U.S. Strategic Command

 

Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center to Grow

By Roxanne Christian and Nicole Padilla | Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center | January 30, 2009

Since the Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center's establishment in March of 2006,Kirtland AFB has been the home of theAFNWC, strengthening the base's longstandingtradition of nuclear enterprise. TodayKirtland AFB grows even stronger asthe AFNWC develops and expands to fulfillits goal of becoming the Air Force's centerof excellence for all nuclear weapons systemsactivities.

History
Prior to 1990, nuclear weapons systemsacquisition and modification capabilities inthe Air Force was well structured and understoodby all participants, with the majorityof nuclear operations centered at Kelly AFBjust outside of San Antonio, Texas. After1992, the Nuclear Weapons/System Acquisitionand Modification capability atrophiedas its structure weakened and became increasinglydiluted.

With Base Realignment and Closure,Kelly AFB ceased to exist, leaving organizationssuch as the nuclear sector of the AirForce Weapons Laboratory completely disbanded. That which had been consolidated atKelly AFB was dispersed and Air Force nuclearweapons systems became fragmented.

In August 2001, a comprehensive assessmentof the Air Force's nuclear surety waslaunched by Brig. Gen. Paul J. Sullivan,former vice commander of the Air ArmamentCenter, Eglin AFB, Fla. Subsequently, in December2003, the Air Force Audit Agency conducteda parallel study spearheaded by Brig. Gen. Robert L. Smolen.

Both investigations determined the necessityfor a single manager of nuclear weaponssustainment in the Air Force. In November2004, Gen. Gregory S. Martin, former AirForce Materiel Command commander, issueda directive, which called for the establishmentof a "consolidated nuclear weapon organizationwithin AFMC. "

In January of the following year, conceptionof the Nuclear Weapons Center began. Itsmission: "To ensure safe, secure, and reliable,nuclear weapons systems to support the nationalcommand structure and the Air Forcewar-fighter. "

Phases I and II
Birth of the Nuclear Weapons Center happenedin phases. Phase I initiated the consolidationof all nuclear weapons activities withinAFMC. Phase II began with the stand up ofthe Nuclear Weapons Center on Jan. 2, 2006.

"It wasn't easy. It was a battle. A lot of peoplethought we would fail. There was no staffand a lot of people asking questions," recallsHal Meisterling, Plans and Programs managerfor the 498th Armament Systems Wingand retired commander of the nuclear divisionof the Air Force Weapons Lab. "We had toconvince people that, number one, we werereal and here to stay; and number two, weweren't trying to take anyone's money away,we were just trying to make things better. "

Col. Terrence Feehan pioneered the Center. He sacrificed a significant portion of hispersonal life and spentcountless hours ontemporary duty assignmentsto enablethe center to take off. "Essentially, he wasnever here. He wasout fighting to establishus," said Mr. Meisterling.

On Feb. 29,2008, once itwas determinedthatthe centerhad consolidatedalmostever y t hingpertaining tonuclear sustainmentand suretyin the Air Force, itwas renamed the AirForce Nuclear Weapons Center. Brig. Gen. Everett H. Thomastook command of the Center on April17. Since then, the AFNWC has continued togrow and prosper.

Air Force ComprehensiveAssessment of NuclearSustainment
In June 2008, after two nuclear incidentsthat negatively impacted the Air Force, GeneralThomas was called to lead an evaluationknown as the Air Force Comprehensive Assessmentof Nuclear Sustainment, or AFCANS. It was a 60-day investigation held atHill AFB, Utah, to identify solutions and findresources needed to fix the problems that theAir Force was having with nuclear surety.

"The Chief of Staff of the Air Force assignedme to go out and look around and wefound money," stated General Thomas duringhis Oct. 2 Commander's Call. Money, alongwith people, was the primary result of the AFCANSinvestigation.

"This was the only report that identifiedsolutions and resources needed to fix theproblems," said Ms. Irene Gutierrez, AFNWCchief financial officer. From this, $150 millionwas approved for FY09 for AFCANS requirementsand another $500 million was laid infor the FY10-15 Program Objective Memorandumrequirements.

Phase III
While Phase II involved the absorption ofall nuclear activities in the Air Force, Phase IIIinvolves the buildup of the Center. This willgive it the manpower and support it needs tocarry out the duties levied upon it.

To help with this buildup and reorganization,the AFNWC brought in some experts. Among them was Dennis O. Abbey, seniormanagement consultant, SAIC Defense SolutionsGroup, Arlington, Va. Mr. Abbey conducteda two-week workshop at the AFNWCin which department leaders came togetherand developed a standardized organizationalstructure for the AFNWC.

"While the overall change vision andstructure for the Center was understood, Iknew we'd have to spend time developingchange requirements ata greater level of detail. We did this byinvolving subjectmatter experts fromacross the staff, andwith General Thomas'insights andguidance, we weresuccessful in developingthe newstructure anddescribing itin a way thatAir Force seniorleadershipcouldmake informeddecisions,"said Mr. Abbey.

"There is no betterway to develop an organizationthan to involve thefolks who actually perform thework. All assigned to the Kirtland Teamhave a stake in the outcome and by involvingthem directly into the process, we gained insights,ideas and ""best practice' processes thatwill make the AFNWC a great organization,"remarked Mr. Abbey.

Currently, the AFNWC oversees 3,464people who are considered members of thestaff, which includes officers, enlisted, civiliansand contractors. The AFNWC will gainanother 288 people who will be dispersedamong the wings, groups, and commandsection staff.

AFNWC Vice Commander
To further assist General Thomas, theAFNWC was assigned a new vice commander,Col. Walter J. Lindsley, former Commanderof the 309th Aircraft MaintenanceGroup at Hill AFB. Colonel Lindsley assumedthe position Nov. 15.

Fly, Fight, Win
It has been a long and rigorous journeyfor the people of the AFNWC, but it's not overyet. With the end of Phase III and the beginningof Phase IV in sight, everyone is workingharder than ever to produce a real "Center ofExcellence. "

"We achieved what we set out to accomplish,but it is only a start. We now havemonths of hard work to gain final approvalsand complete the implementation. This willtake continued commitment and attention todetail, knowing we can expect other changesalong the way. I am confident, working as ateam, the AFNWC will complete a flawlesschange journey, thereby enhancing effectivenessof the entire Air Force nuclear enterprise,"said Mr. Abbey.

During his Oct. 2 Commander's Call, GeneralThomas stated, "What we do here at theAir Force Nuclear Weapons Center at KirtlandAir Force Base, we are committed; not justcontributors. We don't just show up, contributefor eight hours and go home. We're committedto what we do. And why should we becommitted? Because America is trusting uswith the two greatest resources ever. What arethose resources? Simple. Blood and treasure. Ineed you to be committed to what you're doing;to guard blood and treasure, just like it'syours. "

With its laser focus on reinvigorating thenuclear enterprise, the AFNWC here is poisedto protect America's most vital resources formany generations to come.