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Course provides foundation for nuclear surety

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Candy Miller
  • 82nd Training Wing Public Affairs
The Air Force maintains a nuclear stockpile as a deterrent against other nations who may wish the United States harm. Nuclear weapons maintenance personnel, officer and enlisted, have the responsibility to make sure that stockpile is kept safe, secure and ready for use, if and when called upon.

Training the leaders who carry that responsibility starts at Sheppard AFB with the nuclear munitions officer's course.

"The training for the nuclear maintenance officers has grown substantially as part of the Air Force's recommitment to the nuclear enterprise," said Ed Wang,  383rd TRS instructor.

The course strives to produce the finest nuclear maintenance officers who are ready to lead and take on responsibility for the proper maintenance, handling and accountability of the Air Force's stockpile of nuclear weapons, Mr. Wang said.

Course changes
The aircraft maintenance and munitions course, of which the nuclear munitions officer's course is a part, was previously part of the 360th TRS, but the school house transferred to the 363rd TRS in March to align with the current Air Force vision of aligning all nuclear training under one unit, said Maj. A.J. Griffin of the 363rd TRS.

As such, the course length nearly doubled from 17 to a 32-day course that includes lessons on the Air Force Nuclear Arsenal, weapons maintenance, nuclear surety, safety, accountability and reporting.

Another significant addition to the course is the hands-on maintenance training for officers, although at operational units the officers will not perform maintenance. Previously, officers only observed enlisted training.

"This will improve their ability and skills needed to lead their troops and manage their resources," Mr. Wang said.

The nuclear munitions officer's course will also employ a new munitions storage virtual trainer, which will serve as a capstone exercise as the officers will assume roles similar to those they will be responsible for in the field. They will have to perform duties as done at a real-world weapons storage area.

"Their actions will not only affect what the computer-based trainer will do, but also the requirements of other officers in training who will be working at other stations filling other roles," Mr. Wang said. "The goal is to emulate as much as possible what is required at their operational unit, but in a virtual environment."

Working with nuclear weapons
One of the biggest obstacles of working with the weapons is learning to appreciate the importance of the job without seeing the firsthand impacts of the work, Mr. Wang said. In other maintenance career fields, work can be done and the maintainer can see the result of his or her efforts.

"Jet engines can be started and run, avionics can be turned on, and aircraft can take to the sky for a test flight," he said. "Even conventional munitions can be loaded and dropped on test ranges to see if they work or we can watch video clips from Iraq or Afghanistan. Obviously, none of that can occur with nuclear weapons."

It's the maintainers' responsibility to ensure the weapons are ready for use and that they work right the first time, every time, but they can't functionally test them.

"This must be done while also ensuring they remain 100 percent safe all other times," Mr. Wang said. "It's an incredible tasking that requires precision and intense attention to detail."

That's one of the reasons working with nuclear weapons can be intimidating, he said. Another reason is the high security involved.

"Working in a weapons storage area can seem like working inside a prison, but high security becomes a part of daily life," he said.

Nuclear munitions officer's course graduates are typically assigned to missile and bomb wings with a mission to provide safe, secure and reliable munitions in support of the wing wartime mission.