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Navy veteran questions why six nuclear missiles were flown on combat aircraft to staging area for Middle East
John Byrne
Published: Monday October 8, 2007

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A retired lieutenant commander in the Navy Reserve who served with the Navy's Supervisor of Salvage questioned in a little-noticed editorial Sunday why six active nuclear armed cruise missiles were being transferred to an active bomber base that "just happens to be the staging area for Middle Eastern operations."

"The United States also does not transport nuclear weapons meant for elimination attached to their launch vehicles under the wings of a combat aircraft," Navy veteran Robert Stormer wrote in the Texas-based Star-Telegram. "The procedure is to separate the warhead from the missile, encase the warhead and transport it by military cargo aircraft to a repository -- not an operational bomber base that just happens to be the staging area for Middle Eastern operations."

Six nuclear W80 nuclear-armed cruise missiles were flown to Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota to Barksdale AFB in Louisiana where they sat for ten hours undetected.

"Press reports initially cited the Air Force mistake of flying nuclear weapons over the United States in violation of Air Force standing orders and international treaties, while completely missing the more important major issues, such as how six nuclear cruise missiles got loose to begin with," writes Stormer.

"Let me be very clear here: We are not talking about paintball cartridges or pellet gun ammo. We are talking nuclear weapons."

Stormer doesn't buy reports that the missiles were simply lost. The title of his piece is "Nuke transportation story has explosive implications."

"There is a strict chain of custody for all such weapons," he said. "Nuclear weapons handling is spelled out in great detail in Air Force regulations, to the credit of that service. Every person who orders the movement of these weapons, handles them, breaks seals or moves any nuclear weapon must sign off for tracking purposes."

"All security forces assigned are authorized "to use deadly force to protect the weapons from any threat. Nor does anyone quickly move a 1-ton cruise missile -- or forget about six of them, as reported by some news outlets, especially cruise missiles loaded with high explosives.

"This is about how six nuclear advanced cruise missiles got out of their bunkers and onto a combat aircraft without notice of the wing commander, squadron commander, munitions maintenance squadron (MMS), the B-52H's crew chief and command pilot and onto another Air Force base tarmac without notice of that air base's chain of command -- for 10 hours."

At the end of his editorial, he poses the following questions.

The questions that must be answered:

1 Why, and for what ostensible purpose, were these nuclear weapons taken to Barksdale?

2 How long was it before the error was discovered?

3 How many mistakes and errors were made, and how many needed to be made, for this to happen?

4 How many and which security protocols were overlooked?

5 How many and which safety procedures were bypassed or ignored?

6 How many other nuclear command and control non-observations of procedure have there been?

7 What is Congress going to do to better oversee U.S. nuclear command and control?

8 How does this incident relate to concern for reliability of control over nuclear weapons and nuclear materials in Russia, Pakistan and elsewhere?

9 Does the Bush administration, as some news reports suggest, have plans to attack Iran with nuclear weapons?

10 If this was an accident, have we degraded our military to a point where we are now making critical mistakes with our nuclear arsenal? If so, how do we correct this?