AF Drug Probe Links 34 Nuclear Officers in Cheating Ring

siloThe U.S. Air Force announced Wednesday that 34 intercontinental ballistic missile officers have been caught cheating on a certification test in which one officer was sending out the answers via text message.

Air Force investigators discovered the cheating ring while investigating a separating drug scandal that has implicated 11 individuals across six bases in the Air Force.

The 34 officers in the cheating scandal are all assigned to Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont., and home to the 341st Missile Wing — one of three ICBM missile bases in the Air Force. 

Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh said that Air Force nuclear weapons were never compromised as part of the cheating scandal, but an investigation remains ongoing. The Air Force leadership said they were relatively confident the cheating ring did not extend beyond the 34 officers.

The certification test was a monthly launch officer proficiency test. One missile officer texted answers to the monthly test to 16 other officers. Air Force investigators found out that an additional 17 missile officers knew about the cheating and didn’t take part, but failed to report it.

Missile officers across the Air Force — to include the officers at the two missile bases other than Malmstrom — will retake the certification tests that the officers were caught cheating on.

James, who just recently took over as the Air Force’s top civilian, said she will visit the Air Force’s missile bases next week to issue the message that this sort of behavior is “unacceptable.”

Welsh and James repeatedly said the actions of a few officers were not representative of the Air Force’s nuclear enterprise at large. However, this is just the recent scandal to be uncovered in recent months within the Air Force nuclear community.

In October, the 20th Air Force commander, Maj. Gen. Michael Carey, was fired for conduct unbecoming an officer after he was excessively drunk and socializing with “suspect” women, according to an IG report. In November, the Associated Press reported on heightened levels of misconduct like spousal abuse within the missile community. Welsh also said the 341st Missile Wing failed a key nuclear inspection in August before passing it two months later.

Air Force Global Strike Command oversees the Air Force’s nuclear community. It was stood up in 2009 after far reaching problems were discovered in the Air Force’s nuclear community highlighted when six nuclear warheads were mistakenly flown across the country and nuclear components were incorrectly shipped to Taiwan.

About the Author

Michael Hoffman
Michael Hoffman is the executive editor at Tandem NSI and a contributor to He can be reached at
  • john

    Did a similar cheating scandal happen in the nuclear navy crews?

  • jack

    Hard too find good help these days.

  • Steve B.

    Curtis LeMay is spinning, spinning, spinning away.

  • Mambo

    Welcome to every country in the world that has men and women working in close proximity.

  • Well this is how bad education might kill america. Do to lowering standards of US education. USA can not man those weapon systems they poses. I say poses because some parts are not made in USA. Simple solution would be Voucher system but then you have teachers unions… So US is quite doomed of they do not change ways….

    • Ben

      This isn’t a result of poor education, it’s laziness.

      • anonymous again

        In the navy, boot camp was actually pretty squared away (for my division, at least). It was only when we got into sub school, A school, C school, etc. that the example set by the instructors began to fall off. Then I got to my first boat, it went even further down hill. You’re literally made fun of if you try too hard. No joke. Still, I’m glad I went in, but I’m definitely glad I got out.

        • MrMedicJim

          anonymous. I walked in on sex, smoking, fighting with knives, etc on my boat. I was mortified at most everything I experienced. I joined for a GI Bill, but had a patriotic heart. I knew of guys who took child prostitutes in WestPacs, I felt more like a Prison Guard than a Sailor. My son will never be allowed in the Navy, even if I have to break his legs. I saw the same degradation from boot camp, a school, c school, etc. Nothing could have prepared me for my boat. Nothing. I could not fathom how regs are on paper, but only selectively applied. I too saw how guys who tried hard were literally laughed at, bullied if they kept it up. I saw one guy who worked hard, and was cruelly misrepresented in evaluation reports as retribution for making others look bad. Laziness and malcontent were all I remember from the Navy workplace experience even while in combat! I should have been a Marine. They held such a higher standard, even on the boat. They had faults too, but they took more pride in themselves and their work.

          • MrMedicJim

            I meant smoking pot, when I said smoking. Yeah, and thanks to flight of the intruder, we too had the mad crappers who went in ladder wells, and common spaces, and nothing like finding a spill only to learn it was piss.

    • dr. horrible

      I this irony, or is it evidence?

  • I used to have this job – in the early 80’s, at Malmstrom even… Yes, the officers should be fired – both those that cheated, and those that tolerated. However, after we waste all that talent and training, and throw all that money away, why not fix the system that causes good officers to go bad? The problem is in tying promotions to test scores. The purpose of perfect test scores is zero errors on alert, not promotable officers. Test scores do not make a good officer – leadership and vision do – and I can assure you the missile test do not test for leadership or vision. We should be treating tests and simulator rides as not just an assessment of our people, but an assessment of our training and our readiness. That means you have to welcome mistakes as a way to uncover weaknesses to fix. That is the only way you will get perfection is by using mistakes as an opportunity to improve the system, not a way to punish those who made a mistake. I work for the Navy now as a civilian. My employees take proficiency examinations too – and there are minimum qualifications expected – because we make things that explode. However, if you make the minimum required score, the focus turns away from the individual to analysis of the failures, trends, and systemic issues so we can improve both the training and the people. If the failures are intentional or due to laziness, I treat that as discipline, but never for promotion purposes.

  • tankjas


  • Viq

    The actual launch sites are spread out over a very wide area. Also, the Navy has submarine-launched ballistic missiles. So it’s not like our nuclear deterent capability is reliant on three pin-points on the map.

  • XYZ

    Best military in the world.

    • platypusfriend

      No… least incompetent military in the world.

  • Mike

    If this had been enlisted they would have been fined, lose a stripe and dishonorable discharged

  • Sherrie

    I don’t believe it for a minute!!! Something else is going on…and you should wake up and “smell the coffee!”

  • Goober

    Part of the problem is the ICBM force is a forgoten area. They dont get the prestiege of the Bombers and/or Submarines, not as many promotion oppertunities. I’m sure theres a lot more going on that the Air Force isnt aware of.

  • 23YrOfficer

    23 years in the Air Force and I can tell you that these officers should and will be fired. There will be no remediation, no retraining, and no additional chances. It is correct that these officers are not tested on leadership. They are tested on their ability to complete their jobs in a manor required when working with weapons of such magnitude. They failed the leadership test when they cheated or failed to report the cheating.

  • 23YrOfficer

    Our threat to use these weapons is based on WWII and has subsequently diminished ever since. Rational people understand this yet we continue to let irrational leaders of terrorist states like Iran develop and build these same weapons. Will they use them? They have already stated as such. We are banking our lives on their bluff. I do not think they are bluffing at all. We are at the dawn of a new arms race that will include countries like North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, India, Iran, Syria, and Turkey. Yes, some currently have them but in smaller numbers and very inaccurate delivery systems. The others will pursue them in defense (Saudi Arabia has already made arrangements with Pakistan to get nuclear weapons if Iran succeeds). All this and we have a President who is systematically dismantling our military, reducing our ability to develop and maintain our current nuclear fleets, and killing the heart of the all volunteer force, our morale within the ranks.

  • Navy

    Is this proficiency test so hard they couldn’t just study for it?