USAF to examine maintenance problems at ICBM bases

By Valerie Insinna, for Defense News

Jan 10, 2017

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Before Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James ends her tenure as the service’s civilian leader, she intends to administer a couple of last action items related to the maintenance of intercontinental ballistic missile facilities.

James plans to issue a memo to Air Force Global Strike Command head Gen. Robin Rand and Air Force Materiel Command head Gen. Ellen Pawlikowski, directing them to investigate several longstanding ICBM maintenance problems discovered at the bases, and put forward suggested courses of action, James said in a Jan. 5 interview.

For example, blast valves, which help shield a launch control center from a nuclear attack, are frequently reported broken. Another regularly non-operational system is the B-plug — a steel door in a missile silo that moves up and down, allowing maintainers to work without exposing the missiles.

When the B-plugs are not functioning properly, more security forces are dispatched to guard the visible ICBMs while repair work is conducted. Personnel also reported poor communications equipment, though officials stressed that problems were limited to administrative devices, not the nuclear command, control and communications (NC3) suite.

The memo will also call for a “maintenance roadshow,” which James visualizes as a group of experts who will travel to the Northern tier bases to educate operators about recent changes in maintenance and supply chain practices.

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