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ARLINGTON, Va. — An independent task force has recommended that the Air Force’s nuclear mission fall under one major command for the first time in nearly two decades.

Since Strategic Air Command was disestablished in 1991, the Air Force’s nuclear mission has come under different commands, each of which had other priorities, said James Schlesinger, head of the task force.

"As a result, the nuclear mission has been underfunded, and this has resulted in a shrinkage of billets for units, and even those shrunken billets remain unfilled in many cases," he said.

"There is a shortage of security personnel. There is a shortage of maintenance people. There is a shortage of people of those of who supervise the nuclear establishment, and there is — has been a very noticeable lack of nuclear expertise."

Therefore, the task force recommends that Air Force Space Command be renamed Air Force Strategic Command and "be held accountable for the efficacy of the nuclear mission," said Schlesinger, who was a defense secretary under Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford.

"Space Command already had the missiles in it," he explained. "Air Combat Command has been focused primarily on conventional activities. That has been part of the problem."

In June, Defense Secretary Robert Gates ordered the task force to look into how the Air Force and Defense Department could fix problems related to the nuclear mission after an investigation into how the Air Force mistakenly sent nuclear missile parts to Taiwan revealed systemic problems in how the Air Force handles nuclear weapons.

Schlesinger said the Air Force needs to reinstate a series of incentives for airmen in nuclear career fields.

"If you look at the missile force … the tendency has been for officers to be shifted out of missiles into space, so that they believe that the career incentives point in a direction of staying away from the nuclear mission," he said. "That is going to be changed, I believe, and the incentives will be recreated."

The report on the Air Force calls for moving about 2,000 airmen into nuclear fields to fill shortfalls created by the war on terrorism and the Air Force’s previous plan to cut personnel to pay for new aircraft, said retired Air Force Gen. Michael P.C. Carns, a task force member.

"With Sec. Gates’ directive to turn the Air Force’s reduction around from around 313 [thousand] and take it back to 330 [thousand], there should be sufficient manpower spaces to meet all these needs and ensure that the commander has not only accountability for the wing and its mission but also the resources to stand behind it," Carns said.

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