DOD, Air Force nuclear force reviews consistent with force improvement efforts

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The Secretary of Defense announced the results of the Nuclear Enterprise Review during a press briefing at the Pentagon, Nov. 14.

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, who ordered the comprehensive reviews of the entire nuclear enterprise earlier this year, said the reviews found systemic problems based on a lack of focus and resources.

“America’s nuclear deterrent remains safe, secure and effective,” Hagel assured, stating the DOD has been taking action on the challenges over the past several months. “The nuclear mission plays a critical role in ensuring the nation's safety. No other enterprise we have is more important.”

The findings and recommendations from that review are consistent with the actions the Air Force and Air Force Global Strike Command are, and have been taking to improve its nuclear enterprise.

In February, Air Force Global Strike Command directed a Force Improvement Program (FIP), the architecture of which was designed to improve mission effectiveness, culture, morale and target areas in need of investment.

In May, Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James announced 100 percent manning for eight critical nuclear specialties by skill and location; assignment incentive pay and special duty assignment pay for select total-force nuclear career fields, approval of the Nuclear Deterrence Operations Service Medal, and has proposed elevating the AFGSC commander from a three-star to a four-star position and elevating the assistant chief of staff for strategic deterrence and nuclear integration to a three-star position.

“We’ve implemented improvements that have bubbled up from our Airmen in the field, Airmen who are closest to the mission,” James said. “We value the nuclear mission as evidenced by making the appropriate investments in people, weapon systems and infrastructure. We have and will continue to work to identify funds to make needed improvements throughout our missile and bomber forces.”

The FIP, which AFGSC Commander Lt. Gen. Stephen Wilson originally initiated for the intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) force in February, collected inputs straight from the Airmen performing the mission every day. That initial call for feedback generated more than 350 solutions to challenges spanning the ICBM operations. The bottom-up approach has allowed AFGSC to rapidly address Airmen’s concerns and begin to enact change across the command.

AFGSC expanded the FIP to look at the bomber force to see where additional improvements can be made.

The FIP has evolved into a philosophy of continuous assessment and improvement that empowers Airmen who perform the nuclear mission and seeks to continue changing and improving the nuclear culture.

“Initiating the FIP meant we were 100 percent committed to empowering our people to tell us what is wrong so we can address those challenges,” Wilson said. “With the Air Force’s help, we have been able to begin closing the ‘say-do’ gap and prove to our Airmen the nuclear mission is the Air Force’s number one mission.”

Initial fixes run the gamut from empowering Airmen by pushing responsibility down to the appropriate level, to ensuring they have the right tools and parts available, to removing unnecessary administrative hurdles within the Personnel Reliability Program (PRP), to repairing old facilities where Airmen work.

“The most powerful aspect of (the) FIP is that every solution-driven piece of feedback came from the field -- they own this,” Wilson said. “They are empowered to identify problems, work the solutions and then let leadership remove the obstacles to their success.”

Additional improvements to date include:

• The Air Force moved more than $160 million in fiscal year 2014 to go after the urgent, near-term shortfalls.
• 100 percent effective manning was announced for eight critical nuclear career fields by skill and location.

• ICBM operations training has been fundamentally overhauled, taking best practices from the aviation community, coupled with the appropriate rigors necessary in nuclear operations, to improve crew proficiency and foster a culture of continuous learning and critical self-assessment.
• Scores on monthly proficiency exams are no longer tracked or used for career advancement. Without lowering the standard, they have been replaced with a pass/fail score.
• Training has changed from a focus on teaching to the test, to a collaborative learning environment in which experienced crew members can share knowledge and expertise with their peers and subordinates, focused on performing the mission in the field.

• ICBM operational squadrons have reorganized, placing instructors in the squadrons to align responsibility and authority within the missile squadrons.


• Called "3 + 3", a missileer will spend their initial three-year tour as a deputy crew member and then upgrade to a crew commander. During this first assignment, the focus is on mastering the weapon system by performing the mission in the field. This provides a stronger knowledge base before serving in their second three-year assignment as an instructor, evaluator and flight commander.
• The Air Force also implemented a cross-service exchange and will institute leadership development courses for missile crew commanders, instructors, evaluators, support personnel and squadron commanders.

Personnel Reliability Program (PRP)
• AFGSC has re-aligned the PRP to its original intent, shifting the paradigm to an ‘up-until-down’ construct by eliminating the practice of 'auto-suspending' an individual prior to a medical appointment and removing the administrative burden from the process.

(Information courtesy of Air Force Public Affairs Agency Operating Location - P)