ARLINGTON, Va. — Air Force Secretary Michael W. Wynne and Chief of Staff Gen. T. Michael Moseley were asked to resign by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates on Thursday.

The imminent exit of one or both of the Air Force’s top leaders was long rumored in the Pentagon, following a series of embarrassments for the Air Force over the past year, from contracting scandals to an episode involving airborne nuclear weapons.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen asked Moseley to return to Washington on Thursday morning from the Air Force’s Corona Conference, a gathering of four-star officers that takes place three times a year at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.

News of the resignations, first reported by Air Force Times, quickly spread inside the Pentagon, and there was a flurry of activity in the halls where senior members of the Air Force work. There was little surprise expressed by Air Force members, who merely waited for the news to become official.

Wynne and Moseley have both been thought to be on Gates’ target list since last August, when a B-52 bomber was mistakenly armed with six nuclear-tipped cruise missiles and flown across the country. The pilot and crew were unaware they had nuclear arms aboard.

The event led to scathing congressional hearing in which the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee called the failure "unprecedented."

Gates called for an independent investigation. The resulting report on nuclear weapons handling by Navy Adm. Kirkland Donald, director of naval nuclear propulsion, was highly critical of Air Force leadership.

But even as the report was under way, in late March it was learned that the Air Force had mistakenly shipped parts of a nuclear weapon to Taiwan in 2007 instead of expected helicopter batteries — and that Air Force officials suggested that Taiwan simply dispose of the incorrect items.

Ryan Henry, Gates’ No. 2 policy official called the mistake "disconcerting" and intolerable.

The two men also seemed to indirectly spar with Pentagon planners over the Air Force’s insistence on staying with the controversial F-22 program. In March, they testified before Congress that not enough funds were being set aside for yet more of the next-generation fighters, just weeks after Secretary of Defense Robert Gates downplayed its role in missions over Iraq and Afghanistan.

In an April speech before the Air War College, Gates said dealing with Air Force leadership had been like "pulling teeth."

April then brought with it the Thunderbird aerial stunt team contract scandal, which involved questions of conflict of interest surrounding a high-profile $50 million contract that was canceled after a DOD Inspector General investigation called it "tainted."

The investigation highly critical of Air Force leadership, including Moseley, who was found not to be personally involved.

Moseley, chief of staff since September 2005, is an F-15 pilot who has spent most of the last 20 years in Washington. In 2003 he ended a two-year stint as Commander of the 9th Air Force and U.S. Central Command Air Forces to be vice chief of staff.

Wynne, who has been in his post since November 2005, is a former Air Force officer who spent 38 years in the private sector before returning to the defense department in 2001.

Stars and Stripes’ reporter Leo Shane III contributed to this report.

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