Air Force demilitarizes big backlog of nuclear weapons-related components

  • Published
  • By John Cochran
  • 377th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
The Air Force has undertaken a massive effort to demilitarize more than 100,000 nuclear weapons-related legacy assets from its intercontinental ballistic missile, aircraft and space test programs.

Under a $35 million, five-year plan funded by the Air Force Chief of Staff, Air Force Materiel Command organizations are placing excess assets from more than 6,000 distinct stock numbers on a "burn-down" plan to remove them from the active inventory. As of July 31, officials have successfully disposed of 45,000 assets in 2009. Their goal is to eliminate the immense backlog by processing another 52,000 by Sept. 30, 2010. The initiative extends to identifying other excess assets in the nuclear enterprise that can also be disposed of under this program.

In addition to Headquarters AFMC, Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, the Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center and the 708th Nuclear Systems Squadron, here, two other units are contributing focused expertise to the demilitarization mission: the 526th ICBM Systems Group, Hill AFB, Utah, and the Cryptologic Systems Group, Lackland AFB, Texas.

Gen. Donald Hoffman, commander of AFMC, said the "de-mil" effort is one of many actions the Air Force has undertaken in its quest to reinvigorate the nuclear enterprise.

"I am impressed, but not surprised, at what this extended team of experts has done. Impressed, because of the complexity of the task and the sheer number of pieces involved, but not surprised, because I know the caliber of professionals working in the nuclear arena. They will get the mission done, no matter what," he said.

Maj. Gen. Kathleen D. Close, AFMC director of logistics and sustainment, explained the Air Force's reasons for conducting the de-mil program.

"Force structure changes, including the stand-down of the Titan and Peacekeeper ICBM fleets, and the downsizing of the Minuteman fleet, have created a significant backlog of excess assets that must be properly disposed. Additionally, we also have a small number of assets each year that reach the end of their useful lives and must be decommissioned and disposed of," she said.

She highlighted the significant gains the Air Force realizes by demilitarizing excess assets. "The de-mil program saves money we would otherwise spend to store, secure, inventory and maintain assets intact, and allows the Air Force to manage remaining nuclear weapons-related materiel with greater precision, reliability and security."

Brig. Gen. Everett H. Thomas, commander of the Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center, described the exhaustive planning and review conducted at the outset of the task.

"We looked at everything from our policies to our programs, examining in detail where we could innovate and improve outcomes, while maintaining surety, accountability and control of the assets we identified as excess to mission requirements."

He praised the hard work of the many people and organizations contributing to the de-mil program.

"This has been a highly exacting process carried out on a gigantic scale. Its great success is a testament to the quality of people working in the nuclear enterprise. That they could reach goals of such magnitude on a demanding schedule is remarkable. Many people have made this possible, and each one is a great American in my book. Special recognition goes to Rick Dempsey and his team at the 526th ICBMSG at Hill, who took on the responsibility for executing the ambitious plan we set up. He and his folks have done a terrific job, overcoming real hurdles to get this tremendous project done right," he said.

General Thomas then summed up the constructive outcomes of the de-mil initiative.

"Working together, we've brought these excess assets more fully under control, reduced the overall level of risk, lowered costs and mitigated potential hazards. I've been in this business a long time, and I can tell you it doesn't get any better than that."

Richard Honneywell, director of AFMC's Nuclear Logistics Surety activities, spoke of the precautions in place to ensure all the procedural steps are accomplished properly.

"The Air Force is required to demilitarize classified assets and eliminate potential hazards before disposal," he said. "We carefully follow a set of prescribed technical procedures to mitigate hazards and prepare the assets for disposal. In the case of classified assets, we perform the actions required to prevent reverse-engineering of the designs by anyone not authorized access to those systems and components. All nuclear weapons-related materiel is tightly controlled throughout the demilitarization process to the point that Defense Logistics Agency receives scrap for final disposal."