WASHINGTON 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 can often 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 come to light until this past March.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the actions are not being announced until today.
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 fully address 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.
A second, broader study released this month blistered the Air Force for a dramatic deterioration in managing the nation's nuclear arsenal and recommended that it consolidate nuclear responsibilities under one command.
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 F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyo., to a Defense Logistics Agency warehouse at Hill Air Force Base. 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 only stay on a service member's record 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 there were no nuclear materials 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 on the heels of 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 Minot Air Force Base, N.D., to Barksdale Air Force Base, La. At the time, the pilot and crew were unaware they had nuclear arms aboard.
In the wake 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 an ongoing review of the inspection process. The Air Force is also budgeting about $1.5 billion to address some of the issues.