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USAF Report: “Most” Nuclear Weapon Sites In Europe Do Not Meet US Security Requirements
- Subject: USAF Report: “Most” Nuclear Weapon Sites In Europe Do Not Meet US Security Requirements
- From: rossana <rossana at comodinoposta.org>
- Date: Fri, 20 Jun 2008 18:06:49 +0200
- User-agent: Thunderbird 220.127.116.11 (Windows/20080421)
Problemi di sicurezza (grandi problemi di sicurezza) nelle basi europee
dove sono stoccate armi nucleari statunitensi.
Attenzione qui si legge che a Ghedi vi sono problemi di sicurezza.
By Hans M. Kristensen
An internal U.S. Air Force investigation has determined that “most
sites” currently used for deploying nuclear weapons in Europe do not
meet Department of Defense security requirements.
A summary of the investigation report was released by the Pentagon in
February 2008 but omitted the details. Now a partially declassified
version of the full report, recently obtained by the Federation of
American Scientists, reveals a much bigger nuclear security problem in
Europe that previously known.
As a result of these security problems, according to other sources, the
U.S. plans to withdraw its nuclear custodial unit from at least one base
and consolidate the remaining nuclear mission in Europe at fewer bases.
European Nuclear Safety Deficiencies Detailed
The national nuclear bases in Europe, those where nuclear weapons are
stored for use by the host nation’s own aircraft, are at the center of
the findings of the Blue Ribbon Review (BRR), the investigation that was
triggered by the notorious incident in August 2007 when the U.S. Air
Force lost track of six nuclear warheads for 36 hours as they were flow
across the United States without the knowledge of the military personnel
in charge of safeguarding and operating the nuclear weapons.
“Most” nuclear sites in Europe don’t meet DOD security standards,
according to the Blue Ribbon Review report.
The final report of the investigation – Air Force Blue Ribbon Review of
Nuclear Weapons Policies and Procedures – found that “host nation
security at overseas nuclear-capable units varies from country to
country in terms of personnel, facilities, and equipment.” The report
describes that “inconsistencies in personnel, facilities, and equipment
provided to the security mission by the host nation were evident as the
team traveled from site to site….Examples of areas noted in need of
repair at several of the sites include support buildings, fencing,
lighting, and security systems.”
The situation is significant: “A consistently noted theme throughout the
visits,” the BRR concluded, “was that most sites require significant
additional resources to meet DOD security requirements.” Despite overall
safety standards and close cooperation and teamwork between U.S. Air
Force personnel and their host nation counterparts, the inspectors found
that “each site presents unique security challenges.”
Specific examples of security issues discovered include conscripts with
as little as nine months active duty experience being used protect
nuclear weapons against theft.
Inspections can hypothetically detect deficiencies and inconsistencies,
but the BRR team found that U.S. Air Force inspectors are hampered in
performing “no notice inspections” because the host nations and NATO
require advance notice before they can visit the bases. If crews know
when the inspection will occur, their performance might not reflect the
normal situation at the base.
Many of the safety issues discovered are precipitated by the fact that
the primary mission of the squadrons and wings is not nuclear deterrence
but real-world conventional operations in support of the war on
terrorism and other campaigns. This dual-mission has created a situation
where many nuclear positions are “one deep,” and where rotations,
deployments, and illnesses can cause shortfalls.
The review recommended consolidating the bases to “minimize variances
and reduce vulnerabilities at overseas locations.”
USAFE Commander Visits Nuclear Bases
In light of the findings about Air Force nuclear security, General Roger
Brady, the USAFE Commander, on June 11 visited Kleine Brogel Air Base in
Belgium and Volkel Air Base in Holland. Both bases store U.S. nuclear
weapons for delivery by their national F-16 fighters.
A news story on a USAF web site notes that the weapons security issues
found by the BRR investigation were “at other bases,” suggesting that
Büchel Air Base in Germany or Ghedi Torre Air Base in Italy were the
problem. Even so, the BRR found problems at “most sites,” visits to
Kleine Brogel and Volkel were described in the context of these
findings. Two commanders of the 52 Fighter Wing at Spangdahlem Air Base,
which controls the 701st and 703rd Munitions Support Squadrons at the
national bases, were also present “to witness both units for the first
Withdrawal and Consolidation
The deficiencies at host nation bases apparently have triggered a U.S.
decision to withdraw the Munition Support Squadron (MUNSS) from one of
the national bases.
Four MUNSS are currently deployed a four national bases in Europe: the
701st MUNSS at Kleine Brogel Air Base in Belgium, the 702nd MUNSS at
Büchel Air Base in Germany, the 703rd MUNSS at Volkel Air Base in
Holland, and the 704th MUNSS at Ghedi Torre in Italy (see top image).
It is not yet known which base it is, but sources indicate that it might
involve the 704th MUNSS at Ghedi Torre in Northern Italy.
Status of Nuclear Weapons Deployment
The number and location of nuclear weapons in Europe are secret.
However, based in previous reports, official statements, declassified
documents and leaks, a best estimate can be made that the current
deployment consists of approximately 200-350 B61 nuclear bombs (see
Table 1). The most recent public official statement was made by NATO
Vice Secretary General Guy Roberts in an interview with the Italian
RAINEWS in April 2007: “We do say that we’re down to a few hundred
Derived from more extensive table. Click table or here to download the
The U.S. weapons are stored in underground vaults, known as WS3 (Weapon
Storage and Security System), at bases in Belgium, Germany, Holland,
Italy, Turkey and the United Kingdom. Most of the weapons are at U.S.
Air Force bases, but Belgium, Germany, Holland and Italy each have
nuclear weapons at one of their national air bases.
The weapons at each of the national bases are under control of a U.S.
Air Force MUNSS in peacetime but would, upon receipt of proper authority
from the U.S. National Command Authority, be handed over to the national
Air Force at the base in a war for delivery by the host nation’s own
aircraft. This highly controversial arrangement contradicts both the
Non-Proliferation Treaty and NATO’s international nonproliferation policy.
Implications and Observations
The main implication of the BRR report is that the nuclear weapons
deployment in Europe is, and has been for the past decade, a security
risk. But why it took an investigation triggered by the embarrassing
Minot incident to discover the security problems in Europe is a puzzle.
Since the terrorist attacks in September 2001, billions of dollars have
been poured into the Homeland Security chest to increase security at
U.S. nuclear weapons sites, and a sudden urge to improve safety and use
control of nuclear weapons has become a principle justification in the
administration’s proposal to build a whole new generation of Reliable
But, apparently, the nuclear deployment in Europe has been allowed to
follow a less stringent requirement.
This contradicts NATO’s frequent public assurances about the safe
conditions of the widespread deployment in Europe. Coinciding with the
dramatic reduction of nuclear weapons in Europe after the Cold War 15
years ago, “a new, more survivable and secure weapon storage system has
been installed,” a NATO fact sheet from January 2008 states. “Today, the
remaining gravity bombs associated with DCA [Dual-Capable Aircraft] are
stored safely in very few storage sites under highly secure conditions.”
Apparently they are not. Yet despite the BRR findings, the NATO Nuclear
Planning Group meeting in Brussels last week did not issue a statement.
But at the previous meeting in June 2007 the group reaffirmed the “great
value” of continuing the deployment in Europe, “which provide an
essential political and military link between the European and North
American members of the Alliance.”
That NATO - nearly two decades after the Cold War ended - believes it
needs U.S. tactical nuclear weapons in Europe to keep the alliance
together is a troubling sign. NATO air forces are stretched thin to meet
real-world operations in the war against terrorism and other campaigns,
and tactical nuclear weapons are not a priority, no matter what nuclear
bureaucrats might claim.
Even Republican presidential candidate John McCain apparently does not
believe tactical nuclear weapons in Europe are essential for NATO. On
May 27 he stated that, if elected, he would, “in close consultation with
our allies…like to explore ways we and Russia can reduce – and hopefully
eliminate – deployments of tactical nuclear weapons in Europe.”
Many European governments would support such a plan - even though some
of the new eastern European NATO members see Russian resurgence as a
reason to continue the deployment. But their security concerns can be
met by other means, and Germany and Norway have already been pushing a
proposal inside NATO for a review of the alliance’s nuclear policy, the
Belgium parliament has called for a withdrawal, and there is
overwhelming cross-political public support in Germany to end the
deployment in Europe.
Perhaps the BRR findings will help empower these countries and convince
NATO and the next U.S. administration that the time has come to finally
complete the withdrawal if tactical nuclear weapons from Europe.