Could massive cutbacks in the U.S. Air Force in recent years have been a factor in the mistaken delivery of nuclear bombs to Barksdale Air Force Base? That's the initial conclusion from the former commander of its B-52 fleet.
The coming and going of B-52's is a routine part of life in Bossier City. But when one such 'routine' flight turned out to be carrying 6-nuclear tipped cruise missiles from Minot Air Force Base, that sent up a red flag to Brig. Gen. Peyton Cole. The former commander of Barksdale's 2nd Bomb Wing explained, "we lost a tremendous amount of experience in our last, in the last five to ten years in the Air Force, we really have. And this particular situation is only one manifestation."
In fact, Brig. Gen Cole fears a much larger problem: That the 2nd Bomb Wing may not be completely ready if their nuclear mission is needed at a moments notice. One reason, said Cole, is the often-hurried training for nuclear missions, before returning to the much more emphasized conventional warfare training. The other reason to fear preparedness is the massive drawdown in Air Force personnel. Cole continued, "that worries me because we're so under-manned and we're so new."
General Cole suspects that such cuts may have also led to a laxing in strict nuclear protocols that Cole saw during his tenure. "We would not co-mingle nuclear and conventional because they look so much alike," which he said is a potential scenario in this nuclear missile incident.
While Brig. Gen. Cole describes this entire episode as a likely symptom of a far larger problem about personnel drawdowns, others say not so fast. That includes retired three star General Howard Fish. The former Assistant Vice Chief of Staff for the U.S. Air Force said of Brig. Gen. Cole's conclusions: "Far out speculation. I hate to differ with my good friend Peyton."
Lt. Gen. Fish said he'll await the results of the investigation and not blame personnel cuts just yet. "No, absolutely not; Way too early to make that conclusion."
As for speculation by some analysts, that the missile delivery mistake was no mistake at all-- but rather a 'not so subtle' message to Iran about its nuclear ambitions-- both generals spoke with one voice. "I'd say that's speculation beyond belief," said Lt. Gen. Fish. Brig. Gen. Cole added, "we (USAF) have never and I don't think we ever will play 'psy-op games' with nuclear weapons." Psy-op refers to psychological operations or warfare.
But Cole does worry that we are 'rolling the dice' with nuclear preparedness until Air Force cuts and culture begin to reverse.