By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
June 9, 2008 - If it were not for the serious decline in the Air Force's nuclear mission focus and performance, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said here today, he would not have felt the need to replace the Air Force leadership. Gates asked for and received the resignations of Air Force Secretary Michael W. Wynne and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. T. Michael Moseley June 6 in the wake of an investigation that found problems with the focus, performance and effective leadership of the service's nuclear weapons program.
Speaking to airmen and Air Force civilians of Air Combat Command, Gates called the nuclear mission the Air Force's most sensitive one.
"The mere existence of weapons with such destructive power alters the international landscape – and rightfully brings much scrutiny to bear on how they are handled," Gates said.
Today, he recommended that Michael B. Donley be nominated to replace Wynne and that Gen. Norton A. Schwartz replace Moseley. White House officials announced today President Bush's intention to nominate Donley and to designate him as acting Air Force secretary.
Two instances highlighted the nuclear failures. In one, a B-52 crew unknowingly carried six nuclear weapons from Minot Air Force Base, N.D., to Barksdale Air Force Base, La. In another incident, nose cones for Minuteman missiles mistakenly were delivered to Taiwan in place of helicopter batteries. More than a year elapsed before the error became known.
In light of these failures, Gates asked Navy Adm. Kirkland Donald to evaluate the system. He found three systemic problems.
"The Air Force does not have a clear, dedicated authority responsible for the nuclear enterprise who sets and maintains rigorous standards of operations," Gates said.
Second, he said, the failures that led to the nose-cone misshipment could have been prevented had existing controls been followed.
Finally, "the investigation confirmed a decline in Air Force nuclear expertise similar to findings in other, earlier reports," Gates said. In addition, the nuclear mission has not received adequate funding for years, he said.
Gates said the decisive action was needed because Air Force leadership allowed the service's focus to drift away from the nuclear mission. They also allowed performance standards to decline, and they did not identify these problems for correction, the secretary said.
"The Air Force's investigation into what went wrong did not get to the root causes, requiring my personal intervention," he said.
Gates has stressed accountability with all services. He encouraged all servicemembers to assess their jobs, take accountability for what they can and ensure that changes outside their purview receive the appropriate attention.
"The important thing is to have an open and respectful airing of views in good faith," Gates said. "When decisions are made, everyone – both civilian and military – must do his or her part to see them through to success," he said.