Air Force Security Failed a Takeover Drill at a Nuclear Silo

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
May 22 2014 4:21 PM

Air Force Security Failed a Takeover Drill at a Nuclear Silo

Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana

Photo by U.S. Air Force via Wikimedia Commons

There are always concerns about the safety and maintenance of nuclear missiles, but unless you work at one, it’s kind of hard to evaluate what’s going on in those silos. Last summer the 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana publicly acknowledged that it had failed a hostile takeover drill. But only now, through a Freedom of Information Act request filed by the Associated Press, is there more information about the incident, which the Air Force called a “critical deficiency.” Good to know, right?

During the “Empty Quiver” scenario—in which a nuclear missile is missing, lost, or stolen—security forces on the base responded to a (simulated) takeover in which one of the base’s 450 Minuteman 3 missiles was taken. With its FOIA request, the AP was looking to understand why the base’s security had had an “inability to effectively respond to a recapture scenario.”

[The documents] said insufficient training was at the heart of the problem, beginning with a lack of familiarity among the security forces with "complex scenario" exercises. It also cited unspecified shortcomings in "leadership culture" and a lack of standardized simulations not only at Malmstrom but throughout the nuclear missile corps.
Among the corrective measures cited in the report: Arrange to hold recapture exercises at one launch silo among the 50 silos in each of the 341st's three Minuteman squadrons, using "realistic, varied, simple-to-complex" scenarios based on what the Pentagon calls its "local nuclear security threat capabilities assessment." Also, the Air Force is taking steps to more closely track lessons learned from each "recapture" exercise.

The commander of the 341st Missile Wing at the time of the failed exercise, Col. Robert Stanley, fired the officer in charge of security. But Stanley himself was later forced to resign amid a scandal related to hundreds of missile officers cheating on exams, as 60 Minutes recently chronicled. Stanley maintained, though, that his officers had failed the drill by only a few seconds and that it was presented in a different way than usual.

The AP also points out that at least two launch officers from the 341st Missile Wing are currently being investigated for alleged illegal drug use/possession.

Even with the documents from its FOIA in hand, spokespeople for Air Force Global Strike Command still wouldn’t comment to the AP. But the documents do show that when the drill was repeated in October 2013, it was completed successfully. That’s reassuring, I suppose?

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Lily Hay Newman is lead blogger for Future Tense.



Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem

Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Lifetime Didn’t Think the Steubenville Rape Case Was Dramatic Enough

So they added a little self-immolation.

Two Damn Good, Very Different Movies About Soldiers Returning From War

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games as Much Anymore, and Schools Are Getting Worried

The Good Wife Is Cynical, Thrilling, and Grown-Up. It’s Also TV’s Best Drama.

  News & Politics
Sept. 20 2014 11:13 AM -30-
Business Insider
Sept. 20 2014 6:30 AM The Man Making Bill Gates Richer
Sept. 20 2014 7:27 AM How Do Plants Grow Aboard the International Space Station?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 4:48 PM You Should Be Listening to Sbtrkt
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 20 2014 7:00 AM The Shaggy Sun
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.