US Air Force suspend 34 airman manning critical nuclear missile launch sites after discovering they cheated on proficiency tests by text

In the wake of the finding at the Malstrom base in Montana, the Air Force has begun re-testing all of those still assigned to the nuclear arsenal

An embarrassed US Air Force has been forced to act after supervisors uncovered a cheating ring among crew members manning critical launch sites at one of its nuclear missile bases.

The men were allegedly exchanging answers to mandatory monthly proficiency tests by text message.

A total of 34 airmen have been removed from their posts and stripped of their security clearance at the Malstrom Air Force base in Montana, one of three in the US that maintains 450 ready-to-launch nuclear missiles.

The officers implicated, accounting for nearly 20 per cent of the entire missile crew on the base, were either directly involved in the cheating, officials said, or knew it was going on and failed to report it.

The Air Force Chief of Staff, General Mark Welsh, said the ring may have been largest ever uncovered among those looking after America’s nuclear missiles. “We do not know of an incident of this scale involving cheating in the missile force,” he said.

The discovery is just one more in a series of scandals to have hit US missile operations in recent months and undermined public confidence in them. 

The cheating came to light last week as the Air Force was pursuing a probe of 10 airmen, now expanded to 11, accused of recreational drug use. Those identified in the drugs investigation were stationed at a variety of bases across the United States and also at RAF Lakenheath in the UK.

Early last year, 17 airmen assigned to work in the underground capsules where the missiles are monitored and prepared for possible launch were quietly reassigned at Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota after the wing scored a “D” in a general competence assessment. 

At the time, the group’s commander spoke in an email of “rot” in the ranks and rock-bottom morale. In a separate incident last October, a two-star general who was in command of all of America’s nuclear missile capacity was dismissed because of undisclosed “personal behaviour” issues.

“Cheating or tolerating others who cheat runs counter to everything we believe in as a service. People at every level will be held accountable if and where appropriate,” General Welsh told reporters at the Pentagon while insisting that the answer-sharing would not have materially affected the security of the missiles. 

“This is not about the compromise of nuclear weapons. It’s about compromise of the integrity of some of our airmen,” he said

The Air Force Secretary, Deborah James, also sought to play down the security aspect of the affair. “This was a failure of integrity on the part of some of our airmen,” she said. “It was not a failure of our nuclear mission.” 

In the wake of the discovery, the US Air Force began re-testing all of those still assigned to the nuclear arsenal. All of those tests, involving 600 crew members across the country, were to have been completed this week.

While during the Cold War the Intercontinental Ballistic Missile, ICBM, arsenal was at the heart of America’s defensive pose, today there is little reason for the men watching over it to imagine that they will ever participate in an actual launch. 

Earlier this month, the US Defence Secretary, Chuck Hagel, paid what was meant to be a morale-boosting visit to the Francis E Warren base in Wyoming, also home to some of the missiles.

“You’ve… chosen a profession where there’s no room for error. In what you do every day, there is no room for error. None,”  Mr Hagel told the airmen in a pep talk.

News
scienceExcitement from alien hunters at 'evidence' of extraterrestrial life
Life and Style
Customers can get their caffeine fix on the move
food + drink
Sport
sport
Sport
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
News
peopleEnglishman managed quintessential Hollywood restaurant Chasen's
Life and Style
food + drinkHarrods launches gourmet food qualification for staff
Voices
Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US
voicesRobert Fisk: Barack Obama is following the jihadists’ script
Arts and Entertainment
Michael Flatley prepares to bid farewell to the West End stage
danceMichael Flatley hits West End for last time alongside Team GB World champion Alice Upcott
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
i100
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
filmReview: Lucy, Luc Besson's complex thriller
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T plays live in 2007 before going on hiatus from 2010
arts + entsSinger-songwriter will perform on the Festival Republic Stage
Life and Style
food + drinkThese simple recipes will have you refreshed within minutes
News
Jermain Defoe got loads of custard
i100
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Analyst - Banking - London - £550 - £650

£550 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Business Analyst - Traded Credit Risk - Investmen...

Data Insight Manager - Marketing

£32000 - £35000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based o...

Data Centre Engineer - Linux, Redhat, Solaris, SAN, Puppet

£55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A financial software vendor at the forefro...

.NET Developer

£600 per day: Harrington Starr: .NET Developer C#, WPF,BLL, MSMQ, SQL, GIT, SQ...

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape