NEWS | Oct. 6, 2009

Sheppard officials launch Nuclear Accountability Course

By George Woodward Air Force News

SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- Air Force officials took another important step in reinvigorating their nuclear enterprise here Oct. 5 with the launch of the Nuclear Accountability Course providing realistic, hands-on training to Airmen assuming duties making them responsible for nuclear weapons.

Delivered by the 82nd Training Wing's 363rd Training Squadron, the four-week course targets squadron-level munitions officers and NCOs responsible for the day-to-day tracking, monitoring and reporting of nuclear munitions.

"This is a completely new course," said Maj. Wes Adams, 363rd TRS Aircraft Maintenance and Munitions Officer Course director. "Previously, the officers and NCOs taking on accountability duties would learn on the job. This course provides a solid, academic foundation for these Airmen and ensures the training is consistent across the Air Force. "

At the heart of the curriculum is a computer system that mirrors the database used to track and account for nuclear weapons across the Department of Defense called Defense Integration and Management of Nuclear Data Services, or DIAMONDS.

The DIAMONDS Accountability Training System allows students to learn the exact procedures they will use on the job without interfering with the live database.

"It looks like DIAMONDS, it smells like DIAMONDS and it tastes like DIAMONDS, but it's not DIAMONDS," Major Adams said. "That's important because it means students can learn the system and manipulate realistic data without any risk. "

As the Air Force Program Manager for DIAMONDS, the 708th Nuclear Sustainment Squadron at Kirtland AFB, N.M. , played a key role in working with the Defense Threat Reduction Agency to get the training hardware and software in place and ensure it accurately mirrored DIAMONDS.

Though the process was complex and sometimes challenging, Maj. Jordan Murphy, 708th NSUS project officer, said the end result was more than worth it.

"DIAMONDS is how we do nuclear accountability in the Air Force," he said, "so it's absolutely crucial that new accountability students learn the system. With the DIAMONDS Accountability Training System in place, the students will leave Sheppard with meaningful experience and a real understanding of how to track and account for the Air Force's nuclear weapons. "

Of all the challenges involved in getting the course up and running, Major Murphy said the timeline was the toughest.

"There was a lot of timeline pressure on us, understandably given the nature of the course," he said. "In the end, we were able to field it three months earlier than planned. "

A lot of the high-level intervention came from the office of Col. Stephen Williams, Nuclear Weapons, Missiles and Munitions Division chief at the Pentagon.

"A lot of the heavy lifting on this came from the instructors and supervisors at Sheppard," he said. "But having been an operations officer at the 365th Training Squadron at Sheppard, I knew that a lot of great training ideas never get off the ground because people don't have access to the resources it takes to make them happen. That's where we came in -- formally identifying the DIAMONDS training capability as a USAF service priority to DTRA, then connecting the resources to the project. The rest is the program manager organizing the 82nd TRG subject matter experts and the DTRA computer experts to build and install the needed capability. "

As the functional managers for the officer and enlisted munitions career fields, Colonel Williams' office had a strong interest in getting the course off the ground, and provided the money and influence that made it possible.

"Getting the course infrastructure, including DATS, set up cost about $457,000, which is actually a pretty small number considering the importance of the course and the fact that we're dealing with nuclear accountability," he said. "It's money very well spent. We were giving our young munitions officers and NCOs critical responsibilities, but we owed them better tools to do the job well -- specifically training. This course does that. "

According to Colonel Williams, another benefit of the course is that it will help restore some of the culture and institutional knowledge the Air Force lost over the years -- a loss identified in many internal reviews as a contributing factor to the serious breakdowns in 2007 and 2008.

It's a goal echoed by the person on the business end of the whole effort, Ed Wang, 363rd TRS course instructor.

"Of course our main goal is to provide the specific training our munitions officers and NCOs need to do their jobs today, and do them perfectly," he said. "But we're also looking at tomorrow -- at building future leaders who know the nuclear business from the ground up and who understand the demands of managing the nuclear enterprise. "

The Nuclear Accountability Course is the second nuclear-related course instituted at Sheppard this year. The Nuclear Fundamentals Course, launched in May, provides basic nuclear weapons training for all new munitions officers as part of their initial training. The 363rd TRS also provides Air Force Specialty Code-awarding courses for nuclear munitions officers and enlisted nuclear weapons specialists.

In addition to nuclear munitions experts, the 82nd Training Wing at Sheppard delivers 80,000 graduates annually in aircraft and aerospace ground equipment maintenance, conventional munitions, avionics, civil engineering, medical, logistics, telecommunications, fuels and vehicle operations.