WASHINGTON – The Air Force is investigating an unprecedented exam-cheating scandal involving dozens of officers responsible for launching nuclear weapons, the latest in a series of embarrassments for the military’s nuclear forces.
The Air Force’s top general and civilian leader sought to reassure the public Wednesday about the security and reliability of their land-based arsenal of 450 intercontinental ballistic missiles.
The nuclear missile force remains ready and able to accomplish its mission, said Gen. Mark Welsh, the Air Force chief of staff. This is not about the compromise of nuclear weapons. It’s about compromise of the integrity of some of our airmen.
Welsh and Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said 34 launch officers assigned to a nuclear-missile wing at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana were either caught with purloined answers to a monthly proficiency test or were aware of the cheating and did not report it.
Welsh and James said they learned of the cheating problems last weekend. They said they immediately ordered all 600 Air Force officers who work in missile crews to be retested on the proficiency exam by Thursday. So far, 97 percent of those who have taken the test again have passed, a normal rate, Welsh said.
The operational capability to conduct the mission is not impacted at this point in time, Welsh said. The integrity issue, clearly, has got to be a concern.
Air Force leaders said they notified Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel of the cheating scandal Wednesday. Hagel was deeply troubled to learn of these allegations, and he strongly supports the aggressive steps the Air Force is taking in response to them, said Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary.