during congressional testimony that he was worried that talk of reducing the nuclear arsenal was having a “corrosive effect” on his troops.

One independent investigation of the string of public scandals declared that the crimes and misdemeanors were symptomatic of a deep-seated problem: “an unambiguous, dramatic and unacceptable decline in the Air Force’s commitment to perform the nuclear mission.”

Air Force chief of staff Gen. Mark Welsh said in 2013 that low morale among missileers is caused by the shrinking of the number of ICBMs. “You say, ‘My goodness, there’s only three [missile fields]. There’s no opportunity there’.” But former missile launch officer Bruce Blair, now a research scholar at Princeton University, told the press, “This dead-end career is not the result of shrinking nuclear arsenals, but rather because the Cold War ended decades ago …”

In an attempt to raise spirits, Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James, who directs 700,000 active-duty and reserve personnel, was reported Feb. 13, 2014 to be considering salary increases for the missileers, who make between $35,000 and $62,000 in base pay.

In the missile fields though, the numbing tedium of having had no mission for the 25 years since the end of the Cold War will not be relieved by a pay raise. Lacking an enemy to target—Minuteman missile warheads are reportedly aimed only at the open sea now, but can be quickly re-directed in a crisis—missile crews can’t be blamed for feeling useless. Overshadowed for promotion and commendations by the Air Force bombing campaigns and drone attacks in the terror wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, and unable to deter attacks against US military or civilian targets around the world, the missile crews’ “morale is abysmal,” according to Blair, and they are “suffering a deep malaise.”

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists put it this way: “Given the significant number of ‘expert’ studies that have appeared over the past five years suggesting that the ICBM leg of the nuclear triad should be deactivated, it is no wonder that morale has been a persistent challenge in the missile force …” You might say the missileers’ job is dead-ended in more ways than one.

John LaForge is a Co-director of Nukewatch, a peace and environmental justice group in Wisconsin, and edits its newsletter.

July 20, 2015 Posted by | Aletho News | , , | Leave a comment

US Air Force drops (expensive) mock nuclear bomb in Nevada

RT | July 8, 2015

The United States Air Force is taking steps to update the Cold War-era B61 nuclear bomb to Mod 12 ‒ or twelfth iteration ‒ completing tests with a mock up version of the weapon in Nevada’s Great Basin Desert.

The B61 has been a top weapon in the US nuclear arsenal since its development at the height of the Cold War in 1963. The intermediate-yield thermonuclear weapon can be delivered by a supersonic aircraft. It is designed to cause a two-stage radiation implosion, but it is a “gravity bomb” – which just means that it’s unguided.

The once USSR-facing technology might seem to be an anachronism in this day and age, but President Barack Obama has taken initiative in keeping this weapon alive and well, despite a hefty price tag. The total cost of the program is estimated to be as high as $11 billion, according to the New York Times – and that’s just to update it to its current version.

This seems to be at odds with Obama’s promise of not fielding any new nuclear warheads, which he made during a speech in Prague in 2009. In that same speech, he explained his vision of a United States with less reliance on nuclear arms, and ultimately a world where nuclear weapons are a thing of the past.

The truth looks rather different. A testimony, ominously titled ‘China, India and Pakistan – growing nuclear capabilities with no end in sight,’ was given to Congress by Dr. Ashley J. Tellis of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

“The nuclear weapon programs in these three countries are worthy of attention because they are active, expanding, and diversifying,” the testimony warns.

India and Pakistan are not members of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which came into force in 1970.

Read more: US blocks nuclear disarmament document over Israel, Moscow fumes

July 9, 2015 Posted by | Militarism, Progressive Hypocrite | , , , | Leave a comment

NATO & allies stage thousands-strong drills across Europe

RT | May 4, 2015

Three sets of military exercises kicked off in Europe on Monday, involving thousands of servicemen from a variety of NATO nations and their allies, amid a wave of similar action across the area.

Estonia is holding its largest-ever military drills. Named Siil-2015 (Hedgehog), the maneuvers involve about 13,000 personnel. The number includes about 7,000 reservists, along with members of the volunteer Estonian Defense League.

Siil-2015, scheduled to last until May 15, also involves forces from the US, the UK, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Belgium, Poland and the Netherlands. American troops, who are staying in Estonia as part of the massive training operation Atlantic Resolve, will bring four Abrams main battle tanks to the exercise. British, Belgian and German air defense units, as well as several NATO warplanes, will also take part.

The Lithuanian Army is holding its own maneuvers as part of the largest national drills called Zaibo Kirtis (Lightning Strike). The training involves over 3,000 troops. It is focused on joint action by the army and civilian authorities against so-called hybrid threats combining both military and non-military methods of fighting, according to Army Commander Major-General Jonas Vytautas Zukas.

In a statement cited by TASS, the major-general said: “The exercises will simulate situations when the Interior Ministry’s forces and resources are insufficient to neutralize various extreme situations unrelated to the direct repulsion of an imaginary enemy’s attack and the army should be involved.”

Lightning Strike will also be testing the country’s mobilization system and cyber security works, according to the Defense Ministry’s press release.

In Norway, NATO and its allies have gathered for annual anti-submarine exercises. About 5,000 servicemen from 10 NATO countries and Sweden are taking part. The drills, codenamed Dynamic Mongoose, involve simulated sub hunts utilizing surface vessels, aircraft and a variety of radar and sonar technologies. The US, Germany and Sweden are providing the submarines.

The two-week exercise follows reports of a suspected foreign underwater vessel off the coast of Finland, which prompted the use of depth charges to scare it off. In autumn last year, a similar scare triggered a week-long search in the sea near Stockholm, for what later turned out to be a civilian workboat. In the latter case, the finger of blame was unequivocally pointed at Russia, amid rising tensions over the Ukrainian conflict.

When speaking to the media about Dynamic Mongoose, NATO commanders avoided sending a message to any country in particular: “Obviously we’re aware of the incidents that have happened in some of our partner nations’ waters,” NATO Rear Admiral Brad Williamson said. “I think what it does is it focuses our efforts and our training here.”

Read more:

NATO ‘Tornado’ military drills in Estonia to use laser training system

Sweden confirms mystery ‘Russian sub’…was in fact a workboat

May 4, 2015 Posted by | Militarism | , , , , , | 1 Comment

US planes worth $500mn sold for scrap in Afghanistan – for just $32,000

RT | October 10, 2014

A US watchdog is asking why 16 planes bought for the Afghan Air Force, costing almost $500 million, were turned into scrap metal valued at just $32,000. The government wants to know why hundreds of millions of taxpayers’ money were wasted on the project.

The military transport planes had been sitting at Kabul International Airport for years, before they were sent for scrap. John Sopko, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), wants to know why the money was wasted. According to Reuters, he had asked Air Force Secretary Deborah James to keep a record of all decisions concerning the destruction of the 16 C-27J planes.

Sopko also wants to know what will happen to another four transport planes currently stored at the US Air Force base in Ramstein, Germany.

“I am concerned that the officials responsible for planning and executing the scrapping of the planes may not have considered other possible alternatives in order to salvage taxpayer dollars,” Sopko said.

The 20 planes were bought from Alenia, which is part of the Italian aircraft company Fimmeccanica SpA. However, according to a SIGAR letter sent to US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, the program was ended in March 2013, “after sustained, serious performance, maintenance, and spare parts problems and the planes were grounded,” ABC reported.

By January 2013, according to Sopko’s office, the aircraft were not airworthy and had only flown a total of 234 of the 4,500 hours required in nine months from January through September 2012. Spoko’s office also said that a further $200 million was needed to buy spare parts.

The Defense Logistics Agency was responsible for destroying the planes and Sopko now wants to know if any of the parts of the planes were sold before they were sent for scrap metal.

Major Bradlee Avots, a Pentagon spokesman, said that the 16 aircraft at Kabul International Airport had been destroyed “to minimize impact on drawdown of US Forces in Afghanistan,” and added that more information would be released after a review. The US government is currently in the process of scaling down from its present military personnel in Afghanistan of around 26,000 to a force of just under 10,000, who will be staying in a mainly advisory role.

Avots also said that the US Department of Defense and the US Air Force were still deciding what to do with the four aircraft in Germany.

SIGAR has been investigating possible wasteful spending on warplanes since the end of 2013, following questions raised by military officials and non-profit organizations.

Sopko has said that he does not know if wasteful plane procurement was due to any criminal malice or was just mismanagement, but that the “scrap metal” incident in Afghanistan was not an isolated case.

In June, despite Afghanistan being a landlocked country, a US government watchdog found that the Pentagon spent more than $3 million obtaining eight patrol boats that were never used. Additionally, the cost of each boat turned out to be about $375,000 – far more than the $50,000 they usually sell for in the US.

During his investigation, Sopko said that records related to the purchase and cancelation of the patrol boats were severely lacking, and his questions to the military have not resulted in adequate answers.

“The military has been unable to provide records that would answer the most basic questions surrounding this $3 million purchase,” his office told the Washington Post in a statement in June.

October 10, 2014 Posted by | Corruption, Militarism | , , , , | Leave a comment

Nuclear bomb nearly detonated after falling on North Carolina – declassified report

RT | June 11, 2014

1961-Goldsboro-M39-453x600In a scenario that could’ve been extremely devastating, the United States narrowly averted a nuclear disaster in 1961 when an atomic bomb nearly detonated after falling out of a B-52 bomber that broke up in the sky.

According to the Washington Post, the incident took place on January 21, 1961 – less than 20 years after nuclear bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki – and is explained further in a recently declassified report published by the National Security Archives.

When the US Air Force aircraft went into a tailspin and broke up, the two bombs fell towards Goldsboro, North Carolina. The parachute for one of the weapons failed to deploy, and the plane crash had actually pushed the bomb into “armed” mode by the time it hit the ground. Luckily for North Carolina, the plane’s destruction also damaged the switch necessary to trigger detonation.

“The report implied that because Weapon 2 landed in a free-fall, without the parachute operating, the timer did not initiate the bomb’s high voltage battery (“trajectory arming”), a step in the arming sequence,” wrote Bill Burr of the National Security Archives.

“For Weapon 2, the Arm/Safe switch was in the “safe” position, yet it was virtually armed because the impact shock had rotated the indicator drum to the “armed” position. But the shock also damaged the switch contacts, which had to be intact for the weapon to detonate.”

Burr noted in his report just how fine the line was and is between safety and destruction.

“Perhaps this is what Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara had in mind, a few years later, when he observed that, ‘by the slightest margin of chance, literally the failure of two wires to cross, a nuclear explosion was averted,” he wrote.

These details are just the latest to surface about the incident, which was first revealed by nuclear weapons expert Eric Schlosser last year in a book titled, “Command and Control.” Through a Freedom of Information Act request, Schlosser was able to obtain documentation regarding the incident for the first time, and helped shed light on just how close the Air Force came to witnessing an atomic bomb explode on US soil.

As RT reported last year, the documents revealed that three of the four safety switches on the other bomb failed to work properly, meaning, as Schlosser noted, that only “one simple, dynamo-technology, low voltage switch stood between the United States and a major catastrophe.” The parachute on this one deployed, but when the bomb struck the ground the final firing signal triggered, only to be halted by that fourth safety switch.

The bombs contained a payload of four megatons each and could have generated explosions 260 times more powerful than the one that occurred in Hiroshima.

Before the documents related to the Goldsboro incident surfaced, the US government had denied that its nuclear weapons stockpile had ever put the nation at risk.

“The US government has consistently tried to withhold information from the American people in order to prevent questions being asked about our nuclear weapons policy,” Schlosser told the Guardian. “We were told there was no possibility of these weapons accidentally detonating, yet here’s one that very nearly did.”

June 11, 2014 Posted by | Militarism, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

US Air Force Clashes with California over Radioactive Waste Dump

By Ken Broder | AllGov | September 22, 2013

The U.S. Air Force has spent years cleaning up toxic and nuclear materials at McClellan Air Force Base outside Sacramento since it was decommissioned in 2011, unsuccessfully trying to ship radioactive waste to a California dump and successfully sending a bunch of it to Utah under suspicious circumstances.

But now, as it bears down on a 2019 deadline for finishing the job of scraping potentially dangerous materials from 326 waste areas before delivering what’s left of the base-turned-industrial-hub into nonmilitary hands, the Air Force wants to bury the last of the radioactive waste on the property, close to residential neighborhoods.

State regulators and the city are not happy.

California has stricter rules governing waste disposal than the federal government and the California Department of Public Health says the plans for entombing the radium-226, a substance known to cause cancer, do not meet its standards, according to Katherine Mieszkowski and Matt Smith of the Center for Investigative Reporting.

The department has the power to block transfer of the property. California law requires that only facilities with special permits can accept soil contaminated with radium, and the state doesn’t have any.

But Steve Mayer, the Air Force remediation project manager at McClellan, told Center reporters that he was prepared to wait out the city and state because by 2019, “There will be a different governor then, too, and (regulators) all work for the governor.”

Actions at McClellan could serve as a template for federal behavior at other bases in California facing similar transitions from military to civilian use. Instead of paying costly expenses to ship the material to dumps, the Air Force could simply bury it on-site and walk away. There are reportedly seven bases in California that could face similar situations.

State regulators rebuffed the Air Force in 2011 when it lobbied hard to classify its McClellan radioactive waste as “naturally occurring” so it could qualify for shipment to Clean Harbors’ Buttonwillow landfill. Instead, it sent 43,000 tons of soil to an Idaho dump.

The 3,452-acre base was named a Superfund site in 1987 owing to years of maintaining aircraft that involved the “use, storage and disposal of hazardous materials including industrial solvents, caustic cleansers, paints, metal plating wastes, low-level radioactive wastes, and a variety of fuel oils and lubricants,” according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Much of the residue is believed to be from cleanup efforts related to radioactive paint used more than 50 years ago on glow-in-the-dark dials and gauges.

The property is being transferred to private hands piecemeal. In 2007, 62 acres were moved to the McClellan Business Park and another 35 acres was sold in 2011 to U.S. Foods, a national food distribution company. In 2010, 545 acres were transferred to the business park and California Governor Jerry Brown approved the transfer of another 528 acres in January of this year.

To Learn More:

Air Force Hopes to Stick California City with Radioactive Waste Dump (by Katherine Mieszkowski and Matt Smith, Center for Investigative Reporting)

Air Force Sends Radioactive Material Too Hot for California Landfills to Idaho (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)

McClellan Air Force Base (U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission)

McClellan Air Force Base (Groundwater Contamination) (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency)

September 22, 2013 Posted by | Environmentalism, Militarism | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Despite Talk of Drones, 3/4 of U.S. Missiles in Afghanistan are Fired by Piloted Airplanes

By Matt Bewig | AllGov | March 26, 2013

(photo: U.S. Air Force)

Apparently stung by mounting criticism of its remote control assassination program, the Obama administration early this month secretly reneged on an Air Force promise to “provide more detailed information on [drone operations] in Afghanistan” by failing to provide data on drone strikes for February. And in an Orwellian twist, the Air Force removed the previously released data on drone strikes from the reports for October 2012 to January 2013.

According to the data, the Air Force actually relies more heavily on piloted aircraft to conduct airstrikes, with drones responsible for only about one-quarter of missiles fired. The data shows that the Air Force conducted 1,366 drone strikes in Afghanistan between 2009 and January 2013. Although casualty figures were omitted, it is known that the U.S. has killed between 3,049 and 4,376 civilians in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia during about 500 “covert” drone strikes, including at least 179 children—the equivalent of 9 Newtown child massacres.

Indeed, parents who have seen their children killed by U.S. bombs don’t care if the person who pushed the button that released the bomb was inside an airplane or in a control room thousands of miles away.

The “sanitized” reports without the drone strike data were created on February 22, just two days after Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) threatened to filibuster the nomination of John Brennan to be CIA Director over Paul’s concerns that the Obama administration believed it had the authority to use drone strikes inside the U.S. Joined by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), Paul filibustered for almost 13 hours, finally getting a denial from Attorney General Eric Holder that this administration believes it has such authority.

Although the Defense Department released a statement claiming the data was removed to make the reports more accurate in light of the unsupported assertion that most drone operations do not include strikes, the Pentagon also took pains to state that it was not involved in the decision to hide the data. That can only mean that the decision came straight from the White House—almost certainly from President Obama himself, who, ironically, promised in 2008 to run the federal government in a more open and transparent manner.

March 26, 2013 Posted by | Militarism, Progressive Hypocrite, War Crimes | , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Despite Talk of Drones, 3/4 of U.S. Missiles in Afghanistan are Fired by Piloted Airplanes