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What Happened at Barksdale?

Dec 2, 2017
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In the aftermath of those infamous nuclear incidents at Minot AFB, North Dakota and Hill AFB, Utah, the Air Force has implemented major reforms within its nuclear enterprise.

Among the many changes is a new evaluation program, built around “no notice” inspections. Under the old system, nuclear-capable units received notice of evaluations months in advance, giving them time to prepare.

However, a number of Air Force wings still managed to flunk their nuclear surety inspections, which measures unit readiness in categories ranging from maintenance to safety. By one estimate, roughly half of the service’s nuclear units failed their inspections over the past decade.

The “no-notice” approach is designed to help reverse that trend, forcing units to prepare for evaluations that could, quite literally, occur at any time.

But will the new inspection scheme achieve the desired results? The jury’s still out on that one, for a couple of reasons. First, the new evaluation system is in its infancy, and secondly, it’s hard to tell how units are faring under no-notice inspections.

Case in point: the 2nd Bomb Wing at Barksdale AFB, Louisiana. Last week, the B-52 unit became the first Air Force wing to undergo a no-notice NSI. But results of the evaluation have not been released, raising speculation that the wing fared poorly.

In fairness, the USAF discourages the public release of inspection results. But, if you do a Google search of results for Operational Readiness Inspections or NSIs, you’ll find plenty of units who trumpet the outcome of successful evaluations, and a few that acknowledge less-than-impressive results.

Earlier this month, the 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom AFB, Montana announced that it had failed a nuclear surety inspection, but there would be no changes in wing leadership. In May of this year, the 5th Bomb Wing at Minot also flunked an NSI, but those results were first revealed by this blog, not the unit’s public affairs office. The unit later confirmed that there were discrepancies in the evaluation, which prompted another visit from inspection teams in August. During that inspection, the 5th Wing earned passing grades.

Officially, the results of the Barksdale NSI have not been released and there’s no requirement for the 2nd Bomb Wing to disclose them. But in light of recent failures, the public is entitled to greater transparency regarding Air Force nuclear operations. That’s why the unit would be well-served by revealing the overall grade on its recent NSI, without divulging details that could compromise security.

But don’t hold your breath. Barksdale never announced the results of its previous nuclear inspection, which occurred less than a month after the Minot mishap in 2007. In From the Cold filed a Freedom of Information Act request for results of that evaluation. We’re still waiting for a response.

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