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Air Force Mistakenly Transports Live Nukes Across America

samzenpus posted more than 6 years ago | from the you-can't-fight-in-here-this-is-the-war-room dept.

United States 898

kernel panic attack writes "Surely the late Stanley Kubrick is somewhere smiling at this one. Forbes.com has a story about a B-52 Bomber that mistakenly flew 6-nuclear tipped cruise missles across several states last week. The 3-hour flight took the plane from Minot Air Force Base, N.D, to Barksdale Air Force Base, La., on Aug. 30. The incident was so serious that President Bush and Defense Secretary Robert Gates were quickly informed and Gates has asked for daily briefings on the Air Force probe, said Defense Department press secretary Geoff Morrell."

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898 comments

We got some flyin' to do (5, Funny)

GoatRavisher (779902) | more than 6 years ago | (#20489997)

Well, boys, I reckon this is it - nuclear combat toe to toe with the Roosskies. Now look, boys, I ain't much of a hand at makin' speeches, but I got a pretty fair idea that something doggone important is goin' on back there. And I got a fair idea the kinda personal emotions that some of you fellas may be thinkin'. Heck, I reckon you wouldn't even be human bein's if you didn't have some pretty strong personal feelin's about nuclear combat. I want you to remember one thing, the folks back home is a-countin' on you and by golly, we ain't about to let 'em down. I tell you something else, if this thing turns out to be half as important as I figure it just might be, I'd say that you're all in line for some important promotions and personal citations when this thing's over with. That goes for ever' last one of you regardless of your race, color or your creed. Now let's get this thing on the hump - we got some flyin' to do.

Serious != dangerous (-1, Troll)

EmbeddedJanitor (597831) | more than 6 years ago | (#20490011)

Serious only because of political egg-on-face for the military. Then unwashed citizens will start thinking: Can't fight a war, can't control their nukes. Got an idiot as CInC. WTF can they do?

Why is this even a story? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20490039)

Is this even a story? Yes, we possess tens of thousands of nuclear weapons, and yes they get transported sometimes. So what?

Re:Why is this even a story? (5, Informative)

slashqwerty (1099091) | more than 6 years ago | (#20490125)

Yes, we possess tens of thousands of nuclear weapons, and yes they get transported sometimes. So what?

We are supposed to know where the weapons are at all times. They were not supposed to be transported. The Air Force was supposed to transport some conventional cruise missiles.

Re:Why is this even a story? (1)

calebt3 (1098475) | more than 6 years ago | (#20490145)

These ones were armed, as in being maybe a push of one more button away from going off.

Re:Why is this even a story? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20490173)

They were not armed. The worst thing that could have happened would have been a crash and a contamination from a dirty bomb (plutonium + conventional explosive).

Re:Why is this even a story? (2)

kd5ujz (640580) | more than 6 years ago | (#20490245)

or........they dont go off, and someone "finds" them. If we can reverse engineer an iphone, you can bet your ass someone will be able to reverse engineer a software lock that was made by the lowest bidder....

Bad reporting... (2, Interesting)

Etherwalk (681268) | more than 6 years ago | (#20490299)

The news outlets are using "armed" to refer to the B-52 being armed with nuclear weapons, not (so far as I've seen) in reference to the weapons themselves being armed. Though they're not all being as clear about that as they should be.

Still, arming a nuke isn't always as hard as it's cracked up to be... remember all those all-zero launch codes we had during the cold war? Now that's a weak password. :)

Re:Why is this even a story? (2, Informative)

Leuf (918654) | more than 6 years ago | (#20490149)

You don't think that a B-52 can take off with six nuclear missiles when it isn't supposed to is a big deal?

I'm confused as to the details here. It says the "missiles" were being decommissioned. Is that the missile itself or the warhead? If it's the missile, first off why the hell are we decommissioning cruise missiles, and second how did the pilots not notice the nuclear warheads on the missiles they were carrying when they did their preflight inspection? If it was the warheads, then it would seem like someone further up the chain is to blame and the crews were just following orders.

Re:Why is this even a story? (5, Funny)

Smallpond (221300) | more than 6 years ago | (#20490279)

"why the hell are we decommissioning cruise missiles"

Didn't you read the label?

Best if used before Sept. 2007

Re:Why is this even a story? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20490331)

Oh what is the worst thing that could happen?

These nukes fall into the wrong hands and are used in a way that starts a nuclear war. Then the subsequent nuclear winter kills all humans on the planet.

See, when you write it out like this it doesn't sound so bad. And as an added benefit the nuclear winter will cancel out global warming.

Anonymous Idiot (4, Insightful)

Gary W. Longsine (124661) | more than 6 years ago | (#20490371)

Suppose a records keeping error might be the first step in an elaborate plot to steal not one but six nuclear warheads.

Suppose a few months after they went missing, five of them blew up in major cities.

New York.
Washington D.C.
Chicago.
Los Angeles.
San Francisco.

Suppose one were held back to make you wonder if it was going off in your home town tomorrow.

Yeah, so it seems like a minor bookeeping error, compounded by accidental transport. However, the error also implies that they were transported by a crew that didn't know they had nukes on board, landing at a base that wasn't prepared to handle the nukes securely, since they didn't know they were receiving nukes.

It's not a minor thing. It's a big, big story. It's a bigger story than will ever be admitted.

Suppose this wasn't the first time this happened, only the missing nukes were not detected because they were removed from the cruise missiles before the receiving crew noticed they had warheads. This terrifying scenario is why a full inventory is being conducted right now.

WTF can they do? (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20490135)

Vote.

So how many weapons were involved? (5, Funny)

jollyreaper (513215) | more than 6 years ago | (#20490045)

Some news sources say five, some say six.

I know what you're thinking. 'Did they lose six warheads or only five?' Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement I kind of lost track myself. You've got to ask yourself a question: 'Do I feel lucky?' Well, do ya, punk?"

Re:So how many weapons were involved? (1)

binaryspiral (784263) | more than 6 years ago | (#20490123)

They can still "Suck the paint off your house and give your family a permanent orange afro" but they're nothing like the 3.8MT SLBMs cruising in the subs.

Re:So how many weapons were involved? (1)

rmessenger (1078643) | more than 6 years ago | (#20490155)

Did they lose six warheads or only five?

Oh well, I'm sure the sixth one with turn up somewhere. Whoops, there goes New York.

Re:So how many weapons were involved? (1)

rtb61 (674572) | more than 6 years ago | (#20490393)

Conspiracy theorists will have a field day. Plot to smuggle out nuclear war heads for black flag terrorist operations foiled by 'break away' faction with in US Intelligence services opposed to the neocon plan for the implementation of martial law. Plot to takeover the country to be covered up as a, whoops. Gees, I have accidentally gone home with a companies pen in my pocket but how do you accidentally fly off with six live nuclear war heads ;).

Re:So how many weapons were involved? (5, Funny)

the_tsi (19767) | more than 6 years ago | (#20490169)

The game's up, President. There are no more missiles left on that plane.

Oh, c'mon, you don't expect me to fall for that old trick.

It's not a trick! There was one launched at Mr. Body in the study, two for the chandelier, two at the lounge door, and one for the singing telegram.

That's not six.

One plus two plus two plus one.

Uh-uh. There was only one nuke that got the chandelier. That one plus two plus ONE plus one.

Even if you're right, that would be one plus one plus two plus one, not one plus two plus one plus one.

Alright, fine, one plus two plus one..........SHUT-UP!

Ze puns, zey do nothing! (2, Insightful)

j_presper_eckert (617907) | more than 6 years ago | (#20490047)

So, how's that rigorous nuclear oversight working out for you?

Wrong branch of the service, but if Admiral Hyman Rickover were still alive he'd be shitting cinderblocks when he heard about this fiasco. I'm still not sure whether to laugh or cry.

We have 3 options here (4, Interesting)

tx_kanuck (667833) | more than 6 years ago | (#20490059)

We can drive the nukes across the country, we can throw them on a train, or we can fly them. Personally, I'm much happier knowing they are being flown places then being sent via ground. I don't care how many safe guards are in place to prevent the weapons going off accidentally, there is always the risk of a crash sending radioactive material all over the place (not an explosion, but a leak). At least in the air the material is safer from accidents (how many air-to-air collisions are there?), and a plane can always find the most depopulated areas to fly over. Trucks and trains don't have that option.

Or maybe that's just me.

Re:We have 3 options here (1)

mthomp16 (1152599) | more than 6 years ago | (#20490081)

Exactly! Knowing a little about how these things are normally carried, chauffering nukes across the country in an airplane makes security sense. Besides, in a cargo bird, they can carry an onboard security team!

Re:We have 3 options here (1, Informative)

Nefarious Wheel (628136) | more than 6 years ago | (#20490143)

Relatively few people will refer to a B-52 as a "cargo bird" except in certain rather niche circles.

I don't see how this is an incident worth reporting, except that they were carried by mistake, and that they were carried on pylons instead of in containers, and that the media found out...

Okay, it was an incident worth reporting.

Whoops! (1)

mthomp16 (1152599) | more than 6 years ago | (#20490233)

I more meant that it would be better to move nuclear weapons around as air cargo, rather than high security truck convoys.

I don't think that's the problem (4, Informative)

commodoresloat (172735) | more than 6 years ago | (#20490105)

The problem was, they didn't know the nukes were on board. It may or may not make sense to fly instead of drive them, but you have to agree that transporting nukes without knowing the nature of your cargo is a pretty dicey business.

Re:We have 3 options here (5, Informative)

sqrt(2) (786011) | more than 6 years ago | (#20490107)

From the CNN story, "The crew was unaware that the plane was carrying nuclear weapons, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the extraordinary sensitivity and security surrounding the case."

Hard to take special safety measures when you're not even aware of what you're carrying.

Re:We have 3 options here (3, Interesting)

It doesn't come easy (695416) | more than 6 years ago | (#20490187)

This also sounds suspicious. The plane's systems know when a real warhead is on the missile verses a dummy warhead. The only way that the electronics on the plane would not know that a real warhead was on the missile is if the missile was not properly connected to the plane. Something doesn't add up.

Re:We have 3 options here (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20490405)

The plane's systems know when a real warhead is on the missile verses a dummy warhead
Right, because a B-52 is state of the art.

Re:We have 3 options here (1, Redundant)

binaryspiral (784263) | more than 6 years ago | (#20490219)

Like they were doing barrel rolls in the B52?? What special safety measures to you take when you're flying unarmed tomahawk missiles versus missiles with nuke warheads attached?

And why were the warheads attached in the first place? Someone leaving for Iran?

Unloaded Gun == Loaded Gun (5, Insightful)

Nymz (905908) | more than 6 years ago | (#20490341)

Professionals treat any gun like it's loaded, always.

Re:We have 3 options here (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20490119)

Depopulated?

Re:We have 3 options here (1)

dwater (72834) | more than 6 years ago | (#20490277)

> Depopulated?

Yeah, it's what happens when you drop a nuclear bomb on a place.

Re:We have 3 options here (1)

jimboinsk (802789) | more than 6 years ago | (#20490131)

Yeah, but trains can ship the warheads in heavily padded and armored cases. Nuclear detonation of a nuke is not a problem in any case. The problem is WHEN there is a plane/train/truck crash, does the high explosive go off and spread contamination everywhere. Only with a train, and maybe a truck, could you really have the protection needed (and lower speed of accident) to prevent a non-nuclear boom in the event an accident.

Re:We have 3 options here (1)

dwater (72834) | more than 6 years ago | (#20490215)

> Nuclear detonation of a nuke is not a problem in any case.

Could have chosen better words, per chance?

Re:We have 3 options here (1)

chengmi (725888) | more than 6 years ago | (#20490301)

You could also have a conventional or partial detonation of a nuke (dirty bomb), which would spread radioactive material without an all-out nuclear explosion.

Re:We have 3 options here (1)

rmessenger (1078643) | more than 6 years ago | (#20490263)

Only with a train, and maybe a truck, could you really have the protection needed

Also, when something goes wrong with a train/truck, the impact velocities will likely be greatly reduced in the event of a crash, and it's a good bet the whole mess won't end up in someones living room, or some random location within a hundred mile radius of the original failure; i.e. a land based vehicle is much more predictable.

Re:We have 3 options here (1)

hax0r_this (1073148) | more than 6 years ago | (#20490367)

Yeah, they predictably drive in heavily populated areas. I guess the idea of transporting a nuclear weapon one way or another doesn't bother me too much, but I wish they would try to keep good track of them.

Re:We have 3 options here (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20490185)

the current design of warhead isn't as sensitive as one might think. all of the warheads operate on a timer or an altimeter, meaning they're not sensitive to being banged around. the warheads are packaged well enough to be able to withstand all kinds of impacts, temperature variations, etc. without detonating or releasing nuclear material. they've literally spent billions of dollars of thinking of every possible situation and tried to safeguard for it if it's in anyway possible.

believe me when i say that the engineers making these things had safety as the first priority, and after all of those considerations were taken care of, payload. after all, it doesn't matter how big a boom you've got if it doesn't get there and go off when you want it to!

as a side note, it's amazing the info that wikipedia has on our current generation of nukes! for instance, did you know that the spherical shape has been dropped in favor of an ovoid package?

Re:We have 3 options here (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20490379)

as a side note, it's amazing the info that wikipedia has on our current generation of nukes! for instance, did you know that the spherical shape has been dropped in favor of an ovoid package?

Not really. I wouldn't expect blue prints, but my understanding is that manufacturing the bombs isn't very hard. The tricky part is getting all the nuclear material to put inside of it.

Re:We have 3 options here (2, Funny)

noidentity (188756) | more than 6 years ago | (#20490193)

"a plane can always find the most depopulated areas to fly over. Trucks and trains don't have that option."

They could always create a new depopulated area to drive through...

Re:We have 3 options here (3, Insightful)

evilviper (135110) | more than 6 years ago | (#20490205)

We can drive the nukes across the country, we can throw them on a train, or we can fly them.

OR WE CAN LEAVE THEM WHERE THEY ARE.

They weren't supposed to be transported to begin with. You obviously didn't bother to RTFA at all.

Re:We have 3 options here (1)

calebt3 (1098475) | more than 6 years ago | (#20490209)

I think you mean unpopulated. Depopulation is what you get if the nukes blow on the ground.

Re:We have 3 options here (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20490377)

Also, its, like really safe from terrorists, cuz' like what's the chance of there being TWO bombs on the same plane?

New Foreign Policy Change... (-1, Troll)

tgatliff (311583) | more than 6 years ago | (#20490069)

Sounds like the Bush administration is really startting to take a "tough" stanch against terrorism now... Or maybe Pres. Bush was just playing with the big red button again... :-)

Three and a half hours is a long time (5, Insightful)

It doesn't come easy (695416) | more than 6 years ago | (#20490089)

What is amazing is that the weapons made it all the way to Texas without Minot AFB missing them. Without going into details, I can say from experience that the US nuclear warheads are very closely tracked. Before this, I would have said it would be impossible for the base to lose track of them for even a few minutes, much less three and a half hours, and then have to be told by Barksdale that they were on the B52 when it arrived. The thing about the munitions crew being decertified until the investigation is finished is a miss direction. The airmen who load the planes don't make the decisions. And (unless things have changed significantly since I was in the USAF) they would not be able to get the warheads to load without a great deal of security and authorization. You don't just go and pick those things up when you want to. More likely, someone got plane ids or missile serial numbers mixed up on the wok orders. Anyway, it will be interesting to see what went wrong.

Re:Three and a half hours is a long time (0, Troll)

p-cubed (559715) | more than 6 years ago | (#20490241)

Strikes me that the "mistake" is a cover for a deliberate movement of the missles, that was either accidentally or intentionally leaked. Most likely: message to Iran that nuclear weapons are being actively positioned. I put NOTHING past this dysadministration.

Re:Three and a half hours is a long time (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20490243)

Thanks for the insight! The plot thickens...

Re:Three and a half hours is a long time (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20490257)

numbers mixed up on the wok orders.
yah, probrems when make speciar order on nucrear reapons from Chitty Wok.

Maybe USAF subcontract to Chitty Airrines next time?

Re:Three and a half hours is a long time (2, Informative)

Frosty Piss (770223) | more than 6 years ago | (#20490271)

The airmen who load the planes don't make the decisions.

Absolutely true, something went wrong a lot deeper than the crew that loaded the missiles. But they should have picked up on something being wrong. Their Commander was rightfully relieved of his command.

Re:Three and a half hours is a long time (0)

rindeee (530084) | more than 6 years ago | (#20490281)

I concur which is also why I have to throw the BS flag on this. There's no concievable way they "didn't know". Even in the case of human oversight, there are numerous automated systems that will catch it. The current scenario is simply not possible.

Re:Three and a half hours is a long time (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20490295)

The only person qualified so far to even remotely comment on this story is the parent. I could go into further detail, but let's just say that DOE Classified material travels around the country on a DAILY basis(p.s. don't even THINK about attacking one of these transports...you'll be VERY VERY SORRY). Planes carry these types of materials around the country all the time. The problem I see with this incident, is the fact that the crew says they didn't know they had them on board. Umm.....I highly doubt that. I wouldn't be surprised if the flight crew got into trouble along with the MUNS guys.

Re:Three and a half hours is a long time (2, Funny)

0xC2 (896799) | more than 6 years ago | (#20490305)

The crew members will all die early and mysterious deaths within 5 or 6 years. I've got to finish wallpapering my apartment in aluminum foil now...

Re:Three and a half hours is a long time (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20490317)

I can only imagine the reaction of the ground crew at Barksdale, initially handling what they thought were training or dummy cruise missiles as part of a normal boring routine, only to experience what will likely be the most profound "what the fuck!" moment of their lives when they realized what they were actually unloading.

How do we keep track of our weapons? (4, Insightful)

slashqwerty (1099091) | more than 6 years ago | (#20490093)

It's not good when we can't keep track of our own nuclear weapons. How are we supposed to keep them out of the hands of our enemies or ensure they're not used for training missions? They even mounted the things on the wings!

I would hope we would have protocols in place that would ensure we never lose track of any nuclear weapon. If a nuclear weapon were detonated in a U.S. city how could we verify it wasn't our bomb if we can't keep track of where our weapons are?

Re:How do we keep track of our weapons? (5, Insightful)

dwater (72834) | more than 6 years ago | (#20490387)

> If a nuclear weapon were detonated in a U.S. city how could we verify it wasn't our bomb if we can't keep track of where our weapons are?

Now *that's* +5 Funny.

What first tipped them off (1, Funny)

proverbialcow (177020) | more than 6 years ago | (#20490103)

"B-52, this is the United States Air Force. You have entered U.S. airspace. If you do not leave immediately, we will be forced to open fire."

B-52? (1)

calebt3 (1098475) | more than 6 years ago | (#20490121)

Why on Earth are we still using WWII-era bombers? Are they just hauling equipment around until they can no longer be repaired?

Re:B-52? (3, Informative)

jamesborr (876769) | more than 6 years ago | (#20490157)

Actually, the B-52's have only been around since the early 50's ;-), and are currently scheduled to be front-line heavy/strategic bombers until 2040 -- so another 30+ years.

Re:B-52? (1)

blugu64 (633729) | more than 6 years ago | (#20490175)

Haha; the B-52's are several generations newer then what we flew in WWII.

Re:B-52? (1)

Beryllium Sphere(tm) (193358) | more than 6 years ago | (#20490221)

The "52" in "B-52" is the year the first one got built. There have been many, many upgrades since then so it's arguably fair to say "several generations", but at their base their design is only seven years newer than World War II.

Re:B-52? (3, Interesting)

Dr. Eggman (932300) | more than 6 years ago | (#20490191)

Technically, 1955 would be cold war era. But, they are just a good reliable design. They haul stuff alright, like carpet bombs for the Afganistan mountains and later in Iraq with percision guided munitions among other things. These old workhorses still make great warhorses, with proper modification. The Airforce expects to keep them inservice to about 2040, the longest design lifespan for any plane ever. And as a taxpay, I for one (continue to) welcome our superbly designed BUFF overlords.

Re:B-52? (2, Informative)

falcon5768 (629591) | more than 6 years ago | (#20490213)

the B-52 is NOT a WWII bomber. It was developed in the 1950's and is still in use because as a bombing platform it continues to be the most cost effective to maintain. They dont even plan to get rid of it till well into 2020. If the B1 or B2 where not so damn expensive as a bomber, we would be using those instead.

Hate to break it to you but many of our top line fighters bombers and support craft where developed in the 50's 60's and 70's. KC-130, B-52, F-15, F117, F-16... all decades old technology.

Re:B-52? (1)

427_ci_505 (1009677) | more than 6 years ago | (#20490217)

1. The BUFFs are (upgraded) 1950's era bombers, not WW2 bombers. 2. They work. Don't need to be especially stealthy or anything if the USAF already has air superiority and SEAD jets clearing the area beforehand.

Re:B-52? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20490239)

Uhm, B-52s are not WW2 equipment. They were developed a decade afterwards, even after the birth of SAC. Some of the airframes are quite old by some standards (it is one of 2(3?) aircraft that are still flown by its maker after 50 years), but they have been under constant upgrade. Every one for the 70 or so in service have been refurbed several times in their life. There are also only about 70 of the original 744 left (the last ones were built around 62).

Re:B-52? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20490253)

The B-52 is not a World War II era bomber (almost but not quite Korean War era), it was designed for the cold war era entering service in the 1955 - as to why; it's cheep to operate with a huge payload (up to 60,000 pounds of weapons) and a range that puts modern bombers to shame.

Re:B-52? (2, Insightful)

3seas (184403) | more than 6 years ago | (#20490285)

ever here the saying "they just don't build things like they use to"?

Do you really wanna fly such warheads over the US in newer planes?

here is another saying "if its not broke then don't fix it."

A large load bomber does not have to be fast but steady and sure.

Another saying "Murphy loves complexity"

But here the real thing to consider. Now they we have told extremist groups that B52 Bomber may or not be caring warheads over the US, unguarded.......

Re:B-52? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20490347)

As has been pointed out several times, these are not WWII aircraft, but rather Cold War aircraft. Moreover, they have been upgraded several times over the years such that those currently in service bear little resemblance (beyond physical appearance) to what was flown in the '50s.

So? (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20490127)

No text but my subject. So?

Terrorist.....who???? (5, Interesting)

3seas (184403) | more than 6 years ago | (#20490133)

First of all you have to wonder how it is that the media gets such a story and second of all how they are allowed to tell it.

Doesn't this matter equate to national security, or is national security more a spam and IP issue?

Certainly Homeland security has to be in on this information????

But again, how is it that the media are even allowed to find out about such an insident?

Maybe the US government wanted them to media it, in order to commit more terrorism....

Now maybe someone will flamebait mod me down but seriously, how does the media find out about what
would otherwise be considered a typical US military plane flight? Did the plane accidently have a big "warheads on board" sign stuck on the side of it?

Re:Terrorist.....who???? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20490273)

If you prefer not knowing what your government is doing, I suggest relocating to one of these locations: China, Vietnam, Burma...

Re:Terrorist.....who???? (5, Interesting)

dwater (72834) | more than 6 years ago | (#20490363)

It is a common tactic to tell a story that makes you look bad in order to cover up the real story that is even worse.

What do you think could be the worse story?

Re:Terrorist.....who???? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20490385)

Maybe the US government wanted them to media it, in order to commit more terrorism....
English, motherfucker. Do you speak it?

Nukes weren't live - Shitty reporting (1)

acoustix (123925) | more than 6 years ago | (#20490163)

The nukes were not armed during the flight. Gotta love the fair reporting on Slashdot. The word "live" didn't even appear in the article.

Nick

Re:Nukes weren't live - Shitty reporting (4, Interesting)

Beryllium Sphere(tm) (193358) | more than 6 years ago | (#20490265)

Having worked on relevant software, I can confirm that just the unclassified side of arming a cruise missile warhead involves multiple steps, some of which only happen after launch. For example, the onboard computer waits for a characteristic maneuver to happen before it goes to the next step in the arming process.

"Live" is not the word I'd use, except maybe as opposed to "dummy". The scary issue, as pointed out elsewhere, is that the inventory tracking broke down.

Re:Nukes weren't live - Shitty reporting (5, Informative)

It doesn't come easy (695416) | more than 6 years ago | (#20490315)

Actually, that is an interesting question. The warheads are not armed per se, that's true. But if they were properly loaded then the B52 would have controlled the arming, i.e. they would have gone live had they been fired. On the other hand, an "anonymous source" says that pilots didn't know the warheads were real. That is also a mystery because the only way the plane's systems would not know they had real warheads on the missiles is if the missiles were not properly connected into the plane's systems. I can also say that warheads destined for decommissioning are NOT transported mounted on missile boosters. They are very carefully packed in specialized shipping containers and transported on cargo planes (or special trucks or trains but usually cargo planes). In addition, the little bit of news we have isn't entirely clear if it was the warheads being decommissioned or the missile motors. I assume the warheads, so there are a lot of unanswered questions at this point.

Hey, wait a minute... (1)

Massu (1152603) | more than 6 years ago | (#20490171)

Why are we only finding out about this now, almost a week later? Is it just for security purposes, to keep information under tight control concerning our nuclear weapons, or did no one notice this story until now? I'm going to assume its A and not B, because if B is true, then who can I trust to tell me if something is going wrong?

Mistakenly? (5, Insightful)

Barnoid (263111) | more than 6 years ago | (#20490181)

How exactly does one mistakenly mount nuclear weapons on a plain? Is it like the stack on the left is the fake ones, and the one on the right the real nukes? I was hoping that nuclear weapons are somewhat more securely stored.

Considering the logistical and safety related problems when transporting those weapons on the ground, could it be that they intentionally moved the weapons and now that the news got wind of the story call it a mistake?

The other N-word (1)

bongey (974911) | more than 6 years ago | (#20490223)

I don't set what all the fuss is about. Any time you say nuke or nuclear everyone thinks it is the end of the world. Sheez that is the same reason the NMRI was change to MRI, people hear the word and run the other direction. Just looking at this http://www.nuclearfiles.org/menu/key-issues/nuclea r-weapons/issues/accidents/20-mishaps-maybe-caused -nuclear-war.htm [nuclearfiles.org] of past incidents this seems very minor. I know we broke treaty on accident, but that is all. Oh yeah we need to keep the nukes around so when the doomsday asteroid comes we can blow it up into a million little pieces.

Time to invade (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20490229)

Clearly, North Dakota has WMDs and must be invaded.

First Rule of Fight Club... (1, Insightful)

Nymz (905908) | more than 6 years ago | (#20490235)

FTA
The plane was carrying Advanced Cruise Missiles from Minot Air Force Base, N.D, to Barksdale Air Force Base, La., on Aug. 30, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of a Defense Department policy not to confirm information on nuclear weapons.

An extra flight is serious, but not dangerous.
Where as a leak may not seem serious, but be entirely dangerous.

Sum of all fears 2 (0, Flamebait)

ghoul (157158) | more than 6 years ago | (#20490255)

In this episode Jack Ryan works for the Russian nuclear agency and is worried about the safety of American nuclear warheads so he comes to the US to inspect B 52s. Meanwhile someone explodes a nuke in Moscow and everyone thinks its the Americans as they have a hardliner president. The rest of the plot can remain the same and we have a new blockbuster. Or not. Americans are too chauvinistic to appreciate they are just as big doofuses as the Russians so while movies showing the russian nukes are in danger of getting lost work in Hollywood the same would not work for US nukes even though the Russians have actually never lost a nuke yet while the Americans just lost it again today. I say again for everyone knows they lost nuke material three times- Russia, France and Israel all got their nukes from lost American material.

This is troubling all the way around (5, Interesting)

jollyreaper (513215) | more than 6 years ago | (#20490293)

I've been reading comments all over the place about this. People who say they've served in the military and worked with nukes say that this sort of thing simply cannot happen, too many people checking each other, too many safeguards. For this to happen would require an unbelievable number of screw-ups all working together. But if that's so, then the only other explanation seems crazy, that this was no accident.

Here's one take, take your own grain of SALT. Can't take it with the ABM Treaty since Bush withdrew from that in 2001.

http://tpmcafe.com/blog/coffeehouse/2007/sep/05/st aging_nuke_for_iran [tpmcafe.com]

Why the hubbub over a B-52 taking off from a B-52 base in Minot, North Dakota and subsequently landing at a B-52 base in Barksdale, Louisiana? That's like getting excited if you see a postal worker in uniform walking out of a post office. And how does someone watching a B-52 land identify the cruise missiles as nukes? It just does not make sense.

So I called a old friend and retired B-52 pilot and asked him. What he told me offers one compelling case of circumstantial evidence. My buddy, let's call him Jack D. Ripper, reminded me that the only times you put weapons on a plane is when they are on alert or if you are tasked to move the weapons to a specific site.

Then he told me something I had not heard before.

Barksdale Air Force Base is being used as a jumping off point for Middle East operations. Gee, why would we want cruise missile nukes at Barksdale Air Force Base. Can't imagine we would need to use them in Iraq. Why would we want to preposition nuclear weapons at a base conducting Middle East operations?

His final point was to observe that someone on the inside obviously leaked the info that the planes were carrying nukes. A B-52 landing at Barksdale is a non-event. A B-52 landing with nukes. That is something else.

Now maybe there is an innocent explanation for this? I can't think of one. What is certain is that the pilots of this plane did not just make a last minute decision to strap on some nukes and take them for a joy ride. We need some tough questions and clear answers. What the hell is going on? Did someone at Barksdale try to indirectly warn the American people that the Bush Administration is staging nukes for Iran? I don't know, but it is a question worth asking.
I dearly hope that's crazyhead speculation. But even if this is just an accident, this is fucking scary.

http://www.fas.org/blog/ssp/2007/09/flying_nuclear _bombs.php [fas.org]

"If the B-52 incident tells us that the military's command and control system cannot ensure with 100% certainty which weapons are nuclear and which ones are not, imagine the implications of the wrong weapon being used in a crisis or war. 'Sorry Mr. President, we thought it was conventional.'"
As for the official story about transporting these weapons by air for decommissioning, that's fishy.

Although nuclear weapons are not flown on combat aircraft under normal circumstances, they are routinely flown on selected C-17 and C-130 transport aircraft, which as the Primary Nuclear Airlift Force (PNAF) are used to airlift Air Force nuclear warheads between operational bases and central service and storage facilities in the United States and in Europe (see overview here).

Interesting quote (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20490321)

"Nothing like this has ever been reported before and we have been assured for decades that it was impossible," said Markey, D-Mass., co-chair of the House task force on nonproliferation. (emphasis mine).

He's not claiming that it never happened before, just that it's never been reported before.

Into perspective... (3, Interesting)

Manip (656104) | more than 6 years ago | (#20490327)

Is it shocking that the US Military accidentally forgot to remove live Warheads before the Cruise Missiles were moved? Yes.

But there was so little chance of accident detonation that it is a far smaller story than one might immediately think.

Modern Nuclear Weapons are one of those things you have to really WANT to detonate ... You can't just accidentally set them off. If the plane had crashed more than likely the weapons would have been destroyed in a fairly inert manor.

Plus considering even the military didn't know they were moving Nuclear Weapons, the chances of someone attempting to steal them is next to nill.

I wonder... (1)

Brandybuck (704397) | more than 6 years ago | (#20490339)

I wonder how long until the nutbag conspiracists start claiming this as a dry run? Oh wait, it's already happening...
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