Air Force Updates Procedures for Handling Nuclear Weapons

The U.S. Air Force last week issued revised procedures (pdf) for securely maintaining and transporting nuclear weapons.

The move follows an incident last August in which crewmen at Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota mistook missiles armed with nuclear weapons for unarmed missiles and flew them across the country without authorization.

Though the Minot AFB event is not mentioned in the new procedures, the origins of that mishap are implicitly addressed: “Do not co-mingle nuclear and non-nuclear munitions/missiles … in the same storage structure, cell, or WS3 [weapons storage and security system].”

“Nuclear weapons require special consideration because of their political and military importance, destructive power, cost, and potential consequences of an accident or unauthorized act,” the Air Force Instruction observes.

The new policy prescribes detailed auditing and tracking procedures to promote accountability of nuclear weapons, along with weapons maintenance, personnel certification, and secure transport.

The document was approved for public release.

See “Nuclear Weapons Maintenance Procedures,” Air Force Instruction 21-204, 17 January 2008.:

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