Schlesinger Panel Advocates Nuclear Command

On the eve of the Air Force nuclear summit, the special gray-beard task force chaired by former Defense Secretary James Schlesinger has recommended that the service morphs Air Force Space Command into a new authority that brings nuclear-capable bomber units and ICBM wings under one roof. Doing so, the panel said in a report issued Friday (caution: large file), would serve to restore the Air Force’s attention to the nuclear mission and its readiness to execute it. More specifically, Schlesinger told reporters Friday during a Pentagon briefing, AFSPC, which already oversees the nation’s three Minuteman III missile wings, should subsume a new numbered air force that contains all nuclear-capable bombers (i.e., B-2As and B-52Hs) and re-emerge as Air Force Strategic Command, aligning its missions with those of US Strategic Command. Without these organizational changes, the service “would fail to address some of the main root causes of the nuclear mission’s decline in priority,” said the task force, which Defense Secretary Robert Gates chartered in June to examine the Air Force’s tarnished nuclear enterprise and suggest changes. Gates, who spoke before Schlesinger at the press briefing, said the proposal would address one of his principal concerns with the Air Force’s stewardship of nuclear weapons: the lack of unity of command. “Now I am not sure what the right answer is” to resolve that issue, he said. Whether the answer ends up being a new kind of command—or a new command—is something Acting Air Force Secretary Michael Donley and Gen. Norton Schwartz, Chief of Staff, “will have to address,” Gates said. Donley and Schwartz will lead Thursday’s nuclear summit at which the Air Force leadership will decide upon the service’s implementation plan for reinvigorating the nuclear enterprise. (See No Perfect Solution for more on task force report)