WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Air Force is launching an ambitious campaign to repair flaws in its nuclear missile corps, after recent training failures, security missteps, leadership lapses, morale problems and stunning breakdowns in discipline prompted Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to demand action to restore public confidence in the nuclear force.
Air Force leaders are planning to offer bonus pay to missile force members, fill gaps in their ranks, offer a nuclear service medal and put more money into modernizing what in some respects has become a decrepit Minuteman 3 missile force that few airmen want to join and even fewer view as a career-enhancing mission.
The potential impact of these and other planned changes is unclear. They do not appear to address comprehensively what some see as the core issue: a flagging sense of purpose in a force that atrophied after the Cold War ended two decades ago as the military's focus turned to countering terrorism and other threats.
Even so, some analysts are encouraged by these initial Air Force moves.
"I think this is a step in the right direction," said Dana Struckman, a retired Air Force officer who commanded a Minuteman 3 missile squadron at Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota in 2003-05. "I think it will make a difference."
Driving this effort is Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James, who took over as the service's top civilian official in December amid a series of embarrassing lapses by the men and women who operate, support and lead the fleet of 450 intercontinental ballistic missiles, or ICBMs, based in North Dakota, Montana and Wyoming.
The missiles are armed with nuclear warheads, ready for launch on short notice any day, any hour.