The Air Combat Command of the Air Force has commenced the process that might lead to Minot Air Force Base's bomb wing being recertified for the mission of handling nuclear weapons.
It would be reassuring if a report were released that says what went wrong in August when a B-52 bomber was loaded with nuclear weapons for a flight from Minot to an Air Force base in Louisiana.
The Air Force must know. Shudder the thought if it doesn't.
There was a six-week investigation, and the flight was deemed an "unacceptable mistake." Some officers were relieved of duty and replaced, including the bomb wing commander. More than 60 airmen were disciplined and barred from handling nuclear weapons.
It wouldn't be surprising if the military holds the report on the incident as classified information, even if there is no good reason other than it can. But it could tell us something, even if in generalities.
The 5th Bomb Wing was at fault, and it, along with the 91st Space Wing at the Minot base will undergo a regular Nuclear Surety Inspection in January. The space wing has charge of 150 Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles. The bomb wing is gearing up to satisfy an Initial Nuclear Safety Inspection starting Monday.
There's no precise indication when in 2008 the decision about the base's mission will be made.
The Air Force can talk itself blue in the face to try to make us believe that there was never any possibility of a nuclear event or accident when the bomber flew from Minot to Barksdale AFB in August. But the incident was consequential enough to demand the attention of Pentagon top brass and the secretary of defense, along with every elected official with real or perceived interest or connection.
So, now the Air Force has some work to do to demonstrate a high level of competence in handling nukes at Minot.
If what happened was serious enough to take Minot out of an important aspect of its assigned mission for at least several months, it calls for some trust rebuilding.
Reportedly the bomb wing has been carrying on the majority of its duties. But it won't bode well for Minot AFB during the next Base Realignment and Closure round if it hasn't regained its full wartime mission.
It would not be the best thing if the base were to regain its ability to handle nuclear weapons and the status not be made public. The base command has been good about keeping the media informed about developments since early September. But it can't be forgotten that for a short time after the incident of the armed flight, an attempt was made to hush it up.
Openness is necessary and will help the Minot installation regain the good reputation it has had in North Dakota.