Strips 5th Bomber Wing Of Duty Over B-52 Flight
Seventy Air Force airmen face
punishment for their involvement in an accidental, cross-country
flight of a nuclear-armed B-52 bomber after an investigation found
rules for handling such munitions were ignored, according to the US
"There has been an erosion of adherence to weapons-handling
standards at Minot Air Force Base and Barksdale Air Force Base,"
said Maj. Gen. Richard Newton, the Air Force deputy chief of staff
Additionally, the 5th Bomb Wing has been de-certified from its
"War-Time Mission," according to Newton.
As reported by the Associated Press, the weapon involved was
called an Advance Cruise Missile, a stealth weapon developed in the
1980s with the ability to evade Soviet radar and carry a nuclear
warhead. The weapons were being decommissioned and were flown by
B-52 to Barksdale AFB from Minot, ND on August 29-30.
The B-52's crew did not know they were transporting nuclear
warheads, though the Air Force offered no explanation about their
role in the colossal bungle.
Among the highest rank to receive punishment was 5th Bomb Wing
commander at Minot -- Col. Bruce Emig, who served as the base
commander since June. Four officers were also relieved of their
The announcement came October 19, as the results of a six-week
probe into the Aug. 29-30 incident in which the B-52 was
inadvertently armed with six nuclear-tipped cruise missiles
Only the missiles were supposed to be taken to Louisiana, but
the warheads were to have been removed beforehand and no one
noticed the mistake for over a day, as previously reported by
The reason for the error was the missiles' status -- tracked by
a complex schedule -- was not tracked while disarmed, a breach of
Air Force and military policy. Under conditional anonymity, an
airman explained the crews replaced the schedule with their own
"informal" system... though he didn't say why they did that, nor
how long they had been doing it their own way, according to the
"This was an unacceptable mistake and a clear deviation from our
exacting standards," Air Force Secretary Michael W. Wynne said at a
Pentagon press conference with Newton. "We hold ourselves
accountable to the American people and want to ensure proper
corrective action has been taken."
"We are making all appropriate changes to ensure this has a
minimal chance of ever happening again," Wynne said.
A string of errors that lead to the airmen failing to inspect
the missiles warheads is credited for the incident. Air Force
officials said that they are implementing tighter restrictions to
regain the confidence of the nation in their handling of nuclear
The Air Combat Command ordered a command-wide stand-down --
completed by all Air Force bases on September 14 -- to institute
and review new handling procedures.
In addition to the officers punishment, 65 airmen were
de-certified from nuclear weapons handling.
This incident marks a one-time exception to US policy that gives
the location of nuclear weapons that also required Air Force
officials to contact the White House directly about the breach of
handling the nukes.
US policy states the exact location of nuclear weapons is never
to be confirmed publicly... but Air Force officials made this
exception because of its importance to the nation, and the gravity
of this mistake.