Dr. Strangelove, anyone? Via Wired:
The Air Force swears there was no panic. But for three-quarters of an hour Saturday morning, launch control officers at F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming couldn’t reliably communicate or monitor the status of 50 Minuteman III nuclear missiles. Gulp.
Backup security and communications systems, located elsewhere on the base, allowed the intercontinental ballistic missiles to be continually monitored. But the outage is considered serious enough that the very highest rungs on the chain of command — including the President — are being briefed on the incident today.
A single hardware failure appears to have been the root cause of the disruption, which snarled communications on the network that links the five launch control centers and 50 silos of the 319th Missile Squadron. Multiple error codes were reported, including “launch facility down.”
The incident comes at a particularly tricky time for the Obama administration, which is struggling to get the Senate to ratify a nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia. In conservative political circles, there’s a distrust of the nuclear cuts — and a demand that they be matched with investments in atomic weapon upgrades. Saturday’s shutdown will undoubtedly bolster that view.
The disruption is also dark news for the Air Force, which has been hustling to restore the “zero defects” culture that was the hallmark of its nuclear forces during the Cold War.