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US Air Force sacks nuclear commander after blunders

October 17, 2009

Washington: The US Air Force said on Thursday the commander of a nuclear wing had been sacked after his unit failed a safety inspection, trucks carrying missile parts crashed and officers under him fell asleep with launch codes in hand.

Colonel Christopher Ayres, commander of the 91st Missile Wing at Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota, was removed Wednesday “due to loss of confidence in his ability to command,” Air Force Space Command said in a statement.

The Air Force has tried to improve its handling of the country’s nuclear arsenal after a series of mishaps and blunders led to the sacking of the service’s top civilian and military leaders last year.

“We must uphold the highest standards within the nuclear enterprise,” said General Robert Kehler, head of Air Force Space Command, who approved the firing.

The removal of the wing commander came days after an Air Force investigation blamed “driver error” for an August accident in which a truck carrying parts for intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) went off the road and tipped on its side.

In the bizarre accident, the driver had become distracted by “a large insect” that landed on his back, the Air Force said.
Another truck carrying an ICBM rocket booster crashed last year, the Air Force Times reported.

The 91st Missile Wing, which oversees 150 Minuteman II ballistic missiles, also failed an inspection by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency in 2008, Captain Toni Tones, a spokeswoman for Air Force Space Command, told AFP. The wing passed a second inspection this year, she said.

In another embarrassing incident, three Air Force officers at the wing fell asleep in July 2008 while in possession of classified components containing missile launch codes for ICBMs. The three officers were disciplined over the incident, Tones said.

Colonel Ferdinand Stoss, vice commander of the 90th Missile Wing in Wyoming, has been named to take over at the 91st wing.
In January, an outside panel headed by former defense secretary James Schlesinger concluded that the Air Force had for years given the nuclear forces a lower priority and failed to manage the mission with rigor.

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