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US military officials discuss nuclear force scandal

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Top US military officials have begun a series of meetings to discuss and solve systematic personnel problems in the Air Force’s nuclear missile corps.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has gathered top nuclear leaders of the Air Force and Navy to work on the issues, Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said.

Problems caused by US Air Force nuclear missiles staff in a series of scandals that have recently come to light range from low morale to cheating and serious security lapses, the Associated Press reported.

The goal of the meetings is to determine whether there are cultural problems within the force that make crew members willing and able to cheat on proficiency tests, Kirby said.

This comes as officials said on Tuesday that the number of US nuclear missile officers who are under investigation for allegations of cheating has doubled.

At least 70 individuals are involved in a cheating investigation, meaning that 14 percent of all launch officers have been decertified or suspended from missile launch duties.

“I think the general consensus in the room was that we all need to accept the reality that there probably are systemic issues in the personnel growth and development inside the nuclear mission,” Kirby told Pentagon reporters after the two-hour meeting with Hagel. “The secretary made it clear at the end of the meeting that he intends to do these on a regular basis.”

Earlier this month, the 34 officers, who were in charge of launching nuclear missiles, were suspended either for cheating on a key monthly proficiency test last year or for knowing about the cheating but failing to report it.

The cheating was discovered during a previously-announced investigation into drug possession by 11 officers at some other Air Force bases.

The cheating scandal among officers in charge of maintaining and operating America’s 450 nuclear missiles is the latest in a series of Air Force nuclear stumbles, which include deliberate violations of safety rules, failures of inspections and breakdowns in training.

Last month, the head of the Air Force’s intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) fleet was fired for being repeatedly drunk and showing inappropriate behavior during an official visit to Russia this past summer.

Hagel ordered last week a full review of the US nuclear force. “Personnel failures within this force threaten to jeopardize the trust the American people have placed in us to keep our nuclear weapons safe and secure,” he said.

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