Re-invigorating nuclear enterprise a top priority

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Maintaining accountability and improving stewardship of the Air Force’s nuclear program is the top priority, said the service’s 19th chief of staff recently.

Gen. Norton Schwartz said the Air Force has gone through some “rough” air in the realm of nuclear deterrence, but the service is already on the path to recovery.

“The nuclear enterprise is getting a lot of my own and Secretary of the Air Force Michael B. Donley’s attention,” he said.

As a result, Air Force officials have a rigorous accountability and “back to basics” approach for compliance, precision and reliability within the nuclear arena. The goal is to restore the Air Force’s nuclear mission to the standard of excellence for which it was known throughout the entire Cold War.

“We will train, organize and inspect to that standard,” General Schwartz said. “The bottom line is we lost focus, and we’re bringing that focus back.”

One way the service plans to accomplish this is by setting up a nuclear-only major command, called the Global Strike Command. This organization will include both the 8th and 20th Air Forces and will be responsible for the management of the Air Force’s nuclear assets.

“We will have the nuclear missiles and the nuclear-capable bombers in the same organization and the focus will be on the nuclear mission,” General Schwartz said. “We’re going to make sure that we’re focusing on doing our nuclear mission the right way, which is the Air Force way.”

In addition to establishing this new command, Air Force leaders also created a new Air Staff directorate, or A10, for nuclear matters. Called the Strategic Deterrence and Nuclear Integration Office, and led by Maj. Gen. C. Donald Alston, the office will be the focal point on the Air Staff for the Air Force nuclear enterprise.

“The new directorate provides policy oversight, increased institutional focus and staff integration for nuclear issues,” General Schwartz said. “The A10 will be instrumental in managing the overall nuclear enterprise and will be directly involved in implementing the Air Force nuclear roadmap as well as preparing to stand up Air Force Global Strike Command.”

Other changes to the Air Force’s nuclear enterprise are also under way. The Nuclear Weapons Center at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M., has been revitalized and expanded, with clearly understood chains of command to prevent repeats of past problems, the general said.

“The Nuclear Weapons Center now has complete control over the whole sustainment supply chain,” General Schwartz said. “That wasn’t the case earlier, and so now we will have a single entity that is responsible for ops and employment and a single entity that is responsible for sustainment.”

The chief of staff also pointed to efforts within the Air Force to develop a more centralized inspection process to ensure nuclear material is handled properly.

The general has been impressed with the progress made in the past three to four months and looks forward to tackling the other large nuclear enterprise issues such as how the Air Force can systematically rebuild its nuclear expertise within its ranks of Airmen through training and career development.

According to the general, all these changes are a vital part of Air Force stewardship of the strategic nuclear deterrence capabilities, which serves as an important national security backdrop for America and its allies.

“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.

“We have to return our focus to the fundamental capabilities of supporting deterrence,” he said. “Air Force capabilities help dissuade and deter our adversaries and it is always best to win without fighting.”
Matthew Bates (AFNS)

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