WASHINGTON - The Air Force's top civilian and chief officer were forced to resign yesterday after Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates concluded that the service was lacking proper leadership in overseeing the U.S. nuclear arsenal.
Gates pointed to a failure of leadership in the Air Force's top echelon, including Chief of Staff Gen. Michael Moseley and Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne, as he announced the shake-up at the Pentagon.
Earlier this year, it was revealed that the Air Force mistakenly sent a shipment of fuses for nuclear missiles to Taiwan in 2006 in the place of helicopter batteries. The fuses sat in a warehouse in Taiwan for more than two years before being discovered in March.
And last August, a B-52 bomber was mistakenly armed with six nuclear-tipped cruise missiles and flown across the country.
Gates recently received a classified report from Adm. Kirkland Donald, who conducted an investigation of the Taiwan incident. Gates, quoting from Donald's classified report, said that there was a "lack of a critical self-assessment culture" in the Air Force.
The defense secretary also said that the Taiwan incident represented "a significant failure to ensure the security of sensitive military components" and underscored a pattern of poor performance that was first highlighted in the incident last year involving the improper movement of nuclear weapons between Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota and Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana.
Gates said that a substantial number of generals and colonels could also face discipline for their actions in those incidents.
"I think it was the second incident that prompted me to believe that there were serious systemic problems here, a part that went well beyond the incident involving Minot and Barksdale," Gates said. "So the Taiwan incident clearly was the trigger."
Neither incident posed a danger of a nuclear mishap, he said, but together the embarrassing gaffes caused a crisis in confidence in the Air Force leadership's ability to manage the U.S. nuclear deterrent.
Moseley and Wynne were at a quarterly meeting of Air Force brass at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, when they got the news yesterday, according to a Defense Department official who spoke on condition of anonymity. Moseley had a face-to-face meeting with Adm. Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in Washington yesterday morning. Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England flew to Wright-Patterson to speak with Wynne.
Aamer Madhani writes for the Chicago Tribune.