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Science Wednesday, October 27th 2010 at 9:42 am

U.S. Lost Control of 1/9 of Nuclear Arsenal on Saturday Due to Engineering Failure

This past Saturday, the U.S. temporarily lost control of 50 nuclear intercontinental ballistic missiles, or 1/9 of our domestic nuclear stockpile, due to an engineering failure.

According to a military officer who The Atlantic spoke to, this incident represented an unprecedented loss of control: ”‘We’ve never had something as big as this happen’ … Occasionally, one or two might blink out, the officer said, and several warheads are routinely out of service for maintenance. At an extreme, ‘[w]e can deal with maybe 5, 6, or 7 at a time, but we’ve never lost complete command and control and functionality of 50 ICBMs.’”

All told, according to Danger Room, for about 45 minutes, “launch control officers at F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming couldn’t reliably communicate or monitor the status of 50 Minuteman III nuclear missiles.”

Apparently, while the Air Force claims that there was never any danger to the public, President Obama was briefed on this incident yesterday. The cause of the failure remains unknown; it appears to have been a hardware failure rather than a power failure, possibly due to “a breach of underground cables deep beneath the base.”

Scary stuff either way. In the words of John Noonan, former Air Force ICBM launch officer and current policy advisor for the Foreign Policy Initiative, “This ICBM snafu is easily the one of the biggest national security stories of the year. Huge implications for START, strategic posture, etc.”

(Atlantic via Gizmodo via Fark. Title pic via Wikimedia Commons)

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