U.S. strategic nuclear forces, both weapons and personnel, are experiencing serious problems that must be addressed urgently.
That is a central conclusion of a new study called the “Nuclear Enterprise Review” that the Pentagon is expected to release next week, according to defense officials familiar with the study.
Fixing nuclear forces’ problems will require the investment of billions of defense dollars in modernizing systems and greater leadership attention to training and readiness for the thousands of military personnel who operate and maintain the world’s most powerful arsenal.
The findings were made by an independent review panel on nuclear weapons personnel that identified key leadership and management lapses within nuclear forces.
The review followed several troubling incidents involving nuclear forces and personnel, including a cheating scandal uncovered in January on proficiency testing at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Montana, home of 150 Minuteman 3 nuclear missiles. The scandal ensnared 34 troops.
The Pentagon launched two reviews of the nuclear enterprise in February, one internal and a separate one by outside experts to identify and remedy any systemic problems.
The internal study was led by the military’s Joint Staff and Madelyn Creedon, assistant defense secretary for global strategic affairs. It has made several recommendations for fixing nuclear enterprisewide forces and personnel problems, as well as leadership shortcomings.
The independent study, whose findings will be released next week, was led by retired Air Force Gen. Larry Welch, a former chief of staff, and retired Navy Adm. John Harvey, a former nuclear-trained surface warfare leader. Their report is said to highlight serious concerns about the deterioration of nuclear forces during the Obama administration.
President Obama set the tone for America’s declining nuclear forces by announcing plans last year to eventually eliminate all nuclear weapons. He also is seeking further negotiated cuts in nuclear forces at a time when Russia and China are building up strategic weapons.
Both Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, who ordered the reviews, and Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work are said to be intensely focused on fixing the nuclear enterprise problems, said administration officials who noted that Mr. Hagel’s solid backing for fixing the problems is surprising. A former liberal Republican senator, Mr. Hagel had been a vocal supporter of the anti-nuclear weapons advocacy group Global Zero before he became defense secretary.
Pentagon spokesman Navy Adm. John Kirby declined to comment on the review, and said the study is undergoing “final staffing.”
WHITE HOUSE ‘GANG OF FIVE’
National security officials say Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Secretary of State John F. Kerry are frustrated by the White House’s tight rein on foreign and defense policies.
The officials said a “gang of five” in the White House has been exercising near-total control over those policies, cutting out key experts and most of the established bureaucracy.
The five are longtime Obama adviser Valerie B. Jarrett, White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, National Security Adviser Susan E. Rice, Deputy National Security Adviser Tony Blinken and Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser for communications. They are said to dictate key policy decisions to Mr. Hagel, Mr. Kerry and other top leaders with little input from Cabinet agencies and departments.
Mr. Blinken, a loyalist of Vice President Joseph R. Biden, is said to be in line to become the next deputy secretary of state, the officials said.
One official familiar with the situation compared the White House’s dictatorial approach to policymaking to the seven-member Standing Committee of the ruling Chinese Communist Party Politburo, the ultimate decision-making authority.
Spokeswomen for the White House and State Department did not return emails seeking comment.
Pentagon spokesman Navy Adm. John Kirby said Mr. Hagel enjoys close and productive ties with the president’s national security team.
“His focus remains on working as a member of that team to do the things necessary to defend the American people at a very challenging time in history,” Adm. Kirby said.
The dramatic Republican takeover of the U.S. Senate in Tuesday’s elections means Sen. John McCain of Arizona is all but certain to become the next chairman of the Senate Committee on Armed Services.
Mr. McCain, who campaigned for the Senate’s expected new majority leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, will use his seniority (he’s been a senator since 1987) to take the plum post.
The committee’s ranking Republican — Sen. James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma, who cruised to re-election with 68 percent of the vote — will likely become chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, where he is expected to challenge global warming policies, said congressional aides close to the senator.
A vocal critic of the president, Mr. McCain, a former GOP presidential candidate, will likely take a hard line against the Obama administration’s defense polices. He also is expected to take on defense contractors, who Mr. McCain has criticized for what he says are wasteful and inefficient weapons programs.
“I wouldn’t want to be heavily invested in defense stocks,” quipped one senior congressional aide.
When asked about his criticism of the defense industry in June, Mr. McCain told Politico: “I’m sure that many of them are very nervous. If I were them, I would be.”
Mr. McCain, however, supports commercial space company SpaceX and its founder, Elon Musk, who is suing the Air Force in a space launcher contract dispute.
NO ‘COLD WAR’ ON CYBER
The commander of U.S. Cyber Command and director of the National Security Agency this week said cyberdeterrence of foreign hackers is difficult and will not be based on Cold War nuclear deterrence principles.
Nuclear deterrence grew out of the Cold War between two major powers and no individuals or groups having nuclear arms, said Navy Adm. Michael S. Rogers, the Cyber Command commander and NSA director.
Today, nearly every nation-state has some form of cyberwarfare capability, and the ability to attack networks and computers in cyberspace has moved beyond nations to groups and individuals, Adm. Rogers said during a speech Monday at Stanford University.
“So the idea of using an exact template from the nuclear world, I think, is tough,” he said. “Now, the flip side is I do not yet know in my own mind what the right answer is.”
The main concern is that the states, groups and individual hackers who carry out cyberattacks “have come to the conclusion that there is little risk of having to pay a price for this in real terms,” he said.
“My concern is that [the] perception [of] limited risk has the potential both to encourage nation-states, groups and individuals to be more aggressive in this area, but also, potentially escalatory, and that’s not a good thing for the world, writ large,” Adm. Rogers said.
The problem for cyberdeterrence is how to establish rules and norms for behavior in cyberspace, such as what actions will trigger a response from the other side, the four-star admiral said.
Despite differences between the Soviet bloc and the free world — each having capabilities for mutual incineration via nuclear weapons — both sides set military rules and behaviors that clearly identified limits of “just how far you could push each other,” he said.
“We haven’t been able to do that yet in cyber, and I just think we have got to get there,” Adm. Rogers said.
Without rules of the road in cyberspace, the current trajectory is for cyberattacks and cyberespionage to increase.
“Every day we’re dealing with this, and it’s only going to get worse,” he said.
His comments followed recent disclosures of massive Chinese cyberespionage operations against government and nongovernment organizations, and Russian hacking against a White House network and critical U.S. infrastructure.
• Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter at @BillGertz.