Air Force fires official overseeing Sentinel missile program

The Air Force has fired the top official overseeing the costly Sentinel nuclear missile program, which is currently under a Pentagon review for ballooning costs.

The commander of the Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center, Maj. Gen. John Newberry, fired Col. Charles Clegg, The Hill confirmed Wednesday.

Clegg had assumed the position in August 2022, serving less than two years in the job that oversees the Sentinel program that began around a decade ago.

An Air Force spokesperson said Clegg was removed from his job because of a loss of confidence and that it was not related to the Nunn-McCurdy breach in January, when Sentinel overshot its budget costs by 37 percent, triggering the Defense Department to review whether the program is still necessary and vital to national security.

“He was removed because he did not follow organizational procedures. This removal action is not directly related to the Nunn-McCurdy review,” the Air Force spokesperson said in an email.

Skyrocketing cost of US nuclear missile program spurs reckoning

The spokesperson also said the removal does not impact the operation of the 400 Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) that Sentinel is supposed to replace.

Minuteman “remains our nation’s safe, secure, and effective nuclear deterrent, just as it has been without interruption for the past six decades,” the spokesperson added.

The Sentinel program aims to create brand-new missiles to replace the aging, more than 50-year-old Minuteman ICBMs. But the project’s cost has grown from around $60 billion in 2015 to around $130 billion now and has attracted more intense congressional scrutiny after the Nunn-McCurdy breach.

Several Democrats sent a letter to the Pentagon this week calling for a fair and honest review of whether Sentinel is vital to national security at the updated cost of the program. A congressional nuclear arms working group is also holding a July 24 hearing on the program.

Sentinel is supposed to finish around 2030 but is now expected to be delayed. The main contractor on the project, Northrop Grumman, earlier this year announced it would not be conducting a critical flight test until 2026.

The project’s costs are inflating in part because it also involves renovating or constructing new real estate, including infrastructure that will house the new missiles. The Minuteman ICBMs are spread out across several states in the rural Western part of the country.

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