As Hagel visited F.E. Warren Air Force Base and toured a missile
site in nearby Nebraska, two Air Force officers belonging to a
missile launch crew at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana had their
security clearances suspended after they were implicated in an
illegal narcotics operation.
The force responsible for the 450 nuclear-armed intercontinental
ballistic missiles at three U.S. bases has been troubled by morale
issues, a factor acknowledged by Hagel during a two-day tour of
nuclear arms installations in New Mexico and Wyoming.
Major General Michael Carey was fired as head of the ICBM force in
October for getting drunk and carousing with Russian women while
leading a government delegation to Moscow for talks on nuclear
Speaking at F.E. Warren after touring the missile site in Nebraska,
Hagel did not refer to the suspended officers in Montana, and he
only indirectly spoke to the morale issues in the force, praising
the troops for their work and telling them the American people were
counting on them.
"You have chosen a profession where there is no room for error. In
what you do every day, there is no room for error, none, and you
know that, the American people expect that. They have that
confidence in you," Hagel said.
He commended the professionalism and commitment he saw during his
visit to the base, saying "we all have a lot of responsibility and
we all must deliver."
"How you do the job, really, is as important as the job itself
because it sets a standard of expectations for yourselves and
everybody around you. People pay attention to that," the defense
Hagel said he had come away from his tour of the missile alert
facility, which was across the border in his home state of Nebraska,
with a renewed appreciation for the need to modernize the U.S.
nuclear force in order to maintain a secure and reliable deterrent.
"It's clear we've got some work to do on modernization," he told the
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The United States is at the start of a multi-decade effort to
upgrade its nuclear weapons complex, from modernizing 1970s-era
bombs with modern electronic components to replacing aging nuclear
ballistic missile submarines, long range bombers and
intercontinental ballistic missiles.
Hagel said the Pentagon was nearing completion of a study to
determine the ICBM that will be built to replace the current
Minuteman III missile. A defense official said later the study would
be completed this spring.
But arms control groups and others have raised concerns about the
high cost of the elaborate plans and have questioned why taxpayers
should rebuild much of the U.S. nuclear force at a time when the
Obama administration is advocating cutting the size of the deployed
arsenal by one third.
The Congressional Budget Office estimated it would cost $355 billion
over a decade to carry out the administration's plans. The Center
for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute in California
put the cost at $1 trillion over 30 years.
But Hagel assured airmen that Congress would proved the funding
needed to modernize the force.
(Reporting by David Alexander; editing by Ken Wills)
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