WASHINGTON, Oct. 24, 2008 – The Air Force will stand up a new major command specifically to manage its nuclear assets, the service’s top official announced today.

Air Force Secretary Michael B. Donley said the new command will fold into its ranks thousands of airmen and all of the Air Force’s domestic nuclear capabilities in response to what he called “painful lessons learned” during a series of senior oversight reviews of the Air Force’s nuclear program.

This change is part of a broader sweep of changes Donley introduced today as a roadmap to improving the Air Force’s stewardship of its nuclear program.

“This is a critical milestone for us. It’s a new starting point for reinvigoration of this enterprise,” Donley said at a Pentagon media roundtable to introduce the plan.

“The changes we make today will help us focus on this enterprise regardless of other changes in Air Force missions along the way, and regardless of how big or small the nuclear enterprise is,” he said.

The new command, called Global Strike Command, will include both the 8th and 20th Air Force. Eighth Air Force, currently within Air Combat Command, is made up of the force’s B-2 Spirit and B-52 Stratofortress bombers. The 20th Air Force, currently under Air Force Space Command, maintains and operates the service’s arsenal of intercontinental ballistic missiles. Eighth Air Force’s headquarters is at Barksdale Air Force Base, La., and 20th Air Force’s headquarters is at F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyo.

An additional squadron of B-52s, mandated by Congress, also will fall within the new command.

This change effectively splits the Air Force’s bomber force, leaving its B-1 Lancer bombers with Air Combat Command. It also moves the cyber and intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance responsibilities out of 8th Air Force.

“It was our conclusion that a major command that did space, cyber and nuclear perhaps was too much for a single organization to address with the necessary focus,” Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norman A. Schwartz.

Management of nuclear-capable aircraft assigned to Europe will not fall under the new command, officials said.

A three-star general will lead the new command, Donley said. Officials have not yet picked a location for the command’s headquarters or identified who its commander will be, but said they plan to name a provisional commander in the next few months. Donley said he plans to have the command operational by September.

This plan, designed by the Air Force Nuclear Task Force, comes on the heels of major turmoil for the force in the past few years. In 2006, nuclear missile nose cones were inadvertently shipped to Taiwan, and in August 2007 the Air Force mistakenly flew nuclear weapons from Minot Air Force Base, N.D., to Barksdale Air Force Base, La.

The force’s top two leaders resigned, and 15 senior officers, including six generals, were disciplined.

This roadmap, Donley said, addresses longstanding, systemic problems in the force’s handling of nuclear assets. The plan addresses structural changes within the force, changes in its processes and procedures and a change within its culture, he said.

One of the problems identified in recent reports was in the force’s nuclear inspection process. The secretary said the Air Force did not have consistent policies in place with consistent interpretations across commands, and needed a stronger oversight of the inspection process.

“We were not getting out of our inspection process what we need,” Donley said, noting he has moved those responsibilities under the force’s inspector general, who will oversee all inspector training and certification. Also, a new Air Force headquarters staff directorate will be formed to provide oversight of nuclear issues within the force, Donley said.

The Air Force secretary also announced establishment of a nuclear oversight board at the headquarters level that he will chair with Schwartz.

Schwartz joined the roundtable via teleconference from Iraq, where he is visiting deployed airmen.

“While today’s fight is vitally important to our Air Force, the capabilities that we provide in support of our nation’s nuclear deterrent force is just as, if not more, important,” he said. “The nation trusts us to provide them safely and securely.”

Schwartz said the roadmap provides a “back to basics” approach for accountably, compliance, precision and reliability.

The Air Forces also plans to rebuild its nuclear expertise within its ranks of airmen through training and career development, and officials said they plan to invest more heavily in the mission as it modernizes its nuclear capabilities.

The Air Force spent about $85 million in the last fiscal year revamping its nuclear program. It expects to spend about $270 million in fiscal 2009, officials said.

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