Minot’s 5th Bomb Wing flunks nuclear inspection
The 5th Bomb Wing at Minot Air Force Base, N.D., has failed its much-anticipated defense nuclear surety inspection, according to a Defense Threat Reduction Agency report.
DRTA inspectors gave the wing an “unsatisfactory” grade Sunday after uncovering many crucial mistakes during the weeklong inspection, which began May 17. They attributed the errors primarily to lack of supervision and leadership among security forces.
Inspectors from Air Combat Command also participated, but the Air Force refused to provide specifics on their findings.
Security broke down on multiple levels during simulated attacks across the base, including against nuclear weapons storage areas, according to the DTRA report, a copy of which was obtained by Air Force Times.
Inspectors watched as a security forces airman played video games on his cell phone while standing guard at a “restricted area perimeter,” the DTRA report said. Meanwhile, another airman nearby was “unaware of her duties and responsibilities” during the exercise.
The lapses are baffling, given the high-level focus on Minot since last August, when 5th Bomb Wing airmen mistakenly loaded six nuclear-tipped cruise missiles onto a B-52 Stratofortress and flew them to Barksdale Air Force Base, La., where the plane sat on the flight line, unattended, for hours. That incident not only embarrassed the Air Force, but raised concerns worldwide about the deterioration in U.S. nuclear safety standards.
Col. Joel Westa took command of the 5th Bomb Wing following that fiasco. After it failed an initial nuclear surety inspection, or dry run, in December, Westa acknowledged this inspection was going to be the “most scrutinized inspection in the history of time.”
Even so, airmen were unprepared.
“Overall their assessment painted a picture of some things we need to work on in the areas of training and discipline,” Westa said in a statement.
His airmen are working diligently to correct deficiencies, he said.
Inspectors from Air Combat Command will now return to Minot in August to determine if the necessary improvements have been made. Eventually, the wing will have to pass a full defense nuclear surety inspection.
Although the wing failed, it will keep its certification to handle nuclear weapons and will carry on with training right up to the day ACC inspectors revisit the base, said Maj. Thomas Crosson, a command spokesman. The base lost its certification immediately after the incident last August and didn’t have it restored until March 31, after it passed a second dry run.
The wing will participate in both a Red Flag exercise this summer and a nuclear readiness operation exercise as it prepares for the inspectors’ next visit, Crosson said.
DTRA inspectors gave the wing passing grades in nine of 10 areas they examined, including safety and technical operations, but failed it for its nuclear security.
“The most serious failure is the one regarding security, which is exactly what the Minot incident was all about,” said Hans Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists.