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. US air force to establish new command for nuclear forces
WASHINGTON, Oct 24 (AFP) Oct 24, 2008
The US Air Force plans to establish a new Global Strike Command responsible for nuclear bomber and intercontinental ballistic missile forces, senior air force officials announced Friday.

The move is part of an organizational shake-up prompted by recent nuclear mishaps that were blamed on a decade-long slide in the air force's stewardship of its nuclear forces.

"This is a critical milestone for us, a new starting point for reinvigorating the nuclear enterprise," said Air Force Secretary Michael Donley.

Under the changes, the air force plans to establish the new Global Strike Command by September 2009 under the leadership of a three-star general, the officials said.

All nuclear-capable B-52 and B-2 bombers will be shifted to the new command from the Virginia-based Air Combat Command, which currently is responsible for all combat aircraft in the United States.

The air force's intercontinental ballistic missile force, which is currently under the air force space command in the western state of Colorado, also would be placed under the new command, the officials said.

The location of the new command's headquarters has yet to be determined. Air force officials were also unable to say how much the changes will cost, or how many people will work for the new command.

The US Air Force has 20 B-2 bombers and 57 B-52 bombers that can be used for conventional or nuclear missions. Its fleet of conventional B-1 bombers will remain under the Air Combat Command.

An outside panel headed by former defense secretary James Schlesinger had recommended that the entire bomber force be put under the air force's space command, which is currently responsible for the ICBM force, space operations and cyber warfare.

But General Norton Schwartz, the air force chief of staff, argued that creating a more narrowly focused command was in keeping with the Schlesinger panel's recommendations.

Alarm bells over the air force's handling of its nuclear mission were triggered by two major mishaps.

First came the inadvertent transfer of nuclear-armed cruise missiles under the wing of a B-52 bomber in September 2007 from one US base to another.

Then, in March, the Pentagon discovered that nuclear weapons components had been inadvertently shipped to Taiwan in 2006.

US Defense Secretary Robert Gates sacked the air force's top civilian and military leaders in June.

The Schlesinger panel found "an unambiguous, dramatic and unacceptable decline in the air force's commitment to perform the nuclear mission and, until very recently, little has been done to reverse it."

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