US Air Force sets up new command for nuclear forces

Agence France-Presse: August 10, 2009

The US Air Force on Friday launches a new Global Strike Command responsible for nuclear forces after two major mishaps raised doubts about the supervision of the country’s atomic weapons.

The opening of the command marks a shake-up that followed the botched handling of nuclear weapons and the subsequent sacking of the air force’s top civilian and military leaders last year.

The command, located at Barksdale Air Force base in the southern state of Louisiana, will combine nuclear-capable B-52 and B-2 bombers as well as the intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) force — which had previously been under the Air Force Space Command in Colorado.

“We needed to refocus on the nuclear mission and not lose sight of that,” Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley told reporters ahead of Friday’s ceremony.

He said there had been some “painful lessons” but the new command would “reinvigorate our nuclear enterprise.”

An outside panel headed by former defense secretary James Schlesinger concluded that the US Air Force had for years given the nuclear forces a lower priority and failed to manage the mission with rigor.

The panel found “an unambiguous, dramatic and unacceptable decline in the air force’s commitment to perform the nuclear mission and, until very recently, little has been done to reverse it.”

Two widely-publicized incidents raised questions over the air force’s handling of its nuclear mission.

First came the inadvertent transfer from one US base to another of nuclear-armed cruise missiles under the wing of a B-52 bomber in September 2007.

Then the Pentagon discovered that nuclear weapons components had been inadvertently shipped to Taiwan in 2006. …