Mismarked Nuclear Missile Motors Draw Scrutiny in Air Force Audit

Deputy Defense Secretary David Norquist told lawmakers Nov. 20 the Air Force needs to improve its system for tracking intercontinental ballistic missile motors, after the service’s fiscal 2019 audit noted 79 motors were listed as being in the wrong place.

The Defense Department revealed the issue in its recently released Air Force audit for fiscal 2019. Bloomberg first reported the problem Nov. 19.

“They aren’t actual ICBMs and missiles, they are the motors that are used in them,” Norquist said at a Senate Armed Services readiness and management support subcommittee hearing on the DOD’s failing audit grade. “When they’re pulled out and put into maintenance in the supply system, there was an issue in the accuracy of the supply system because it’s manual—tracking whether they were still on the base and whether they were at the depot.”

When the Air Force’s land-based nuclear missiles are disassembled, each of the three motors are called uninstalled missile motors, or UMMs. If an ICBM is taken out of its silo, a distribution officer gets an email to mark that missile as disassembled in one inventory system. Air Force Global Strike Command also updates another system to show who has the missile parts and where, according to the audit report.

The service doesn’t reconcile the data between those two inventories each month to make sure missiles and motors are where airmen say they are. A test of one system in March showed that 79 ICBMs were “marked with the incorrect physical location,” the report added.

Uninstalled motors can be reported as both a motor and an ICBM while the motor is in or awaiting transit, according to the audit. The document notes that the Air Force hasn’t performed or sufficiently documented the cross-checks it needs to ensure that its assets are in the right place and to meet Global Strike reporting requirements.

“Our missiles are in the ground. We know where they are,” Norquist told Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska). “They don’t tend to move that often, for the ICBMs, so 79 would not have been relocated.”

He acknowledged that DOD should still have an accurate record of where its missile motors are, saying that it’s a regular supply issue and a flaw of keeping manual databases.

“The auditors did a site visit at F.E. Warren [AFB, Wyo.], and they gave it 100 percent thumbs up,” Norquist said. “I met with them. … They didn’t even bring this one up, they just talked about supply issues in general.”

The audit adds that the Air Force is looking at streamlining the process of putting in condition codes, like those that identify missile motors, by moving to new inventory systems.

“USAF has not fully remediated the issue identified in the prior year where the condition codes tagged on certain uninstalled missile motor assets did not correspond with the condition codes as indicated in the” property recording system, the audit said.