Thursday, September 13, 2007

B-52 carried nuclear armed cruise missiles by mistake : US

This article says there were SIX bombs....

B-52 carried nuclear armed cruise missiles by mistake : US

by Jim Mannion Wed Sep 5, 1:56 PM ET


WASHINGTON (AFP) - A B-52 bomber flew the length of the United States last week loaded with six nuclear armed cruise missiles in a major security breach, US military officials said Wednesday. President George W. Bush after the nuclear warheads were discovered when the aircraft landed at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana, said a military official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The US Air Force has relieved the munition squadron commander at Minot Air Base in North Dakota of his duties, and launched an intensive investigation into the incident, a spokesman said.

"At no time was there a threat to public safety," said Lieutenant Colonel Ed Thomas. "It is important to note that munitions were safe, secure and under military control at all times."

The Pentagon would not provide specifics, citing secrecy rules, but an expert said the incident was unprecedented and pointed to a disturbing lapse in the air force's command and control system.

"All evidence we have seen so far points to an isolated mistake," Thomas said. "The error was discovered by airmen during internal Air Force checks."

The Air Force's air combat command "has directed a command-wide stand down to review process at all of our bases."

"The munitions squadron commander has been relieved of his duties, and final action is pending the outcome of the investigation," he said. "In addition, other airmen were decertified from their duties involving munitions."

An air force official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said six cruise missiles with nuclear warheads were loaded on pylons under the wings of a B-52 bomber that flew from Minot to Barksdale on August 30.

Hans Kristensen, an expert on US nuclear forces, said he knew of no other publicly acknowledged case of live nuclear weapons being flown on bombers since the late 1960s.

"It seems so fantastic that so many points, checks can dysfunction," he said. "And we have so many points and checks specifically so we don't have these kinds of incidents."

Kristensen said the air force keeps a computerized command and control system that traces any movement of a nuclear weapon so that they have a complete picture of where they are at any given time.

He said there would be checks and detailed procedures at various points from the time they are moved out of bunkers until they are loaded onto planes, and flown away.

"That's perhaps what is most worrisome about this particular incident is that apparently an individual who had command authority about moving these weapons around decided to so," he said.

"The question is did he just plug in the information that he was moving these to Barksdale, or something else. Who knows?"

"So it's a command and control issue and it's one that calls into question the system, because if one individual can do that who knows what can happen," he said.

Ike Skelton, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said in a statement that the reports that nuclear weapons were mishandled "are deeply disturbing."

"The American people, our friends, and our potential adversaries must be confident that the highest standards are in place when it comes to our nuclear arsenal," he said.

The weapons were among 400 advanced cruise missiles that the Defense Department quietly decided to retire in March over the course of this year.

The advanced cruise missile is a stealthy, longer range version of the air launched cruise missile first deployed in the early 1980s.

They carry W-80 warheads of up to 150 kilotons, ten times the destructive force of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

Nuclear weapons are normally transferred on cargo planes, never on the wings of bombers, Kristensen said. Bomber flights with live nuclear weapons were ended in the late 1960s after accidents in Spain in 1966 and in Greenland in 1968.

The military official said the discovery was reported to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Peter Pace, "and higher." The official said the notification goes as high as the president.

"There are procedures in place and they kicked in and worked," the official said.

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