Work has begun to try to replicate an electronics glitch and determine what disrupted communication between 50 nuclear missiles and a launch control center, a US Air Force official said on Wednesday.
Teams from F.E. Warren Air Force Base and and Hill Air Force Base in Utah think they’ve isolated the faulty part where the problem occurred, said Lieutenant Colonel John Thomas, spokesman for the US Air Force Global Strike Command.
“It could be the part, it could be the way that it was installed, it could be the way that it was queried,” Thomas said.
The incident early on Saturday affected 50 Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles based out of Cheyenne. The equipment failure lasted less than an hour and the air force said it never lost the ability to launch the missiles.
The suspected problem part is small enough to hold in your hand, Thomas said.
“That’s where our primary weight of effort is. But we are also not ruling anything out and we are looking at anything that may have contributed to it,” he said.
Meanwhile, the air force has implemented procedures so it can address the problem more rapidly should it occur again before a permanent fix can be made, he said.
Air force officials said there was no sign of foul play.
F.E. Warren oversees 150 ICBMs in silos scattered around the prairie. ICBMs at bases in Montana and North Dakota were not affected.
The communications failure is the latest in a series of nuclear mishaps that have plagued the air force in recent years.
In 2008, the Pentagon disclosed the mistaken shipment to Taiwan of four electrical fuses for warheads. The fuses originated at F.E. Warren but the mix-up apparently happened after the parts were shipped to Utah.
In 2007, a B-52 bomber was mistakenly armed with six nuclear-tipped cruise missiles and flown from Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota, to Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana. The pilot and crew were unaware at the time that they were carrying nuclear weapons.
An internal report asserted that slippage in the air force’s nuclear standards was a problem that has been identified but not effectively addressed for more than a decade. Those findings led to US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates’ decision to fire Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne and General Michael Moseley, the air force chief of staff in June 2008.
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