by Richard Scott
7. December 2009
An Analysis & Critique
Over 36 hours on August 29-30 2007, six AGM-129_ACM Air Launched Cruise Missiles each containing one W80_(nuclear_warhead) were removed from safeguarded weapons storage facilities at the Minot AFB in North Dakota, loaded aboard a B-52 bomber and flown 1500 miles to Barksdale AFB in Louisiana. While removed from secure storage, these weapons passed through six separate links in the chain of custody without being discovered, without being visually inspected and were left unguarded and unsecured on the runways of both Minot and Barksdale for 15 hours and 12 hours respectively before the Ordnance Unloading Team at Barksdale discovered the error, established a security zone and activated a Nuclear Security Alert to further safeguard the warheads.
Attempting to conceal the incident as part of the DOD’s policy on neither confirming nor denying the presence of nuclear weapons, Defense Secretary Robert Gates notified President Bush and ordered in internal Air Force Investigation of the incident, the first of it’s kind in the 40+ years of nuclear weapons handling. This lasted 6 days until the story of the incident was broken by the Military Times, quoting unnamed sources and picked up by the MSM. Soon after, the Air Force announced that the Minot Munitions Squadron commander was relieved of command and 25 airmen were disciplined. They also assured the public that the weapons never left the custody of Air force personnel and the public was never in danger. The results of that investigation saw the commanders of the 5th Bomb wing and the 5th Maintenance Group at Minot and the 2nd Operations Group at Barksdale relieved of command, four senior NCOs of the 5th Bomb Wing received “administrative action”, all personnel of the 5th Bomb Wing were stripped of their nuclear certifications, 65 airmen lost their Personnel_Reliability_Program certifications and all tactical weapons ferry operations were suspended, citing:
“There has been an erosion of adherence to weapons-handling standards at Minot Air Force Base and at Barksdale Air Force Base.”