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US Defense Secretary Hagel orders review of US nuclear forces

US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has ordered a review of the country's nuclear forces, citing security concerns. A series of scandals this month pointed to drug use and cheating among some of the mission's personnel.

The US military's most senior leaders are to be summoned to the Pentagon at the request of the Secretary of Defense Hagel to begin reviewing the state of the country's nuclear operations, according to official sources on Thursday.

A series of mishaps within the US nuclear forces had reportedly prompted Hagel to undertake a review of the program in its entirety, which had raised "legitimate concerns about the department's stewardship of one of our most sensitive and important missions," Rear Admiral John Kirby told a news conference in Washington on Thursday.

Officers suspended

Last week, thirty-four officers in the western US state of Montana were suspended and stripped of their security clearances for cheating on a proficiency test, according to the US Air Force.

The personnel in question were in charge of nuclear missile launching sites.

Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said the behavior at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana was "absolutely unacceptable" but reassured reporters at the January 15 news conference that the incident had not affected security with regard to the nuclear weapons.

"This was a failure of some of our airmen. It was not a failure of the nuclear mission," James said.

Recreational drugs

The revelations came to light less than a week after the Air Force Office of Special Investigations launched a probe involving nine lieutenants and one captain who allegedly possessed recreational drugs.

That investigation included airmen from six air force bases: Malmstrom in Montana; Vandenberg in California; F.E. Warren in Wyoming; Schreiver Air Force in Colorado bases; as well as Royal Air Force Lakenheath which houses a US fighter wing.

The recent scandals have been partially blamed on low-morale due to the poor career prospects offered to the nuclear facility personnel, as well as the monotonous nature of their work.

The Department of Defense works in coordination with the National Nuclear Security Administration to safeguard and maintain the country's stockpile of nuclear warheads, which was capped at 1,550 in 2010.

kms/ipj (AP, Reuters)