The U.S. Air Force recently stripped 17 officers of their authority to control and launch intercontinental-range ballistic missiles (ICBMs) after inspections indentified potential problems that could endanger U.S. national security. Although the incident did not impact security and operational readiness of U.S. ICBM forces, the Air Force is right to respond by taking appropriate corrective steps.
These officers, and others like them, are continually certified and trained for ICBM operations. While the officers were able to pass their inspection, the results pointed to a troubling trend in their performance. Ultimately, the commander decided the officers should be subjected to additional training to prevent these shortcomings from impacting real-time ICBM operations.
Identifying problems before they impact real-time operations is the core purpose of Air Force inspections. The successful identification of potential problems before they could endanger national security illustrates why maintaining the Air Force’s standards of excellence is so important. These standards of excellence, however, cannot be taken for granted. Carrying out inspections come at a cost—albeit a worthy one. That is why it is essential that the Air Force is properly resourced.
It is also important to point out that if sequestration continues, the ICBM leg of the nuclear triad might be dismantled, according to former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta’s letter from November 2011. In this dangerous world, this would have potentially devastating consequences for U.S. national security. Of all the systems in the nuclear triad, ICBMs are the most numerous, most reliable, most cost-effective, and most responsive. They are invaluable in any potential large-scale crisis.
Addressing security challenges includes understanding the requirement for a formidable military capable of deterring and defeating potential adversaries. That is why the U.S. cannot responsibly abandon its deterrent strategic capability.
These forces continue to successfully fulfill the most important mission of all—deterring a devastating attack on the U.S. and its allies.