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8 generals disciplined in U.S. nuclear mistake

Eight generals, ranging in rank from one to three stars, have been disciplined as a result of the mistaken shipment of fuses for nuclear warheads to Taiwan, The Associated Press has learned.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Eight generals, ranging in rank from one to three stars, have been disciplined as a result of the mistaken shipment of fuses for nuclear warheads to Taiwan, The Associated Press has learned.

Defense officials said Wednesday that the six Air Force and two Army generals were given disciplinary letters that vary in seriousness but often can end careers or hopes of promotion.

The officers are mainly in logistical jobs and were involved to some degree in the mistaken shipment to Taiwan of four electrical fuses for ballistic missile nuclear warheads in 2006. The error did not become known until this past March.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the actions are not being announced until Thursday.

According to officials, at least one Air Force general received a letter of reprimand, which is a more serious rebuke, while others got less severe letters of admonishment or counseling. The two Army brigadier generals, who worked at the Defense Logistics Agency in Virginia, received what are called "memorandums of concern," also a lower level of punishment.

Nine other lower-ranking Air Force officers also were disciplined, but no details were available.

In early June, Defense Secretary Robert Gates sacked Gen. Michael Moseley, then Air Force chief of staff, and Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne, blaming them for failing to deal adequately with several nuclear-related missteps, including the mistaken shipment.

Gates acted swiftly after a sharply critical internal report on the shipping incident found "a decline in the Air Force's nuclear mission focus and performance" and a failure by Air Force leaders to respond effectively.

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Pentagon reviews of the shipping incident revealed that the fuses were sent to Taiwan rather than the helicopter batteries that had been ordered.

The fuses were in four shipping containers sent in March 2005 from an Air Force base in the Western state of Wyoming to a Defense Logistics Agency warehouse at an Air Force base in Utah, just southwest of Wyoming. The shipment was then in the logistics agency's control and was delivered to Taiwan "on or around" August 2006, according to a Gates memo ordering the internal investigation.

The disciplinary letters are considered administrative punishments and in some cases stay on a service member's record only for a year or two. They are considered a damaging career blow, however, and can lead to pay cuts or prevent officers from gaining another star or higher command.

While no nuclear materials were in the shipment, the error was particularly sensitive because China vehemently opposes U.S. arms sales to Taiwan. When the shipment was made public, China's Foreign Ministry spokesman said that China had sent a protest to Washington expressing "strong displeasure."

U.S. officials were quick to say that the incident did not suggest any change in policies toward Taiwan arms sales.

The shipping error followed another nuclear-related incident involving the Air Force. In August 2007, an Air Force B-52 bomber was mistakenly armed with six nuclear-tipped cruise missiles and flown from an Air Force base near the Canadian border across several states to Louisiana on the Gulf of Mexico. The pilot and crew were unaware they had armed nuclear weapons aboard.

In the aftermath of the problems, Gates brought in new leadership for the Air Force, who vowed to restore confidence in the beleaguered service.

So far they have made a number of adjustments, including an increase in high-level staff, a reorganization of its missile units, revised maintenance procedures and a continuing review of the inspection process. The Air Force also is budgeting about $1.5 billion to deal with some of the issues.