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US seeking new Air Force leadership to fix nuclear weapons handling

US seeking new Air Force leadership to fix nuclear weapons handling

In his search for leadership atop the U.S. Air Force, Defense Secretary Robert Gates is looking for a "new perspective" that will fix long-standing problems in the handling of nuclear weapons.
A key step will be choosing a replacement for Gen. Michael Moseley, the Air Force chief of staff ousted by Gates last week, along with the service's top civilian official, Michael Wynne. Gates held them accountable for failing to fully correct an erosion of nuclear-related performance standards.
When he announced last Thursday that he was removing Wynne and Moseley, Gates expressed disappointment that shortcomings in the Air Force's handling of its nuclear mission had been allowed to persist.
"I believed that we needed a change of leadership to bring a new perspective and to especially underscore the importance of accountability in dealing with these kinds of problems," Gates told reporters Thursday.
He said at the time that his decision was based mainly on the damning conclusions of an internal report on the mistaken shipment to Taiwan of four Air Force fusing devices for ballistic missile nuclear warheads. And he linked the underlying causes of that slip-up to another startling incident: the North Dakota-to-Louisiana flight last August of a B-52 bomber that was mistakenly armed with six nuclear-tipped cruise missiles.
The report asserted that slippage in the Air Force's nuclear standards was a "problem that has been identified but not effectively addressed for over a decade."
Gates said the Taiwan mistake did not compromise U.S. nuclear weapons technology and did not pose a physical danger, but it "raised questions in the minds of the public as well as internationally."
Among the candidates thought to be under consideration to replace Moseley is Gen. Norton A. Schwartz, a 35-year veteran with a background in Air Force special operations and recent high-level assignments on the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Schwartz has been commander of the U.S. Transportation Command since September 2005.
Others mentioned as possible choices are Gen. John D.W. Corley, commander of the Air Combat Command, whose responsibilities include the nuclear bomber force, and Gen. Kevin P. Chilton, commander of the U.S. Strategic Command, which writes and maintains the nation's nuclear war plans.
A senior defense official said last week that Gates was likely to choose the head of the Pentagon's management office, Michael Donley, to replace Wynne. Donley served as acting Air Force secretary for seven months in 1993.
Seeking to underscore the depth of his concern about weaknesses in Air Force leadership, Gates was planning to visit Langley Air Force Base in Virginia on Monday to address airmen. He was expected to stress the importance of leadership accountability and emphasize that despite his well-publicized tensions with the Air Force, he strongly supports the service and appreciates its many wartime contributions.
On Tuesday he plans to make similar speeches at two other air force bases.


Updated : 2021-05-10 11:05 GMT+08:00