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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Hagel: Nuclear Force Needs Fixing

by Carla Babb November 15, 2014

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has announced an effort to develop weapons systems that will enable the United States to maintain its military dominance.

In a speech Saturday at the Reagan National Defense Forum in California, Hagel said the new Defense Innovation Initiative would focus on developing cutting-edge technologies and a game-changing strategy.

He said the Defense Department must continue to modernize the nation's capabilities and sustain its operational and technological edge.

Earlier in the day, Hagel made a stop at Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota, home to a third of America's nuclear arsenal, to tour the facilities and meet with airmen protecting and maintaining the nation's nuclear weapons.

The secretary said the U.S. nuclear force has systematic problems — including inadequate staffing, infrastructure, equipment, accountability and declining morale — that could undermine the safety, security and effectiveness of elements of the force in the future, if not quickly addressed.

"The internal and external reviews I ordered show that a consistent lack of investment and support for our nuclear forces over far too many years has left us with too little margin to cope with mounting stress," Hagel told reporters at the Pentagon before beginning his trip.

At Minot, U.S. Air Force Tech Sergeant Forest Porter offered a case in point, saying old equipment at the base leads to tough maintenance problems. He said Minot uses circuit breakers from the 1960s that are no longer made by the manufacturer.

'Yeah, I can't replace them, so that creates a little frustration on our end because we know how to fix it, we know what we need to do, but then that's the systemic problem,' Porter said. 'We need depot engineers, contracts to get all that money and get them bought and then put out in the system, and that takes time."

It took five decades before the military paid to give each launch control center at Minot a deep cleaning. First Lieutenant Dawn Sanderson said the airmen didn't notice how bad it was until crews started peeling away the linings of the ceilings.

"I have them come back to me and talk to me, and they're like, 'There were just clobs of dust falling on me,' ' said Sanderson.

The Air Force has allocated $160 million in fiscal year 2014 and $150 million in fiscal year 2015 to address some of these shortfalls. That is why the walls are getting cleaned. Hagel said the government will need to invest billions of dollars more in nuclear enterprise over the next five years.

Anthony Cordesman, a national security analyst with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the military must make its nuclear arsenal a priority.

"You cannot simply have an inventory you cannot trust," said Cordesman. 'There are still massive numbers of thermonuclear weapons targeted on the United States. If we don't have an effective and convincing deterrent, we can't rely on good intentions to provide us with security for the future.'

Hagel echoed the program's importance while speaking with those serving at Minot.

"You are an indispensable element of our national security," said Hagel. 'You are the main deterrent for the security of this country."

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