Not Mentors, Just Inspectors

Nuclear inspectors are solely tasked with assessing objectively whether a wing is prepared to perform its nuclear mission and should not be looked at as having an educational or mentoring responsibility during the inspection process, the Defense Science Board permanent task force on nuclear weapons surety said last month. In its new report on nuclear weapons inspections (full document), the task force identified this as one area for the Air Force leadership to address to improve the inspection regimen, which is being beefed up as the service reinvigorates its nuclear stewardship. The task force, headed by retired Gen. Larry Welch, former Air Force Chief of Staff, also called on the leadership to provide clear direction on the collective and individual objectives of the various nuclear inspections. Further, it should restore the nuclear-related “regulations” that ceased in the early 1990s in favor of more subjective “instructions” so that there is clear direction on nuclear operations and inspections, the task force said. The resulting ambiguity of that change has lead to extensive, counterproductive discussions and disagreements between inspectors and the supervisors of inspected activities, the task force noted. The Air Force Secretary should also require a fully integrated nuclear operational readiness inspection and nuclear surety inspection of each nuclear-capable strategic wing at least every 18 months. Currently NORIs occur every 36 months, while NSIs are held every 18 months. This step would eliminate the need for expanded NSIs, which the task force said have served “neither the NSI nor NORI purposes.” And, the Secretary should establish a common set of demanding standards that nuclear inspectors must attain and sustain, the task force said. It recommended that the Air Force Inspection Agency produce a formal training course for inspectors.