Say WHAT? Fifty Nuclear Missiles Go Offline As Squadron Base Suffers Computer Failure

In case you forgot, it’s not just America’s foreign policy and international prestige (not to mention our economy) which is becoming flaccid under the Obama administration.

It’s our military readiness as well. How else would you characterize it when 50 nuclear missiles go offline because the computers which control them go haywire?

President Obama was briefed this morning on an engineering power failure at F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming that took 50 nuclear intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), one-ninth of the U.S. missile stockpile, temporarily offline on Saturday. 

The base is a main locus of the United States’ strategic nuclear forces. The 90th Missile Wing, headquartered there, controls 150 Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic nuclear missiles. They’re on full-time alert and are housed in a variety of bunkers across the base.

Apparently, it was originally thought a power failure caused the problem. Further investigation revealed it was a computer glitch…

According to the official, engineers believe that a launch control center computer (LCC), responsible for a package of five missiles, began to “ping” out of sequence, resulting in a surge of “noise” through the system. The LCCs interrogate each missile in sequence, so if they begin to send signals out when they’re not supposed to, receivers on the missiles themselves will notice this and send out error codes.

Since LCCs ping out of sequence on occasion, missileers tried quick fixes. But as more and more missiles began to display error settings, they decided to take off-line all five LCCs that the malfunctioning center was connected to. That left 50 missiles in the dark.  The missileers then restarted one of the LCCs, which began to normally interrogate the missile transceiver. Three other LCCs were successfully restarted. The suspect LCC remains off-line.

Commanders at the Air Force Base sent warning notices to colleagues at the country’s two other nuclear missile command centers, as well as the to the National Military Command Center in Washington.  At that point, they did not know what was causing the failure, and they did not know whether other missile systems were experiencing similar symptoms.

Sounds serious, doesn’t it? Well, there’s this…

“We’ve never had something as big as this happen,” a military officer who was briefed on the incident said. Occasionally, one or two might blink out, the officer said, and several warheads  are routinely out of service for maintenance. At an extreme, “[w]e can deal with maybe 5, 6, or 7 at a time, but we’ve never lost complete command and control and functionality of 50 ICBMs.”

The military says it’s all but impossible to hack those computers, that command and control of the missiles was not lost because there are other ways to access the missiles outside of the on-site computers and that while nobody knows why the failure happened it’s suspected the underground cables connecting the missiles to the computers might have been “breached.” By what would be a question.

And the White House weighed in with an “all is well” message…

An administration official said that “to make too much out of this would be to sensationalize it. It’s not that big of a deal. Everything worked as planned.”

Where have we heard that before? Oh, yeah…

The Weekly Standard’s John Noonan is livid…

According to Ambinder’s report, during the period that the squadron went offline, the 90th Missile Wing had absolutely no communication with 50 nuclear weapons. There was no security available to protect the affected sites, nor was there any way of monitoring if the missiles sprung a leak, had their targeting data wiped, or suffered a mechanical breakdown. This is one of the most concerning and significant lapses in nuclear command and control in memory. 

This could have a significant impact on START ratification. Cutting our nuclear arsenal was predicated on the functionality and health of the current strategic arsenal. Republican lawmakers, led by Senator Jon Kyl, have been understandably reluctant to ratify START until their concerns about aging nuclear warheads were answered and mitigated by the Obama sdministration. With this enormous breach in command and control functionality, the condition of our ancient fleet of delivery systems -subs that are 30 years old, missiles that are 40, and bombers that are 50- will have to be closely examined. 

When new START hits the Senate floor during the lame-duck session of Congress, lawmakers should make extra certain that there are plans -and resources- on the books to upgrade both our archaic nuclear stockpile as well as our submarines, bombers, and ICBMs.  

I’ll invoke my own experience as a nuclear launch officer here, having pulled several “alerts” in the affected squadron: nothing worked “as planned.” But over the course of four years on Minuteman III missile crew, I saw maybe only three or four incidents where a single missile dropped offline.  And having an entire launch-facility down condition is rare, unexpected, and gravely serious. An entire squadron dropping offline is beyond significant. Indeed, the chief of staff and secretary of the Air Force were both fired for less

Noonan’s note on the START ratification is a good one. America has absolutely no business diminishing its nuclear arsenal before insuring that its system of deploying that arsenal in a worst-case scenario is completely functional.

This doesn’t indicate “fully functional” at all. This indicates ragged and decrepit. And our enemies are watching.

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