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'Reinvigorating the Air Force Nuclear Enterprise', US Air Force Report, 24 October 2008

Reinvigorating the Air Force Nuclear Enterprise, Headquarters United States Air Force, Prepared by the Air Force Nuclear Task Force 24 October 2008.

Executive Summary

Full text of this document is available at: www.acronym.org.uk/docs/0811/usafnuclear.pdf.

Commitment to Change

Reinvigorating the Air Force Nuclear Enterprise is our highest priority. We‘ve taken many actions over the past year based on the recommendations of several internal and external investigations, but more work remains. We have developed a strategic plan to revitalize the nuclear enterprise and reclaim the trust of our nation and confidence of our allies. We need the commitment of every Airman to this priority.

This roadmap identifies a comprehensive set of actions the Air Force must and will take to overcome documented deficiencies and set the conditions for sustainable excellence across the Air Force nuclear enterprise.

Strategic Context

At the end of the Cold War, significant changes in the global security environment prompted Air Force senior leaders to restructure the force. Anticipating and adapting to global challenges, commanders at all levels shaped the combat forces under their control through a number of initiatives. In his 2008 report to the Secretary of Defense, Dr. Schlesinger stated, \Changes made by the Air Force after the Cold War were in response to the defense downsizing of the 1990s as well as national leadership priorities.. During that time, \the Air Force and other services were experiencing severe resource constraints. With less national emphasis on nuclear weapons during this period, the Air Force failed to grasp the continued need to maintain a viable airpowerbased nuclear deterrent capability. Moreover, as the size of the nuclear arsenal was reduced and emphasis shifted to conventional missions, the Air Force failed to articulate the continuing value of the nuclear deterrent.1

The primary cause of the systemic breakdowns in the Air Force‘s nuclear enterprise was the failure of leadership at many levels to provide proper emphasis on the nuclear mission. The loss of focus stemmed from changes in the operating environment at the end of the Cold War, exacerbated by the profound changes in the security environment following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. In 1992, the Air Force implemented the largest organizational change since its inception leading to the organizational and supervisory fragmentation of the nuclear enterprise. This was reinforced by the 1995 Base Realignment and Closure decisions that dispersed depot support for nuclear systems and components. As a result, the Air Force‘s nuclear sustainment system became fragmented, the pool of nuclear experienced Airmen atrophied, and nuclear expertise eroded as less time was allocated to maintain nuclear operational proficiency. The Air Force failed to properly resource many nuclear mission areas effectively relegating the Air Force‘s nuclear enterprise to a 'care-taker' status with limited modernization or recapitalization. The Global War on Terror (GWOT) and Operations ENDURING FREEDOM (OEF) and IRAQI FREEDOM (OIF) further shifted focus and institutional priorities away from the nuclear mission. Subsequently, Air Force leadership failed to advocate, oversee, and properly emphasize the maintenance of nuclear-related skill sets. Deficiencies in inspection processes also contributed to the erosion of the culture of accountability and rigorous self-assessment associated with high standards of excellence.

Recent Events and Recurring Themes

The erosion of mission focus was highlighted by two recent events. In 2006, critical, nuclear-related ICBM parts, labeled as helicopter batteries, were mistakenly sent to Taiwan. In 2007, a B-52 crew mistakenly flew six nuclear weapons from Minot AFB, North Dakota to Barksdale AFB, Louisiana. These incidents triggered a series of reviews and investigations ordered by the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of the Air Force. The reports converged on six recurring themes reiterated in the Schlesinger Task Force Report:

  • Underinvestment in the nuclear deterrence mission is evident, undercutting the nation‘s deterrence posture – no comprehensive process exists to ensure sustained investment advocacy
  • Nuclear-related authority and responsibility are fragmented
  • Processes for uncovering, analyzing, and addressing nuclear-related compliance and capability issues are largely ineffective
  • Nuclear-related expertise has eroded
  • A critical self-assessment culture is lacking
  • Air Force Nuclear culture has atrophied resulting in a diminished sense of mission importance, discipline, and excellence

Change Imperative

First, we must address the institutional, long-term commitment to the nuclear deterrence mission. We must re-establish our nuclear culture of discipline and accountability, rekindle pride in our mission, and renew our heritage of excellence as we reinvigorate the Air Force nuclear enterprise. We face an uncertain and potentially dangerous future that includes nuclear weapons. More countries possess nuclear weapons than during the Cold War, and that number is likely to grow. While we faced many security challenges during the Cold War, over time, we came to understand the motivations and the likely responses of the single adversary that could do catastrophic harm to the United States and our allies. Today, we face national and transnational adversaries whose motivations and responses are perhaps less predictable and have potential to do great harm to the United States or our allies.

First Principles of Rebuilding the Air Force Nuclear Enterprise

Credible strategic deterrence, with unwavering commitment to nuclear deterrence as its cornerstone, is foundational to the security of our nation, allies, and friends. The roadmap, Reinvigorating the USAF Nuclear Enterprise is our strategic plan to ensure day-to-day excellence in the stewardship of our nuclear deterrence capability, mission and enterprise. These changes will be institutionalized across our nuclear enterprise ensuring our commitment to excellence regardless of changes to our force structure, competing mission requirements, or the size of our nuclear arsenal. The hallmarks of our performance standards when it comes to the nuclear deterrence mission are precision and reliability. A culture of compliance, clear organizational structures, and active governance processes are the principal pillars to help us achieve sustained excellence in this most vital mission area.

We must build a composite structure of sustainment, operational, and Headquarters Air Force organizations that are appropriately resourced with focused processes to ensure safe, secure, reliable operations. We must enable current and future capability, advocacy, and a culture of compliance; institutional focus; accountability/oversight; and provide governance of these activities--a principal focus of this roadmap.

Extended Deterrence

Credible nuclear deterrence is essential to our security and that of our allies and friends. Many allied and friendly countries continue to depend on the security umbrella provided by the nuclear deterrence capability of the United States. In the absence of this security umbrella. some non-nuclear allies might perceive a need to develop and deploy their own nuclear capability.2 Recent geopolitical events underscore the necessity for extended deterrence.

The Air Force provides two of the three critical legs of the nation‘s nuclear deterrent forces. Flexible Air Force bombers and forward-based, dual-capable aircraft (DCA) fighters best exploit the political element of nuclear weapons by being able to visibly demonstrate resolve or the potential for escalation through the scalable generation of forces and recallable airborne alert postures. Ready, capable, and secure ICBMs provide the unique, sovereign-based, stabilizing, and responsive capability to hold any target on the globe at risk 24/7.

Objectives of the Air Force Nuclear Roadmap

The Air Force will not simply chart a path to resolve the six recurring themes/problem areas discussed earlier. The composite actions that comprise this roadmap will reestablish a recognized standard of excellence in the United States Air Force=s nuclear enterprise. To that end, five major focus areas have emerged:

  • Restore the culture of compliance
  • Rebuild our nuclear expertise
  • Invest in our nuclear capabilities
  • Organize to enable clear lines of authority providing sustained institutional focus
  • Reinvigorate our Air Force nuclear stewardship role

Culture of Compliance

The Air Force will rebuild a nuclear culture of compliance that reflects robust inspection processes under the independent oversight of the SAF/IG. All assessments and inspections will apply common standards derived from inputs of all stakeholders to effectively uncover, analyze, address, and review systemic weaknesses within our nuclear enterprise. This overarching goal is achievable, but will require the combined efforts of leaders and multiple organizations committed to these objectives. Leadership at all levels must make nuclear mission oversight and self-assessment a priority. Leaders must take ownership and responsibility for assessments, be self-critical and enforce accountability. At the same time, leaders must support regular cross-talk activity at all levels.

Nuclear Expertise

We will rebuild our expertise through Air Force-wide training, education, and career force development initiatives designed to ensure that we create a basic atmosphere of understanding for our nuclear stewardship responsibilities. The nuclear enterprise must have properly trained, seasoned nuclear professionals focusing on the daily deterrence mission. These initiatives will be driven by senior leadership involvement and oversight of force development of the nuclear enterprise.


We will provide needed investments and resources for this vital mission area. The Air Force must invest in the nuclear deterrence mission and have a clear, long-term commitment to sustain, modernize, and recapitalize its nuclear capability. Based upon national guidance and vetted combatant command and major command requirements, the Air Force Corporate Structure (AFCS) process will recommend the proper balance of capability and risk to senior leadership to ensure funding decisions are based upon relevant, accurate, consistent, defendable, repeatable, and transparent data and analysis. These funding decisions must be made with a full understanding of the implications for the Air Force nuclear enterprise. In addition, the requirements, acquisition, and programming processes must be aligned to provide a solid program baseline and acquisition strategy to minimize the cost, schedule, and performance risks inherent in delivering reliable and modern operational systems/capabilities to preserve the Air Force portion of our Nation‘s nuclear capability.


We will create a composite operational, sustainment, and headquarters organizational structure that concentrates nuclear mission oversight in order to dramatically improve focus and provide clear lines of authority for the nuclear mission. Success in rebuilding the nuclear enterprise can only be achieved when certain imperatives are realized: restoring confidence and credibility; elevating the importance of the mission; Airmen are consistently held accountable for their performance; and the Air Force commits itself as an enduring provider of two legs of the nation‘s nuclear deterrent forces. The composite organizational construct will be an enabler for these imperatives.

Nuclear Stewardship

Finally, we will restore our allies‘ and public‘s confidence in our nuclear stewardship role through accomplishing the actions identified in this roadmap. These actions will ensure we have the right culture, the right people, the right investments, and the right organizational structure in place to ensure the Air Force provides widely recognized and respected capabilities with the intended strategic effect: enduring nuclear deterrence.

Summary of Key Actions

To effectively reinvigorate the nuclear enterprise, the Air Force must undertake a series of root cause-based action plans that implement the objectives of restoring the culture of compliance and exacting adherence to standards; rebuilding our expertise base; investing in our nuclear capabilities; effectively organizing around a composite operational, sustainment, and headquarters construct; and securing public confidence in our stewardship role through an integrated set of measurable implementation plans and processes.

In summary, the roadmap is a \contract for change.. Contained within the 100 action items is a composite set of major actions that define the essence of the roadmap and, in aggregate, represent a bold step forward. The following is a summary of the major actions required:

  • Consolidate all nuclear sustainment functions under AFMC/AFNWC. (OPR: AFMC, create Mission Directive, by Apr 09)
  • Establish positive inventory control measures for nuclear weapons-related materiel. (OPR: AF/A4/7, modify AFMAN 23-110, AFI 21-203 and create applicable new AFRs, by Apr 09)
  • Enhance Nuclear Inspection processes: establish an AF-wide inspector training and certification program; implement independent oversight of all command-level NSIs by SAF/IG; establish a centrally managed core team of highly experienced NSI inspectors; establish procedures for adjudicating discrepancies between MAJCOM and oversight teams (these procedures will be approved by the Nuclear Oversight Board); and recommend to the Nuclear Oversight Board how AF nuclear inspection processes might be further improved, including whether Nuclear Surety Inspections (NSI) should be SAF/IG led or remain MAJCOM-led. (OPR: SAF/IG, recommendations to the NOB by Dec 08, modify AFI 90-201, by Apr 09)
  • Align strategic deterrence/nuclear operations-based education, training, career development and force development activities. (OPR: AF/A1, modify AFI 36- 2302, AFI 36-2640, by Apr 09)
  • Increase nuclear mission focus, by placing all ICBMs and nuclear-capable bombers into a single command: establish Air Force Global Strike Command. (OPR: AF/A3/5N, stand up Provisional HQ, by Dec 08; write PAD 08-04, by Dec 08; stand up MAJCOM, by Sep 09)
  • Increase USAF institutional nuclear focus, policy oversight, integration and establish air staff nuclear accountable officer: establish AF/A10. (OPR: AF/A3/5N, stand up NLT 1 Nov 08)
  • Improve nuclear stewardship in AF corporate processes: Consolidate nuclearrelated Program Elements into one panel or a similarly robust management portfolio; revise Group, Board, Panel and Council structure; develop a beta-test nuclear enterprise virtual Major Force Program (vMFP). (OPR: AF/A8, modify AFI 16-501) (by Dec 08)
  • Create strategic plans that address long-term nuclear requirements…Cruise Missile; Bomber; DCA; ICBM. (OPR: AF/A8, modify AFI 16-501)
  • Charge the Under Secretary of the Air Force with ongoing broad policy and oversight responsibilities for nuclear matters. The Secretary of the Air Force establishes policy for nuclear matters.
  • The SecAF and CSAF will jointly chair the Air Force Nuclear Oversight Board (NOB) which shall meet at least quarterly to resolve outstanding issues, and specifically to: 1.) oversee implementation of this roadmap, and report progress to SECDEF and Congress; 2.) review nuclear policies, standards, performance metrics, and compliance; and 3.) ensure continuing effective stewardship of the Air Force nuclear enterprise. (OPR: AF/A10 establish NOB NLT Nov 08)


Nuclear forces continue to represent the ultimate deterrence capability that supports U.S. national security. Because of their immense destructive power, nuclear weapons, as recognized in the 2006 National Security Strategy, deter in a way that simply cannot be duplicated by other weapons. Additionally, the special nature of nuclear weapons demands precise performance across the Air Force nuclear enterprise, with no tolerance for complacency or shortcuts. In short, we will continue to fortify current operations, develop our people, and sustain and modernize current capabilities.

This roadmap is the foundation for reinvigorating the Air Force nuclear enterprise and to re-establish the confidence in our ability to provide nuclear deterrence for our nation and our allies.

The American people depend on the United States Air Force to deliver precise and reliable nuclear deterrence capabilities and have done so for over 61 years. America‘s Airmen accept this mission with pride, professionalism and a solemn commitment to the hallmark standards of excellence of the United States Air Force. We will make this important work a success.

Source: US Department of Defense, www.defenselink.mil.

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