Washington, DC—(ENEWSPF)—November 14, 2014.
Presenters: Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work
Additional Presenters: Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michelle Howard, U.S. Strategic Command commander Adm. Cecil D. Haney, Air Force Global Strike Command commander Lt. Gen. Stephen Wilson, Command Sgt. Maj. Patrick Z. Alston and Ret. Gen. Larry Welch
SECRETARY OF DEFENSE CHUCK HAGEL: Good morning. Earlier this year, following revelations about troubling lapses and poor morale in our nation’s nuclear forces, I ordered comprehensive internal and external reviews of our entire nuclear enterprise, spanning the Air Force’s ground and air-based nuclear deterrent as well as the Navy’s submarine base systems. I tasked both teams to examine the health of the nuclear enterprise, focusing on personnel training, testing, command oversight, mission performance, and funding.
This morning with me here on the stage are individuals who have played a particularly important role in these reviews. But probably most importantly, they have the responsibility to carry out the recommendations that came from these reviews. And I believe you know that after I leave this morning, the deputy secretary, Bob Work, and others here will stay on the stage and answer more specific questions.
But I want to thank Secretary Work.
Admiral, thank you very, very much for what you have done as vice chief of naval operations, because your component is critical to this.
Admiral Haney, thank you for your continued leadership at STRATCOM. Your component also is an integral element of our strategic forces.
Our secretary of the Air Force, Secretary James, who will be leaving with me right after this news conference, and we’ll go to Minot Air Force Base in Minot, North Dakota, and spend the day, for your continued leadership, General Wilson, thank you for what you do with your forces and your team.
These individuals, as well as other leaders, have all been integral, as I said, to what we are doing and the internal review part of this.
Our internal and external reviewers visited all of our domestic operational nuclear bases and many of their key support facilities. They interviewed hundreds of personnel, officers, enlisted, civilians and contractors.
The review team leaders from the external review part of this are with us this morning. And I want to particularly thank Admiral Harvey and General Larry Welch, Admiral Fanta and Madelyn Creedon for your leadership.
Madelyn headed up the internal review and General Welch and Admiral Haney headed up the external review.
The work that they put into this, the dedication, literally hundreds of hours, was pretty spectacular.
And to all of you and your teams and those who supported you, we are — we are grateful. Thank you.
Today, I’m announcing the results of those reviews, the actions that DOD has already taken to carry forward and carry out the recommendations of those reviews, and the actions we are in the process of taking to address the reviews’ findings and ensure the continued safety, security and effectiveness of America’s nuclear deterrent.
First, I want to be clear about the importance of the Defense Department’s nuclear mission and its role in defending our nation.
Our nuclear deterrent plays a critical role in ensuring U.S. national security, and it’s DOD’s highest priority mission. No other capability we have is more important.
Our nuclear triad deters nuclear attack on the United States and our allies and our partners, it prevents potential adversaries from trying to escalate their way out of failed conventional aggression, and it provides the means for effective response should deterrents fail.
Consistent with President Obama’s guidance, our policy is to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our nation’s security strategy and to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons. We’ll continue to do both, but that doesn’t diminish our responsibilities.
As the president has made clear, as long as we have nuclear weapons, we will and we must ensure that they are safe, secure and effective.
DOD’s senior leaders and I are in full agreement. We’re in full agreement that today, America’s nuclear deterrent remains safe, secure and effective.
That is thanks to the heroic efforts of the airmen, sailors and Marines who, despite sometimes insufficient resources and manpower, stretch themselves to maintain and guard and protect and operate the nuclear enterprise every day.
However, the internal and external reviews I ordered show that a consistent lack of investment and support for our nuclear forces over far too many years has left us with too little margin to cope with mounting stresses.
The reviews found evidence of systematic problems that if not addressed could undermine the safety, security, and effectiveness of the elements of the force in the future. These problems include manning; infrastructure; and skill deficiencies; a culture of micro-management; and over-inspection and inadequate communication, follow-up, and accountability by senior department in nuclear enterprise leadership.
The root cause has been a lack of sustained focus, attention, and resources, resulting in a pervasive sense that a career in the nuclear enterprise offers too few opportunities for growth and advancement.
I know this from my many conversations with personnel in a nuclear force. For the past several months, DOD has been taking action to resolve the key problems and implement more than 100 recommendations from the internal and external reviews.
Some of these recommendations involve changes in organization, policies, and culture. Others require an increase in resources, allocated to the nuclear mission. We must address all of the underlying problems.
Let me begin with the many steps we’ve already taken, starting with improving oversight. First, I established a nuclear deterrent enterprise review group, which brings together the entire senior leadership of DOD’s nuclear enterprise, not only from here at the Pentagon, but also from Strategic Command in Nebraska, and Air Force global strike command in Louisiana.
Previous reviews of our nuclear enterprise lacked clear follow-up mechanisms. Recommendations were implemented without the necessary follow-through to assess that they were implemented effectively. There was a lack of accountability.
To fix that, I’ve directed our analysts in DOD’s office of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation to track both the status of the actions we’re taking, the progress we’re making, and the impact on the health of our nuclear force. We will need to know what’s working and what’s not.
Each month they will report their findings to Deputy Secretary Work, who I’ve asked to help lead this effort, as well as the other members of the review group, who will all report to me approximately every 90 days.
I will hold our leaders accountable up and down the chain of command to ensure that words are matched with actions. We must change the cultural perception of a nuclear enterprise, which has particularly suffered in the Air Force. We must restore the prestige that attracted the brightest minds of the Cold War era, so our most talented young men and women see the nuclear pathway as promising in value.
That’s why I have granted the Air Force authority to elevate Global Strike Command to a four-star billet and Air Staff’s head of strategic deterrence and nuclear integration to a three-star billet. They will no longer be outranked by their non-nuclear counterparts, giving the nuclear Air Force the second-to-none leadership it deserves.
And last week, Secretary James, who has been a tremendous leader on this issue, personally awarded the first 25 nuclear deterrence operations service medals, a new medal created to recognize the critical contributions that are nuclear force airmen make to America’s security.
Cultural change must permeate down through the individual with every airman in a nuclear enterprise knowing how much we value them and their service.
We already are starting to match much needed leadership and oversight with much needed investments. Earlier this year, the Air Force established a force improvement program for Global Strike Command and reallocated over $160 million in fiscal year 2014 and $150 million in fiscal year 2015 to address the most urgent shortfalls in equipment, facilities and manning.
Some of this will fund incentive pay for critical nuclear assignments, helping retain our best airmen and keeping our focus on what matters most, our people.
The Air Force has exempted 4,000 airmen from manpower reductions, while adding over 1,100 billets to forces under Global Strike Command to fill gaps in operations, maintenance, security and other critical areas.
Our efforts must be sustained over the long term, which is why we are in the process of doing much more. DOD will soon finish updating and standardizing how we conduct inspections and elevate our personnel across the nuclear enterprise, eliminating micro management, redundancies and administrative burdens that overtax the force and ultimately harm the mission.
The Navy is reducing administrative distractions and is planning to both hire more than 2,500 workers and overhaul aging infrastructure at public shipyards, strategic weapons facilities and reactor training systems.
Meanwhile, the Air Force is planning construction to improve weapons storage facilities, will replace helicopters for its ballistic missile security forces, and is in the midst of revamping how it trains, evaluates and manages the nuclear force.
Both services are elevating and reinforcing the nuclear mission, including in the budget request they’re preparing for fiscal year 2016. We will need to make billions of dollars of additional investments in the nuclear enterprise over the next five years.
This new funding, which will be detailed in our budget submission next year will be critical to continue improving upkeep and security, while addressing shortfalls that undermine morale of the nuclear force.
There is much more we need to do leading up to our nuclear modernization program in the next decade. Over the last year, I’ve traveled to see missileers at F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming, and called launch control officers underground at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana.
I visited nuclear weapons maintainers at Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico, and met with STRATCOM senior and junior officers at Offutt Air Force Base in Omaha and met with sailors in the ballistic missile submarine USS Tennessee at Kings Bay, Georgia.
And right after this press conference, as I noted, Secretary of the Air Force James and I will leave for Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota, to speak with missileers, bomber crews, and support teams that are now stationed there.
My message to them today and to their colleagues across the military is simple: Our nuclear enterprise is foundational to America’s national security and the resources and attention we commit to the nuclear force must reflect that. We need our best people in this enterprise.
I will now take a couple of questions before Secretary James and I leave. And, as I said, this team will stay behind and answer further questions that you may have.
Q: Mr. Secretary, you talked a bit about accountability. As you know, several years ago Secretary Gates fired people and did similar reviews of the nuclear force.
Who — where’s the accountability for the failure to I guess improve and take the steps that were needed over this time? It’s been quite a while, and steps haven’t been taken to do what was needed to improve the force. So where — where’s the accountability for those who didn’t take those steps?
And then just a quick question on the money. You’re talking about billions of dollars. Can you narrow that down just a little bit about how many billions of dollars?
And is it being shifted in the Air Force budget, or is this additional you’re going to have to seek from Congress?
SEC. HAGEL: Well, on the — on the — on the budget issue, let me address it this way.
It will get into, obviously, as I said, the specifics on how much and where, and all that will be laid out in our budget that we present to the Congress earlier this year.
But over the — the next five years, the future fiscal years for — for, as you know, how we present our budgets, we’re probably looking at a 10-percent increase in the nuclear enterprise over each of those years.
Right now, we spend about $15 to $16 billion on our nuclear enterprise, so that gives you some kind of range.
On the accountability issue, there already has been accountability in a number of instances in specific areas as we are holding people accountable. There will be more.
As I said here in my remarks and I think in backgrounders that I think most of you received yesterday, this is also a process as we work our way through accountability, as we restructure.
But again, I go back to a comment I made. I know Secretary James feels strongly about this. Our Air Force chief of staff, General Mark Welsh does. All our leaders do.
Accountability is — is — is key to everything. It’s critical.
You can have the structure, you can have the process, you can have the resources, but if you don’t have the accountability, it will unwind.
So everyone held — who is holding today responsible positions — and by the way, this cuts across all lines. It isn’t just the nuclear enterprise; it’s — it’s all of this institution — who holds responsible positions is accountable and will be held accountable.
And we’ll continue to make the adjustments where we need to make them.
Q: We’re told that one of the things the — the review panels found was a situation in which there was one copy of a wrench needed to attach warheads to the missiles — one wrench, 450 missiles at three bases.
Is that true, and — and if so, how did the — how did the air crews manage with just one wrench?
SEC. HAGEL: Well, it is true, and I think it’s indicative, David, of the depth and width of what has happened over the last few years.
As I’ve said in my statement, a lack of focus, little attention to some of these specific areas. It wasn’t just resources.
Partly, it’s cultural, as I noted a number of things, people taking their eye off the ball a little bit.
Recognizing — and it’s important, I think, especially for the American people — that this did not affect the safety, security and effectiveness of our nuclear weapons. As you know, we’re talking about delivery platforms as opposed to nuclear warheads.
But your — your point is — is exactly right, because it’s reflective and indicative of a system that’s been allowed to kind of slowly back downhill, that we — we have seen in the reviews as a result of the intense reviews, internal and external, these kinds of things which you just mentioned about the wrench come out.
Now, how did they do it? They did it by Federal Expressing the one wrench around each base. They were creative and innovative and they made it work. But that’s not the way to do it. We now have a wrench for each location. We’re going to have two wrenches for each location soon.
So — but that’s one of many of the issues and the problems that we found.
Q: One follow-up question, everybody’s asking: What happened to your cheek?
SEC. HAGEL: Well, I had an incident with a cabinet door in the kitchen. I know it’s — I know that’s not an exciting story. But it depends on the audience as to what I tell people. (Laughter.)
But I’ve found over the years it’s always better to tell the truth. So, that’s what happened. I engaged the corner of a cabinet in my kitchen, and it didn’t turn out well for me. But it’s going to be all right and no stitches, and it all heals. But I’ve had more bandages than this on my face in my career and been in tougher spots.
Q: (inaudible) — Cabinet meeting. (Laughter.)
SEC. HAGEL: You all are — are too clever. I wish I would have thought of that line. But that’s — I’m sorry not to make it more interesting, but actually General Dempsey asked me when he came back what happened, and that’s — his response was “that’s not very interesting,” the explanation.
I’ll take one more and then we’ve got to go.
Q: Mr. Secretary, over the years, we’ve heard very similar words from your predecessors. How do you convey to the American public that this time will be different? Each time we’ve heard, you know, “We’re going to make the nuclear enterprise.” Is this because the nation’s been at war and there just hasn’t been enough band width and officials have been diverted in their attention? How — how can you explain that this will be different this time?
SEC. HAGEL: Well, I think it’s all of the things you mentioned, and a number of things that I mentioned in my statement. Let’s start with what this enterprise has been focused on mainly the last 13 years — two large ground wars. And when you have that situation, when America has been at war and has had large numbers of troop commitments in those two wars, when a nation is at war, that’s a focus.
That isn’t the only reason I think this nuclear enterprise has kind of been allowed to back downhill a little bit. It is that. It’s not paying attention where we should have in some areas. Our young people that we rely on — we rely on all our people, the quality of people of an institution is the institution.
And if — if career paths are blocked or seen as not conducive to promotions and where young people with a lot of focus and commitment, where they want to go with their lives and commitments, and if they see that not as a — as a very attractive way, that’s going to — to get to where they want to go, that’s going to affect where we are.
I think, too, the good news about this is there has been no nuclear exchange in the world, and that’s the whole point of deterrence. That’s the reason this triad system is so critical for our security. And I think there — there’s been, nationally, a sense of just taking it for granted. So what? There’s not going to be a nuclear exchange. The big problem is what’s going on in the Middle East, North Africa, terrorism, Al Qaida, the wars. That’s the threat to America. Yes, that’s a threat to America. It still is.
But we — we just have kind of taken our eye off the ball here. So I — I think this is the — this is the right time to have this reassessment, this review. The seriousness of this issue has always been there. I don’t think anybody — anybody has diminished the seriousness of a nuclear threat. But I think it’s those things and many other things.
And the good news is there’s nothing here that we can’t fix. The good news is that none of this has endangered America, Americans, or put our security at risk. That’s all good news.
But if we don’t pay attention to this, you know, if we don’t fix this, eventually it will get to a point where there will be some questions about our — about our security. So that’s all the good news.
And it’s just, I think — it’s not unlike institutions in life and the world. We’ve got so much going on in the world and so many new threats. There’s a convergence of challenges and threats in the world. I don’t know in my lifetime I’ve ever seen it. And all you need to do is — your business records it every moment of every day. And it’s all coming at us at once, and we have to manage this.
But we can’t lose sight of the long term, either. At the same time we manage through these crises and we lead through coalitions and other means, but we’ve also cannot take our eye off the ball the longer-term issues and challenges to keep this institution strong, but also probably is important as anything to keep it prepared for what’s coming, new — new asymmetric threats, cyber. And you — you know about those things.
So there’s a lot of good news in this, and that’s the way I look at it.
Thank you very much.
DEPUTY SECRETARY OF DEFENSE BOB WORK: Thank you.
Well, good morning, everyone. I’m Bob Work, deputy secretary, and I just would like to make a couple more remarks, and then we’ll get right into questions.
First of all, I’d like to echo the secretary’s thanks to our reviewers. Both of them had a very hard problem. The internal reviewers, Madelyn Creedon, isn’t here today. She has now left the Department of Defense, is over at the National Nuclear Security Agency, working on the warheads side of the problem now. She could not be here today because she was traveling.
But Admiral Pete Fanta and Command Sergeant Major Alston, who’s command sergeant major of STRAT Command, having a senior enlisted right on the review was absolutely critical because we wanted to get a sense on what was happening all the way down to the deck plates on the submarines and in the silos.
They had a very hard problem because they were talking truth to power, and it wasn’t a pretty story. And they’ve stuck to their guns at the secretary’s behest and did an incredibly credible job. They found that the nuclear deterrent is safe, secure, and effective today, but unless we take action, and immediate action, that — that — the possibility of something happening over the near future goes up unacceptably. And we needed to address it right away.
The external reviewers, Admiral Harvey and General Welch, they were not asked to give an assessment of whether or not the nuclear deterrent was safe, secure and effective. They were tasked by the secretary to say where are the gaps and the vulnerabilities.
And I have to tell you that they took this job so seriously, that both of them penned the report. It wasn’t done by a committee. And it’s one of the most well-written and thoughtful and hard-hitting reports that I think I’ve ever or written.
I’m very proud of the job of both of the internal and external reviewers. They did an excellent job and really told us what we needed to do.
Your point, how is this different? We have had many, many nuclear deterrent enterprise reviews. But this is why I think this is different.
One, the senior leadership is involved. One of the things that the internal review said is you’re not — you don’t have anybody looking at this as an enterprise, and you better get somebody to look at it as an enterprise, because at an enterprise-wide view, you’re having problems. So your reviews up to this point have been telling you where individual problems are in the ICBMs and in the SLBMs and on the submarines, intercontinental ballistic missiles and sea-launched ballistic missiles in the submarines, but you didn’t have anybody looking at an enterprise-wide view.
And they recommended that we consider that.
The external reviewers, as a Marine, really knocked me and the secretary and punched us between the eyes, because they told us, very similarly, you have got to take ownership of this issue, Mr. Secretary. And the secretary did.
What makes this different is the NDERG, the Nuclear Deterrent Enterprise Review Group, is chaired by me, the number two civilian in the department, and the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the number two uniformed officer in the department. And we report directly to the secretary. That’s it.
So this is much, much different. And it was because of the insistence of two really seasoned nuclear officers that if you do not do this as a secretariat-level initiative, you’re going to go the same way as in the past.
The second thing is follow-up. There are more than 100 recommendations, when you add all the recommendations up. And, as the secretary said, he assigned CAPE, Dr. Jamie Morin, the director of the Cost Analysis and Program Evaluation shop, to put together a team that tracks each and every one of these individuals.
What we would do in the past is we’d have a checklist. It said to do this, yes, we did it, we’d check it off. Now, we have metrics for every single one. They report to the NDERG. The NDERG meets on a quarterly basis.
We ask ourselves, are the metrics doing what we want them to do? Are they causing problems that we didn’t anticipate?
So the follow-up is different.
And the accountability is much, much different. As the secretary said, now there’s going to be a four-star at Global Strike Command, a three-star on the Air Force staff. And everyone will be coming in on the quarterly basis or — essentially monthly or five or six week basis and then we report to the secretary.
And he will hold us all accountable to say are we making progress.
We’re making very big moves in oversight, both, we’ve talked about, and then the personnel reliability program, if you want to get into that, also the inspection regime. These were pointed out in both of the reviews as being getting out of control.
There’s an old saying you’ve probably already heard, “Don’t expect what you don’t inspect.” Inspections became the reason why you were inspecting. They weren’t helping the force, they were a burden on the force.
Both the internal and the external review made that clear. And, as a matter of fact, the next NDERG meets on the 19th of November, and we will make final changes to the personnel reliability program, the inspection regime and the security regime to take the burden off of our airmen and sailors and the officers who’ve supervised them.
The investment, as the secretary said, is going to be billions, not tens of billions.
We spend about $15 to $16 billion a year on the nuclear enterprise. We’re probably going to have to increase that on a sustained basis of at least 10 percent.
On personnel and training, if you have questions on security and inspections, we can answer those.
This thing, David, it’s actually a toolkit. It was a little toolkit to thread — to thread the bolts so that the wrenches could attach, and they were being FedEx-ed around, as the secretary said.
For me, a Marine, that’s a metaphor. It’s like headspace and timing on a .50 cal. You don’t want to be sending your gauge, you know, from company and company. It’s just ridiculous. But it was a metaphor for how far things had fallen.
And it’s because the people stopped reporting it. They had reported it over and over, and they just worked around it.
And that’s the thing I’d like to lead you with. The people in this enterprise are just unbelievable. They were able to make this deterrent safe, reliable, effective and secure.
But we were doing it on their backs. Make — make no doubt about it. And that’s the thing that the secretary said, “We are going to stop this,” and that’s what makes this one different, because from the leadership on down, all of us are really invested in this.
We’re not going to ask the impossible of our sailors and soldiers and airmen who have been making this enterprise work. We’re going to make it better for them, and we’re going to make sure that it remains that way.
So with that – I’d like to — Marcus?
Q: Mr. Work, the pressure on the defense budget right now you articulated this earlier this week — and the services, they have a history of putting other priorities in front of nuclear projects.
Is it time — and also with the hundreds of billions it’s going to take to recapitalize the nuclear arsenal over the next couple decades, is it time to take the nuclear budget out of the defense budget and make it its own separate entity?
MR. WORK: Well, first of all, this goes back to one of the things that happened over 13 years of war.
When you get into our — because our budgets have been coming down and when you say, “Okay, do we do this in the nuclear enterprise, or do we do this to support the warfighter,” well, when you have to make a hard choice like that, you’re going to support the warfighter and you make as best as you can.
Now we’ve said we can’t do that. This is — it’s gone on too long. This has to be one of our primary things.
If we hit sequestration, this is going to be a major problem, a major problem in this particular enterprise and a major problem across the enterprise.
If you go to sequestration-level cuts, you will not be able to make what we believe are the prudent investments that you would have to do to make sure that we have a safe, secure and effective deterrent. But it would cascade throughout the force.
Now, to your own question, this is something we’ve talked about within the department, and this is — we think this is going to be a president’s budget ’17 discussion. This year really is trying to, you know, prepare for the downgrading of our defense resources and trying to accommodate that.
But the Navy faces the problem. Michelle can talk about this, if you want. The Ohio Replacement Program, that’s very expensive. The replacements for the ICBMs, that’s very expensive. Replacements for the bomber, that’s very expensive.
We’re going to have to address that forthrightly, and we will in the future.
Q: Can you just explain briefly why it’s going to take 10 percent more money to fix this problem, why it can’t be done without increasing the budget?
We’ve heard about the idea of reducing the whole nuclear enterprise. Why is it going to cost more?
MR. WORK: Well, the president has said, you know, his goal is a world without nuclear weapons. But the new START, the strategic reduction treaty with Russia, is bringing us down to about 1,550 weapons. We need to keep those weapons safe, secure and effective. And I would argue when your inventory comes down, it’s even more important that you are absolutely sure that you’re taking care of this.
And we have made a decision that the triad, having land-based ICBMs, sea-based nuclear deterrent, and a flexible bomber force that’s nuclear-capable, is the best way to achieve a deterrent. So, I just — I might ask General Wilson and Admiral Howard to say what are — you know, just you have to add people to the shipyards to allow the submarines to get through. But I might ask them to give you an example on why we need more money to help. They might be able to give you a couple of examples.
ADM. MICHELLE HOWARD: Thank you for the question.
So, the shipyards, the infrastructure and the SSBMs — (inaudible) — are continuing to age. I just visited our Strategic Weapons Facility Atlantic last week. Those buildings were built 25 years ago and they’re in good shape. But then when you think about it, it’s like your 25-year-old house. Things start to degrade over time and then you have to invest money to keep them up. And then as things age, you continue to invest more money in maintenance time.
So we’re finding in the cycle for our submarines, as the submarines get older, we need — our maintenance availabilities tend to trend longer as we put more work into them to get them up to the highest operational level. So one of the ways we can reduce that maintenance cycle is to hire more people and put more workers on it. So we have been given permission to hire more shipyard workers. We’re doing that hiring now.
But that, in the end, adding more people costs more money. Having to do more maintenance over the life cycle as things age costs more money.
LIEUTENANT GENERAL STEPHEN WILSON: Let me give you two examples for the Air Force. Today, our ICBMs that we’re using — the Minuteman 3 — came on alert in the 1970s. The infrastructure that they — that supports them was actually done in the 1960s. So we have missiles that have been on alert for the last 52 years. Just like Admiral Howard talked about, that infrastructure and those — that capability has to be modernized, built up and sustained, and that costs money.
Our helicopters we fly today in the missile fields are 1969-vintage UH-1 helicopters. We’re the last one still flying them. So as we modernize and recapitalize, we need a new helicopter. The current one doesn’t meet the speed, range or payload capability for the force.
So those are a couple of quick examples of things that we’re going to be looking for in the future to be able to spend money on to bring us to the capability that we need.
MR. WORK: So there’s two parts of the problem. We have to spend money to maintain an aging nuclear deterrent enterprise, to bridge it to the new nuclear deterrent that we will be building in the ’20s. And this goes back to Marcus’s question, that’s an issue that we need to address, but this morning we probably don’t have any clear answers for you on that.
Q: Thank you. A quick question about the culture within the — in the force. There have been a couple of scandals over the last couple of years at Malmstrom and Minot, one involving cheating and that sort of thing. I’m just curious what the reviews found, how bad the culture was, and what’s being done to address those issues within the force.
MR. WORK: These questions I think would be best addressed by all three of our — so I’d like to start maybe with Admiral Haney and then go to the Air Force and the Navy.
ADMIRAL CECIL D. HANEY: I’d start off by saying first and foremost, most of our teammates and warriors come to work every day with integrity, commitment to service and to this mission. So, there have been some stumbling blocks we’ve managed, the Air Force-led investigation, et cetera, to remove those folks. But when you look at the discussion that we’ve had here and the amount of effort, our worries have, in terms of bridging that gap, in terms of making sure our business is safe, secure, and effective, they are on board. I’ve visited all of our nuclear bases, more than twice in most cases over my tenure here, about a year of being in command in U.S. Strategic Command.
And I can say I’ve met with small groups, large groups, et cetera. And most of our folks to a — were very committed to the point where they were perturbed at the performance by those who demonstrated flaws in their integrity. And they are very passionate about the business and very hopeful as they look at this commitment that the department has had associated with this mission, which is very important to our country.
LT. GEN. WILSON: I’d add that what the culture had happen over the years is a culture of micro-management. And so, today what you’ll see across our Air Force, certainly in the nuclear business, is this is about leadership, and it’s about empowerment. We’re empowering our airmen and removing obstacles for their success.
If you go out to the missile fields today, what you’ll find from the young airmen and the young officers is they get it. And they are — they are excited and motivated about this empowerment that they haven’t seen before.
So as Admiral Haney talked about, the less than 1 percent of our folks are the ones that are messing up. But 99.9 percent of our folks are amazing people. They come to work every day. They’re — they’re committed to their mission. They know it’s important. They do a terrific job for our nation. They live our core values every single day.
ADMIRAL MICHELLE HOWARD: After the discovery of the incident in Charleston, the director of naval reactors did an investigation, and then he did something else. He decided to step back and look more broadly across the nuclear energy forces. And he also had some outsider groups come in and say, “Is this about culture?”
The conclusion is this is not about culture. Our sailors truly exhibit our core values of courage, honor, and commitment. Then we had to say, okay, well, it’s not systematic. Let’s go back and look at what happened at Charleston. And then that gets to what was discussed in the — in the report by Admiral Harvey and General Welsh.
One of the factors is the — the work load at Charleston, the instructor work load, the work day. And so then a factor becomes folks felt it was okay to take a shortcut, even though it was cheating.
So then we, as leaders, have to look back and say, have we set the
environment correctly? And that’s one of the reasons, in addition to the shipyard workers, we’ll be hiring additional instructors, so that we get the workload balance right, so our sailors continue to exhibit courage, honor, and commitment.
MR. WORK: I wonder if I might be able to ask — Command Sergeant Major Alston to come up. Because the number of enlisted who are in the nuclear enterprise — you know, numbers in the thousands. They are the bulk of the security force, the bulk of the maintenance force. They’re the bulk of — I mean, they are the backbone of this enterprise. And so, perhaps Sergeant Major Alston can address this issue on culture.
COMMAND SGT. MAJ. PATRICK Z. ALSTON: Sir, I would tell you that 90 percent of the troops each and every day come to work focused on doing the right thing, come to work focusing on instilling the right pride and the right drive to accomplish any mission. It’s like anything else. You had that 10 percent that bring that culture in that they grew up on, and they try to spread that culture among the work force.
But I’m here to tell you that that 90 percent continually — continually — weigh out that 10 percent that try to take the shortcuts. So the culture there is the culture that we have across all services, and that is to allow democracy to ring in this country.
MR. WORK: Yes, ma’am?
Q: So it sounds like the Defense Department has been implementing some fixes throughout the years, and you’ve made clear the issue is important. SECDEF said he went to a variety of bases, he gave us a laundry list, but I’m wondering why it is that the Pentagon has waited so long to visit Minot Air Force Base, which the review indicates has numerous special challenges.
Also, General Wilson, really quickly, many of the — the review says that many of the senior NCOs supervising maintenance of the B-52 have no experience with that system and most have been on the base less than a year. What have you been doing to mitigate that deficiency?
MR. WORK: Well, this — Minot was a special case in the external review. I might ask either John or Larry to come up and address it. And, quite frankly, you know, the senior leadership, certainly at the secretary and the deputy secretary level, it was very helpful for us to point out that, hey, Minot is kind of where you have to look. It’s one of our most austere, remote bases. And some of the decisions that we made really were indicative of a lack of real attention.
So the secretary is gone today. He’s been there before. He’s going again with Secretary James. I’ll be going out in February, because both Larry and John told me if I didn’t go to Minot in January or February, I was a wimp.
And so, we’ll — but Minot is a case. Would either of you like to address it?
Why don’t — well, go ahead, (inaudible) and then we’ll — oh —
RET. GEN. LARRY WELCH: There was a time when in the Air Force they — the catechism was, “Why not Minot?” And what that was to express, as everybody understood was Minot and the Minot mission was the toughest in the Air Force. And there was a sense of pride that went with being from Minot.
So, in Strategic Air Command, for example, if you had not served in Minot, you weren’t a real nuclear airman.
Over the years, that just gradually disappeared. And as the nuclear mission moved from major command to major command in the Air Force, the fact is, the northern tier did not get the kind of emphasis that is demanded in the kind of environment you exist in on the northern tier. And Minot, of course, is the epitome of the northern tier.
So then when you look at Minot today, you find some of the oldest maintenance facilities in the Air Force. You find an extreme reluctance to accept an assignment to Minot.
So a lot has to happen. And what Global Strike Command and the Air Force, particularly the Air Force chief and secretary, are working on is once again instilling that special pride that always went with being able to do the toughest job in the toughest place.
And I think they’re taking actions to restore that kind of attitude. But it will not be an easy thing to accomplish.
Q: Sir, can you give us some examples? I mean, back — you know, back in the ’50s and ’60s, everybody in the United States knew that the nuclear mission mattered. You know, the ordinary public was behind this.
I don’t think you’d find a lot of Americans today who worry about it. How do you, sort of, convey to the — the airman that it does, you know, on a daily basis? Do you visit the folks in Minot, you know, the civilians? What do you do?
GEN. WELCH: Admiral Harvey noted and pointed out very closely that — very carefully that — you would be surprised at how much these people know.
You would be surprised at how much attention the maintenance guy that works on the ICBM or the truck driver that has to move things around on the roads along with all these big oil industry trucks — you’d be amazed at how much they know about what their leadership is saying and what the public is saying.
So the first step to really restoring pride in what they do is for the senior leadership to say how important this is.
So we move from the point where former government officials suggest that we don’t need ICBMs and they don’t hear any response from the senior leadership.
We have to move from that to constant reminders from the most senior leadership that this is job one, that this mission is important and that we greatly value the people who perform this mission.
We are seeing that happening. We are seeing that at a level now that we haven’t seen for years.
But it has to continue, because as you pointed out, we’ve seen it before, but it didn’t last long enough to bring about a lasting change.
I think Admiral Harvey and I are hopeful that this time, there will be lasting change. But there has to be reminders to those people that it is job one, that they are valued and that we understand that that is tough duty and you ought to be proud of performing it.
STAFF: So we have time for one more question.
MR. WORK: Well, I want to — we have to follow on —
LT. GEN. WILSON: Let me follow up to it.
This is Secretary James’ third visit to Minot. And she’s been in office now for about 10 months, and so of all the bases she has in the Air Force, this is her third time.
She’s been to every one of our nuclear bases twice, and she’s already got it on the books to go again in February with Secretary Work.
In terms of the manning and experience, that’s one of the key areas that we addressed early on. So Secretary James plussed up our manpower by 1,100 — over 1,100 people.
In addition, what we call eight critical nuclear skill sets — so aircraft maintenance is one of those eight critical sets — we’re making sure we got the right experience at the right numbers at the right bases.
And so we’re focused on Minot to get the right numbers, but both the numbers and skill at our nuclear bases, and that’s one of the major initiatives going forward.
Just to segue onto the reports, the top-down reports, both in Creedon- Fanta and the Admiral Welch and Harvey report, we did the bottom-up review to our force improvement program.
We came to, in essence, the same conclusions. There’s a 95-percent overlap. We agree with everything that’s in those reports. They’re really well done, and we’ve been moving out for the last six months.
From recruiting, from manning, from training, from testing, inspections, security, PRP and investments, we’ve been moving out for the last seven months to do this.
STAFF: Yes, ma’am.
Q: On the investment for the public shipyards that mentioned, first, I was wondering the timing of that, when you’d be looking to make those investments.
But second, you spoke the other day about maintenance backlogs that you have of the aircraft carrier fleet that also use those public shipyards. So I wonder how you ensure that these investments are actually going to the nuclear submarine, or can you even separate, you know, investment in this part of the force versus the non-nuclear force?
MR. WORK: Well, I’ll say a couple words and I’ll turn it over to Michelle.
One of the destructive things of last year when we hit sequestration and then the government shutdown, both on the furloughs as well as the hiring freezes on the civilian workforce, we thought — we took the fair approach and we said we can’t exempt anybody in the force; we have to treat everybody the same because this is an appalling thing to happen.
And we didn’t think that, well, maybe we should have exempted the nuclear shipyards because you can see the cascading effects that it has had on the maintenance availability. So, right now we have approved the hiring authority for the Navy to go after these 2,400 folks. That’s happening right now and you’ll see the actual dollar figures attached to that when we drop our budget in February of 2015.
Michelle, did you want to say anything more?
ADM. HOWARD: You’re right. There is this symbiotic relationship across all nuclear propulsion plants. And so yes, by raising up the level of — of nuclear propulsion workers, then that helps everybody — helps readiness across the force. But we are hiring now, yes.
MR. WORK: I’d just like to leave the last word with Admiral Haney, who is the STRATCOM commander and is responsible for the entire nuclear enterprise, to get to this question on, you know, how — just how important this is. As the secretary said, we believe and we will now — our words, I mean our deeds are going to follow our words. This is the most important mission that we do. It is absolutely critical to the safe — safety and security of our nation.
So I’d like to just leave the last word with Admiral Haney. And thank you all for your coming out this morning.
ADM. HANEY: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.
As you look at our strategic forces today, and it’s not just the triad. It consists of everything from the sensing mechanisms we have associated with the intelligence apparatus, or when some country launches something. Determine is it a threat against the United States of America? Or is it a threat against one of our allies? Or is it a test contained within their country? Where is it going, so that we can quickly assess that, move the information through our nuclear national command and control and communications apparatus, such that we can very quickly get the right set of leaders together associated with that decision apparatus, to go all the way from the president of the United States down to our warriors associated with the various platforms we’ve been talking about.
So, that’s also part of it, all the way to the warheads.
We’re doing the business right, which we have been doing the business right in a safe, secure and effective manner for some time. As a result, you don’t read about it. You don’t see the mushroom cloud or that sort of thing. We must continue that. And it’s very important here in the 21st century, in the calculations in the 21st century deterrence and assurance to ensure that we can continue to benefit, as we have, from our strategic capabilities.
Being that they have been successful, they have in fact been under the radar scope. The good news is the great work that’s been done by these professionals through these reviews, as well as the internal reviews the services have been involved in, and of course also U.S. Strategic Command. They’ve put a lens on this to ensure where we need to go for the future.
As we look at the threats that are out there, what other nations have, what other nations are exercising with, et cetera, and given the serious consequences of having a miscalculation and not keeping the strategic stability that we so need here in the world, and particularly as it relates to the United States of America, this is important business for our country and it’s good to see the attention it’s getting today, because it’s very important for our future going forward.