WASHINGTON — With public trust and safety at stake, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered immediate actions Thursday to define the depth of trouble inside the nation's nuclear force, which has been rocked by disclosures about security lapses, poor discipline, weak morale and other problems that raise questions about nuclear security.
It amounted to the most significant expression of high-level Pentagon concern about the nuclear force since 2008, when then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates fired the top uniformed and civilian officials in the Air Force after a series of mistakes that included an unauthorized flight of nuclear-armed cruise missiles across the country.
Hagel had recently said he was considering what may lay behind problems in the nuclear Air Force — many revealed by the Associated Press — but his chief spokesman said Thursday that the defense secretary concluded urgent remedies were needed.
Hagel summoned top military officials to a Pentagon conference, to be held within two weeks, to "raise and address" any personnel problems infesting the nuclear force, and he ordered an "action plan" be written within 60 days to explore nuclear force personnel issues, identify remedies and put those fixes into place quickly. Hagel said he and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, will host the summit.
The Pentagon chief also said he would assemble a small group of outsiders with expertise in the nuclear field to conduct a broader review of the U.S. nuclear force, with a focus on personnel issues, and to recommend changes "that would help ensure the continued safety, security and effectiveness of our nuclear forces."