The Air Force's senior civilian official and its highest-ranking general were ousted by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates on Thursday following an official inquiry into the mishandling of nuclear weapons and components, senior Pentagon officials said.
The Air Force secretary, Michael W. Wynne, and the service's chief of staff, Gen. T. Michael Moseley, were forced to resign after the inquiry found that both leaders were responsible for "systematic and cultural failings in how the Air Force carried out its important mission to assure the security of the nation's nuclear arsenal," according to a senior Pentagon officials.
Never before has a defense secretary ousted both a service secretary and a service chief, according to senior Pentagon officials. Since taking office 18 months ago, Mr. Gates has made accountability of theme of his tenure. He has also fired senior Army officials, after disclosures of shoddy conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, the service's premier medical facility for wounded soldiers.
The inquiry involving the Air Force was an effort to determine how four high-tech electrical nosecone fuses for Minuteman nuclear warheads were sent to Taiwan in place of helicopter batteries. The mistake was discovered in March - a year and a half after the erroneous shipment.
Most troubling, the senior Pentagon official said, was that little had been done to improve the security of the nuclear weapons infrastructure after it was disclosed last year that the Air Force unknowingly let a B-52 bomber fly across the United States carrying six armed nuclear cruise missiles.