Air Force focuses on nuclear security, operations

  • Published
  • By Jim Garamone
  • American Forces Press Service

The Air Force's nuclear mission continues to have the attention of leaders across the discipline, the Air Force chief of staff said here yesterday.


Gen. Mark A. Welsh III categorically stated that he is not worried about the surety and security or the operational capability of the Air Force's nuclear force.


"It's fine," Welsh said during an interview.


This does not mean he is satisfied.


"I think you have to worry about the morale of your Air Force every day," Welsh said. "It's a tough business and we do it in some tough areas. The nuclear business is a very difficult job."


Welsh's first trip as chief of staff last year was to visit the Air Force units that maintain the nation's intercontinental ballistic missiles -- one third of America's nuclear triad.


"If you go to our nuclear bases, the great majority of our people are really proud of what they do and how they do it," he said. "They know how important they are to the nation."


The 20th Air Force -- the unit charged with the nuclear mission -- had worked diligently to improve readiness and capabilities of these units.


"The trend lines were moving in the right direction, but not as quickly as people wanted," Welsh said.


Leaders at Air Force Global Strike Command and the 20th Air Force spent years restoring an Air Force-wide focus on the nuclear business.


"I think that had gained a lot of traction in the process," the general said. "But they weren't satisfied with the speed of the process."


Commanders needed to look at all the signals to ensure the process is moving in the right direction. A team from Global Strike Command came in to look at the situation, build terms of reference and create a long-term plan to do better, Welsh said.


His question to the commanders was "Why wait?"


He brought in a team from the Rand Corporation to assess the situation and look at short-term improvements that could be made. That study would be briefed all the way up the chain of command to the chief of staff and to the Air Staff.


All the studies found that the nuclear program is on track and moving forward, the general said.


The trend lines on behavior and discipline are positive.


"I was looking at [the number of] Article 15s for the commands this year and the rate in 20th Air Force is below the Air Force average," he said.


Are there problems? Yes, Welsh said. But they are being dealt with.


"You are always going to have people when you are in tough climates, doing tough work, who are frustrated by little things -- the heater doesn't work in the truck, it's a 16-hour day once you figure in travel time and so on," he said. These and many other aspects are being studied and dealt with.


No one in the Air Force is ignoring anything about the nuclear force, Welsh said.


"To my mind, the fact that people get disciplined is actually a good thing," he said. "The fact that we have commanders saying, 'Yes, I know it's not a failing grade but it's not good enough for me,' is a good thing. This indicates there are commanders who are engaged and proactively seeking to improve performance."


Welsh said it is not just commanders taking ownership of the mission, but also supervisors and senior leaders on the officer and enlisted side.


"There are problems, but there are a lot of good things happening out there that we need to pay attention to," he said.