By Nick Simeone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 24, 2014 – A day after ordering an independent review of the military’s nuclear force amid allegations of cheating on proficiency exams by Air Force officers overseeing the nation’s ballistic nuclear missiles, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel today vowed to restore confidence in the Air Force’s nuclear mission.
“Whatever the factors — historical, institutional, cultural — the Department of Defense and the Air Force will do whatever it takes to continue to ensure the safety, security, reliability and effectiveness of our nuclear enterprise,” Hagel said at a ceremonial swearing-in ceremony for Deborah Lee James, the 23rd secretary of the Air Force.
The service has suspended 34 launch officers overseeing intercontinental ballistic missiles after an investigation implicated them for cheating or failing to report cheating on exams. A Pentagon spokesman told reporters yesterday the allegations “raise legitimate concerns about the department’s stewardship of one of our most sensitive and important missions,” prompting Hagel to call for an independent, broader examination of the strategic deterrence enterprise as it relates to personnel.
At today’s ceremony, Hagel said he, James and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark. A. Welsh III are deeply concerned “about the overall health and professionalism and discipline of our strategic forces,” and called the problems facing the new Air Force secretary daunting. But he credited James with a “swift, decisive and thoughtful response,” to the matter after she visited missile bases around the country in recent days. Even so, he said, “restoring confidence in the nuclear mission will be a top priority.”
Hagel called James well suited to lead the Air Force as the nation faces an increasingly uncertain security environment.
“The rise of emerging powers, dangerous rogue states, affiliated terrorist organizations, and the proliferation of technology will mean more contested and complicated domains, from space to cyber to sea lanes,” he said.
James, who was officially sworn in as secretary last month, pledged to “leave this Air Force some years from now on a path toward greater capability and better affordability for our taxpayers while always remembering and protecting the important people who underpin everything we do.” But she cautioned the service will continue to face difficult challenges and trade-offs brought on by shrinking budgets.
Hagel noted that James has spent the last 30 years serving on the staff of the House Armed Services Committee, at the Pentagon, where she served three secretaries of defense, as well as in the private sector. Her approach, he said, “has been to understand the problems and opportunities, listen carefully, and then act decisively.” This, he added, will make her a success leading the Air Force.
(Follow Nick Simeone on Twitter: @SimeoneAFPS)
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