MATTHEW BROWN Associated Press Writer BILLINGS
Air Force officials say they found deficiencies during a recent nuclear inspection of the 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom Air Force Base. The inspection at the base near Great Falls, from Oct. 26 to Nov. 10, evaluated the unit's readiness to execute nuclear operations and found "deficiencies in several areas", according to an Air Force statement. Capt. Sharbe Clark with Air Force Space Command said Wednesday that the public was not at risk. The 341st oversees security, maintenance and operations of 150 ICBMs across north-central Montana. The Air Force will re-inspect the unit within 90 days. In the interim, the 341st remains certified to handle nuclear weapons, the Air Force said. The Air Force said the 341st failed its "nuclear surety inspection" after inspectors found problems regarding technical operations inside the wing's maintenance groups. Problems also were found within a program that monitors who can work with nuclear weapons. The Air Force Times, citing information from an anonymous Air Force officer, said inspectors found minor deficiencies with the way security forces protected the weapons storage area. The newspaper said inspectors found "more glaring problems" with the technical operations of the storage area. The Air Force suggested there Would be no shake-up among Malmstrom's commanders as a result of the inspection, saying in its statement "the right leadership is in place at the 341st." "They have the knowledge and skills to correct whatever areas that had the deficiencies in it," Clark said. "They have to get it up to par." An official at Malmstrom referred all questions to Air Force Space Command. The 5th Bomb Wing at Minot Air Force Base, N.D., came up short in a similar inspection in May, then passed a follow-up inspection in August. Also at Minot, in August 2007, nuclear cruise missiles were mistakenly loaded onto a B-52 bomber and flown to a base in Louisiana. The foul-up cost a colonel his command, and was later cited by Defense Secretary Robert Gates as contributing to the ouster of Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Michael Moseley and Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne.