The United States has maintained large numbers of nuclear weapons on high alert for decades, ready to launch at a moment’s notice. Numerous military personnel are specifically assigned to manage U.S. nuclear weapons operations and must be ready to precisely carry out complex tasks under extreme time pressure.
But the operators of these weapons are human, and the Air Force announced earlier this week that 34 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) launch officers had been suspended for cheating on a monthly proficiency test. The airmen were stationed at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana, which houses 150 of the nation’s 450 nuclear-tipped ICBMs.
Even though nuclear deterrence is far less salient now than it was during the Cold War, revelations like these still raise alarms across the U.S. foreign policy establishment. Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee Jones called the cheating “absolutely unacceptable behavior” that is “contrary to our core values in the Air Force” in a briefing Wednesday. She described measures taken in reaction to the scandal, including retesting all ICBM personnel.