U.S. Air Force Concludes Human Error Damaged A Nuclear Missile – Aging Minuteman 3 Needs To Be Modernized Or Scrapped?

U.S. Air Force quietly concluded that one of its nuclear missiles was damaged due to human error.

An investigation committee appointed by the U.S. Air Force concluded that three airmen, working on a nuclear missile in its launch silo, unintentionally damaged it. The mishap had happened way back in 2014 and the Air Force had promptly stripped the service members of their nuclear certification.

Officials maintain that the three qualified technicians, who were troubleshooting the nuclear missile, accidentally damaged it. The missile, commonly identified as Minuteman III, is one of the oldest in the arsenal of the United States military and many have questioned its necessity. It was only after the persistent follow up by Associated Press for more than a year that the United States Air Force grudgingly provided only a summary of the investigation report.

“In accordance with Air Force policy, further details related to this mishap and their associated investigations are classified.”

Citing sensitivity about the details of the nuclear arsenal and fear that the detailed report will reveal them, the Air Force declined to provide key additional details or a copy of the report produced last November by the Accident Investigation Board. However, under the Air Force’s own regulations, Accident Investigation Board reports are supposed to be made public, reports The Guardian. But still, the Air Force has deemed the report to be classified, categorically mentioning in the summary that the report was classified by General Robin Rand, who took over as commander of Air Force Global Strike Command in July 2015.

U.S. Air Force Concludes Human Error Damaged A Nuclear Missile

According to the report, the Minuteman III missile, designated Juliet-07, was damaged by three airmen, who were attempting to troubleshoot some components. After the damage, the missile was removed from its underground silo. After extraction, the missile was placed out in the open in wheat fields, amidst wind turbines. Though the exact location has been kept a secret, the damaged missile was placed in the fields located nine miles west of Peetz, Colorado. The silo, one of 10 in a cluster, or flight, that straddles the Colorado-Nebraska border, is controlled by launch officers of the 320th Missile Squadron and administered by the 90th Missile Wing at F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming, reported Yahoo.

The damage to the Minuteman III missile cost about $1.8 million to remedy. Such a large expenditure is being increasingly viewed as unnecessary as the citizenry debates about the escalating costs and diminishing benefits of investing hundreds of billions of dollars being spent to modernize the entire strategic nuclear force. Many argue that the nuclear arsenal is a throwback of the cold war, and given the collateral damage nuclear weapons can cause, they are now obsolete.

Experts have argued that modern warfare doesn’t have a place for nuclear weapons. In fact, the Minuteman III is the only land-based intercontinental ballistic missile in the nuclear force. It was first deployed way back in the 1970s and has far exceeded its planned service life. Many have questioned the very need of Air Force’s plans to develop the arsenal.

U.S. Air Force Concludes Human Error Damaged A Nuclear Missile
(Photo by Michael Smith/Getty Images)

The report mentioned there were four causes that led to the “mishap”, but has chosen to partially reveal only two. The summary of the report mentions, “Failure to follow technical guidance” was one of the reasons, while the airmen, “lacked the necessary proficiency level.” Ironically though, the Air Force goes on to contradict itself stating that the mishap team chief was properly trained for the task he was performing, reported Fox News.

Assuring such mishaps won’t be repeated in the future, the Global Strike Command made an announcement.

“The Air Force has strengthened technical guidance, modified training curriculum, and shared information with the other missile wings regarding the conditions that led to the mishap.”

[Photo by Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images]