Defense and Air Force officials just last week learned of the shipment in fall 2006 of four nonnuclear, but classified, ICBM nose cone fuse assemblies by the Defense Logistics Agency from Hill AFB, Utah, to Taiwan instead of the helicopter batteries that were to be shipped. At a Pentagon press conference Tuesday, Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne said the items are now safely back in the US and that Taiwan, recognizing the error, had placed the shipping containers in storage. Although “this could not be construed as being nuclear material,” said Wynne, the fact that it’s a component for a nuclear system makes the US government “very concerned about it.” According to Wynne and Ryan Henry, a top DOD policy official, the Taiwan government notified the US that the wrong shipment had been sent, however, it would be more than a year before US officials realized just what had been shipped. Henry cited a failure in “early communications,” such that “we thought we were hearing one thing, [but] in reality they were saying something different.” Henry added that a “thorough investigation” is underway to determine the sequence of events. According to Wynne, the Air Force had declared the components surplus in March 2005 and shipped them from F.E. Warren AFB, Wyo., to the DLA storage facility at Hill. It was just last fall when Wynne conducted a press briefing over the inadvertent transfer of six nuclear missiles on a B-52 flying from Minot AFB, N.D., to Barksdale AFB, La., an incident that prompted the Air Force to fire several senior officers among other disciplinary actions. The service has issued new nuclear weapons guidance, but a wider DOD review of the B-52 incident found problems across the Defense Department not just with USAF operations. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has directed the Air Force and Navy to conduct policy and procedural reviews and a complete physical inventory of all nuclear equipment. He also appointed Adm. Kirkland Donald, director of Navy Nuclear Propulsion, to head the investigation into this latest incident.
The Air Force overall reduced its size by 120 aircraft in fiscal year 2021, but kept about the same number of fighter, bomber and attack aircraft, according to data supplied by the service. The F-35 fleet saw the biggest increase while the B-1B bomber fleet saw the largest decline.