Tuesday, March 25, 2008

U.S. Regains Missile Parts; Gates Orders Investigation

Geez, here we are at it again. First they "mistakenly" send a bomber with nuclear weapons on board when it wasn't supposed to be carrying nukes -- now a shipment of nuclear missile parts have been "mistakenly" sent to Taiwan as part of an arms shipment.

The U.S. military has regained control of four non-nuclear nose cone assemblies for a Minuteman missile mistakenly sent to Taiwan in 2006

"Regained control of" is a spin job. To regain control of something they had to have lost that thing in the first place. Whew, they got the things back, but the fact is they lost these things.

The nose cone assemblies and associated electrical parts are proximity fuses for the missiles. While not technically “triggers,” a nuclear warhead atop a Minuteman would not detonate without the signal from these devices.

Preliminary information indicates that a shipment took place in response to a foreign military sales order from Taiwan for helicopter batteries, Wynne said. The Defense Logistics Agency depot at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, mistakenly shipped the fuses -- a classified system -- rather than the batteries.

The press release links to the LGM-30 MINUTEMAN III fact sheet where we learn these are part of a silo-launched guided missile, part of the Minuteman system. These are intercontinental missiles which were designed in the 1950's. Whatever the truth of losing these parts, it's likely a pure mistake rather than some kind of subtle strategy of arming Taiwan against threats from Mainland China. Minuteman missiles are not usable by Taiwan, however if those parts were to instead been sent to the Mainland China government this would have been bad in some way.

The problem here is that nuclear technology is so dangerous that it has to be strictly controlled. A genie has been let out, a genie that is willing to grant "wishes" in the form of destroyed cities and millions of dead people.

I keep thinking these weapons are so dangerous that any risk that these weapons will be used is too great, and that they simply should not exist. Any accident or any overly aggressive political leader could cause the use of these weapons, with disastrous effect.

In this case the parts were surplus (declared 'excess') and were in a warehouse. Taiwan had ordered some "helicopter batteries" and were instead shipped these fuses. According to several articles there are procedures in place which would have prevented these parts from being lost.. specifically there are inventory checks which are supposed to happen every 3 months. Somehow the inventory checks did not discover that some missile parts had been lost. Instead it was the Taiwan military who didn't recognize what they had received, and asked what it was they'd been sent.

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