Are You Smarter Than a Nuclear Launch Officer?

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Are You Smarter Than a Nuclear Launch Officer?

Postby hockey85 on Fri Feb 14, 2014 1:15 am

Are You Smarter Than a Nuclear Launch Officer? Here’s the type of questions Air Force missileers are cheating on…and why
By Mark Thompson
TIME
http://swampland.time.com/2014/02/13/ar ... h-officer/

Remember when you took your driver’s test and had to answer all those questions about who had the right-of-way at an intersection? If you’ve been paying attention in recent weeks, you know that the Air Force is investigating nearly half of the 200-airman force that commands the 150 nuclear-tipped Minuteman III missiles at Montana’s Malmstrom Air Force Base for allegedly cheating on their monthly proficiency tests.

These tests, no surprise, are tougher than driver’s ed.

A launch officer and instructor who left the Air Force in 2011 has provided questions representative of those he says he asked his airmen about the missiles they were monitoring. To help you understand their language, you need to know that each launch-control crew is in a numbered Launch Control Center. So Foxtrot LCC is F-01. And all of the missiles the Foxtrot crew controls are numbered, 2 through 11 (F-02, F-03, etc).

Enough test prep.

Number 2 pencil at the ready? Start!

1) An EMT-team [an electromechanical maintenance team consisting of enlisted missile maintainers] has penetrated L03 and L05 to clean a clogged drain in the sump system after a big spring storm. It’s been 15 minutes since your last authentication with the team and you receive a seismic alarm at L04. After referencing LF [Launch Facility] Faults, what will you do?

A) Declare Security Situation?

B) Contact FSC [flight security controller] and have him get two authentications from the security guards at L03?

C) Contact L05 and get 2 authentications from the EMT Team?

D) Contact MMOC [Missile Maintenance Operations Control]?

1) The correct answer is D. This is a typical trick question that we used across all three tests. A typical strategy by test makers was to "overload" the student with status tracking. In this scenario, you have two sites with maintenance teams on them. At the very end of the scenario, you get your "test status." The seismic alarm is a computer alarm indicating an increase of vibrations in the launcher and, when received at a launcher with maintenance ongoing, indicates a possible unauthorized access to the warhead. The trick comes from "status tracking." I've
given you false status in the beginning that is completely irrelevant to the question. The seismic alarm occurs at a site (L04) without maintenance but as you can see in the answers, I'm trying to lead you to think that the maintenance teams have something to do with it, when in reality they don't. Another trick we could do in this scenario is use prioritization of faults against
you. I could add faults at other LFs (launch facility or where the missile is) to make you choose the "most correct" answer. In that case, I'd try to hide the important status amongst a tidal wave of information. All of the answers I'd give you would be correct but you'd have to use an obscure prioritization model to decide which of them is the most correct and most pressing information.


2) If an OSR [Operational Status Response] is not received from an LF within the previous _____ the LF will report LFDN [Launch Facility Down].

A) [Number of] minutes?

B) [Number of] seconds?

C) All of the above?

D) None of the above?

2) The correct answer is B. This is what I like
to call the Easter Egg hunt. I've given a basic
question that seems easy in theory.
Unfortunately for the test taker, I've picked
an obscure sentence deep in the technical
description of how the weapon system
functions and quoted it exactly. In the
situation above, if you look in different parts
of the books you have, you can kind of infer
the correct answer. If you don't find the exact
reference buried deep in the thousands of
pages of manuals, you might be forced to
guess here. When I wrote the answers, I'd try to think like a young deputy and go to places in the books where he might look first before digging deep into the manual. I'd intentionally find false references to try and get him to choose the wrong answer. Also, I might find a reference in one of the related regulations written by the Air Force or Department of Defense that we have access to that sounds similar to a technical description in our weapon system technical order. The crews would waste 10 minutes looking for the reference in the wrong place, and might not even think to look in the other manual at all.


3) A team is at F10 to do a MGS R&R [flight computer removal and replacement]. The FSC and you have received good authentications from the team and have passed both the launcher combinations. Thirty minutes later F10 reports MOSR X [Missile Operational Status Response X]. What is the first thing you do?

A) Reference LF Faults?

B) Contact FSC and have him request authentications since the MOSR was unexpected?

C) Contact Team Immediately over SIN [dedicated phone network at the LF]?

D) Emergency Launch LF Evacuation?


3) The correct answer is C. This, like the first question, is a situation we started using towards the end of my tour there in an effort to increase difficulty of tests. The colonels loved these types of "status tracking" overload questions because it was "real world" (except the glaring lack of being able to interact with the console and see and hear the status occur). In this type of question, the trick comes from having multiple checklists "open" at once. What this means is, when I tell a crewmember that a site has maintenance ongoing, in a perfect world, he should open the checklist and run the checklist to catch back up to the question. In the question above, the crew would run LF Activities in the T.O. to step 2, LF Entry in the Security Regulation completely and then re-enter LF Activities and go to Step 12. If you didn't do it in the exact order, there
was a chance you could miss an important
note or caution that would hook you later
in the question. So, we would have you
open a series of checklists and then drop
the status on you. In this question, a MOSR
X is a leak of the hypergolic fluids in the
post-boost stage of the missile. Inhaled,
this is almost instantly fatal. An
experienced crewmember would
recognize this fatal fault, go to LF
Contingencies and immediately evacuate the LF. Young deputies who haven't had the experience to see these tricks might go to LF Faults first to see what it is or look up in the technical description to see what a MOSR X meant. In this case, they could remember that MOSR X was an emergency and choose Option D. Another popular trick here is take the LF offline in the status part of the question. The crewmember would have to remember and know that the SIN line (the hardened direct line that connects my phone to LF phone) would not ring since power had been removed. You'd have to contact the team through the radio or through the FSC. Of course, we'd give them the option to contact them through the SIN line and hope to trick them that way.

The time allotted for this test is over.

Please put your pencils down.


These are not simple questions. In fact, two of the tests, involving missiles and the codes that would be used to launch them, are open-book exams, according to former launch officers, also known as missileers. But having thousands of pages of technical orders on Air Force intercontinental ballistic missile ops isn’t a lot of help, unless you know where to look. The third test—emergency war orders—is closed-book, given in a classified classroom known as “the vault,” and is the toughest of the lot. Most of the tests are multiple-choice, with some fill-in-the-blanks thrown in. They range from 20 to 30 questions, and take about 90 minutes, according to former ICBMers (and no, a #2 pencil is not required).

Scoring 100% on these tests has been the only way to earn promotions within the missile force, and possibly escape from it, ex-Air Force missileers say. Most who serve in the underground bunkers overseeing the nation’s fleet of 450 Minuteman III missiles did not volunteer for the assignment, and many want to leave. Air Force officials say that the missiles’ security has never been jeopardized, and that the tests are a minor element of crew training. Yet integrity is supposed to be non-negotiable in a force that boasts “perfection is the standard.”

The problems with the ICBM force, military and outside experts say, stem from the Cold War’s end and the pressures of the nation’s post-9/11 conflicts. Those twin challenges have dulled the glory and pride once associated with the nuclear mission. “Many current senior Air Force leaders interviewed were cynical about the nuclear mission, its future, and its true (versus publicly stated) priority to the Air Force,” a 2012 Air Force report said.

The pressure to cheat can be intense: Some tests were scored to two decimal places—99.44%, for example, like the purported purity of Ivory Soap. “The cheating is pervasive,” says a former Minuteman crew operator who left the service in 2010. “It’s pervasive because the leadership places so much emphasis on rote test scores to advance.” In the wake of the recent scandal at Malmstrom, airmen retook tests under intense scrutiny to ensure there was no cheating; the average test score was 95.5%. “So they’re not cheating to pass —they’re cheating to get 100s because so much emphasis is placed on test scores to advance,” this former missileer says.

Most tests are taken by groups of 30 to 40 airmen at the missiles’ home base. Three tests monthly per person means 36 of these tests annually, plus additional inspections and alert drills. Like any group that works together under unrelenting pressure, there is an ethos to help your comrades, former missileers say.

“They’re a team in the capsule, and the five capsules together are a team out at the squadron,” says the officer who left in 2010. “When faced with the need to score 100% to advance in the missile career field, well, guess what, they’re going to bind together and act as a unit to meet that challenge together.”

Early test-takers would share the answers with those taking the tests later. “Answer keys” were drafted, listing the precise answers, or a simple count—”the test has four As [answers], six Bs, eight Cs and two Ds,” says the ex-Air Force officer who left in 2011. The missileers shared such “gouge” via paper—tucked into flight-suit pockets for surreptitious glances during the test—or via cell phones.

Cheating was encouraged by higher-ups. “The commander would sit down with you and say, `These tests are ridiculous—you can try to do it all by yourself, which is noble, but you’ll but you’ll never be promoted,’” says the missiler who left the service in 2011. “There was times I was saved from failing by cheating. The testing got so ridiculous that it was no longer testing your ability to be a missile operator—it was testing your ability to take tests.”

The higher-ranking squadron and group commanders played along. “Some of the colonels were so lazy they’d call and tell me to fill in the answers for them,” the ex-missileer said of their quarterly recertification tests. “I very rarely saw the colonels take the test honestly.”

A second former missileer agrees. “The higher-ups generally don’t hold squadron and group commanders responsible,” he says. “The system is so ingrained with this poisonous mentality that your generals and colonels—all those who have succeeded and been promoted in nukes—are the ones who have excelled in this environment, and so they perpetuate it.”

Some senior officers figured out what was happening. “The colonels caught on that there was some kind of cheating going on, so we started getting multiple test versions,” says the officer who left in 2011. “They’d tell us: `Don’t cheat off your neighbor—we have different tests.’” But the changes were relatively modest—mostly, questions were just moved around—and cheating persisted. The cheating could be deduced when higher headquarters would send in their own tests and test-givers, and more airmen would flunk.

This led to disillusion. “You get into a situation where being a good officer and being a good missileer are mutually exclusive,” says Tim Cerniglia, who served on a MX Peacekeeper crew at F.E. Warren in 1997-99 and says he remains in touch with currently-serving ICBM operators.

What’s worse than the emphasis on perfect scores is what it hides, the officer who left in 2010 says. “Many missileers were bad test takers and thought to be bad missileers, but they were the best,” he says. “These tests are supposed to determine whether you’re fit to be a leader, an instructor or an evaluator, but it has nothing to do with real leadership.”

Part of the problem may be the shifting responsibility for the care and feeding of the ICBM force. Over the past two decades, the Air Force has moved command of the missiles around like an unwanted child. They bounced from Curtis LeMay’s Strategic Air Command, where they had been since becoming operational in 1959, to Air Combat Command in 1992. Then they moved to Space Command in 1993, and finally to Global Strike Command in 2009, created as a mini-SAC following earlier nuclear snafus involving misplaced nuclear weapons and components. As a result of those mishaps, the pace and difficulty of testing and inspections picked up. “The inspections are so frequent,” a 2011 Pentagon report noted, “that the unit has neither enough time nor resources to correct deficiencies.”

The cheating is the latest in a string of embarrassing revelations concerning the nation’s nuclear forces. The Air Force is investigating three Minuteman airmen, two of whom also are under investigator for cheating, for suspected drug use. Missileers have repeatedly left their capsules’ blast doors open, violating regulations designed to prevent unauthorized entry. The service fired Major General Michael Carey—in charge of all the nation’s ICBMs—last October after an official trip to Moscow where he drank excessively and cavorted with “suspect” women. During an en route layover at a Swiss airport, witnesses told Pentagon investigators that Carey “appeared drunk and, in the public area, talked loudly about the importance of his position as commander of the only operational nuclear force in the world and that he saves the world from war every day.” The Navy revealed Feb. 4 that it is looking into allegations that enlisted sailors cheated on tests involving the nuclear reactors that power its submarines and aircraft carriers.

Back in the missile fields, former officers say there needs to be a wholesale shakeup in how missile commanders are selected and promoted. “This pressure-cooker environment has just grown so unhealthy,” says the officer who left in 2010 and believes the nation needs to maintain its ICBM force. “Squadron commanders aren’t expected to lead—they expect their people to get 100% on every test and every evaluation, and they expect perfection, but they’re not expected to meet those standards themselves,” he says. “They’d rather sit in their office reading emails on their Blackberries than leading from the front.”

It has become a self-perpetuating caste. “It’s command incest—you get a bad leader who finds a subordinate who’s just as bad as he is, and he promotes that subordinate, and on and on. It’s been going on for four decades now and so you mostly get a crop of leaders who are more interested in their careers than they are in actually leading,” he says. “Leadership is a human endeavor, and the Air Force takes the humanity out of it.”

In a world of city-killing ICBMs, and the $1 billion spent annually operating them, it’s the little slights that send big signals to the nation’s ICBM crews. “They perceive a lack of knowledge of, and respect for, their mission from within the larger Air Force,” that 2011 Pentagon report said. Service-wide education, recruiting and PR “seem to ignore the ballistic missile mission.” Their commander wears only three stars—a lieutenant general—unlike the four-star generals who command other fighting units. “This is widely noted in the strategic operating forces,” the Defense Science Board study said. A final indignity: “As a missile crew watches the computer display for their mission briefing before starting each period of duty, they see the official classified Air Force screen saver which features a single weapons system—an F-22” fighter (which, like the ICBM force, has never seen combat).

“I believe that we do in fact have some systemic problems in the force,” Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said Wednesday. “The need for perfection has created a climate of what I think is undue stress and fear among the missileers about their futures.” Her service is pondering how to restore a sense of mission to missile duty, including bonuses, medals and patching the “leaking roofs” that she saw on her recent visits to the nation’s ICBM bases at Malmstrom, Minot, N.D., and F.E. Warren, Wyo. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told missileers at F.E. Warren on Jan. 9 that the Pentagon plans to develop a Minuteman replacement “to keep that deterrent stronger than it’s ever been.” He has ordered a pair of investigations into the missile force’s culture and management to see what changes are needed to restore its sense of duty and pride.

Given the missiles’ Cold War bloodline, it comes as no surprise in a post-Cold War world that ICBM backers don’t see their arsenal as a relic. “I don’t think we’re any more a Cold War force than an aircraft carrier, or Special Ops, or the UH-1 helicopter,” Lieut. General James Kowalksi, then-chief of Air Force Global Strike Command, said in July. A Russian attack has become such a “remote” possibility that it’s “hardly worth discussing,” he added. “The greatest risk to my force is an accident. The greatest risk to my force is doing something stupid.”

Kowalski became the No. 2 officer in U.S. Strategic Command in October, overseeing the nation’s entire nuclear arsenal. He took the post after President Obama fired Vice Admiral Tim Giardina for allegedly gambling in an Iowa casino with counterfeit chips. The charge—a felony—happened at Horseshoe Council Bluffs Casino, a 15-minute drive across the Missouri River from the nation’s nuclear headquarters.
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Re: Are You Smarter Than a Nuclear Launch Officer?

Postby PASMAN II on Fri Feb 14, 2014 1:32 am

Hell, these tests don't look too different from the ones I took in the 1980's. Only back then, we called them "hooks". Cause like a hungry fishie, we'd grab the bait and.... yank! Dov/Dot/Do22 caught another one! :D
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Re: Are You Smarter Than a Nuclear Launch Officer?

Postby Odie on Fri Feb 14, 2014 1:51 am

We had an EWO instructor who came from another missile base. Said instructor mentioned that the EWO instructor's at their base took pride in writting hook's into the tests, even had a fishing rod mounted on a wall, or something.

With regard to tests, I remember learning, and teaching my deputies, how to be familiar with the T.O.s, mostly. "Here's this random diagram here. Here's this chart here." I also recall getting questions wrong because, while the answer I put was correct, it was not the word for word answer taken from the T.O.
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Re: Are You Smarter Than a Nuclear Launch Officer?

Postby hockey85 on Fri Feb 14, 2014 2:07 am

http://www.afmissileers.com/newalbums/M ... index.html

If you scroll down to the bottom of Greg Ogletree's Malmstrom patch gallery, you will see a patch on the bottom line, left hand side, that has a pirate on it, with the saying "Beware the Hook"
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Re: Are You Smarter Than a Nuclear Launch Officer?

Postby MajorG1000 on Fri Feb 14, 2014 2:40 am

There have always been "hooks" in both written tests and evaluations. It's how you get the people you are instructing to look deeper and have a more complete understanding of the Weapon System they employ. You want people with a deep and intimate understanding because with understanding comes proficiency. What you DO NOT want is that hook to have the power to influence or end a young officer's career. I knew a 4th ACCS guy who was given a 6 hour check ride onboard an ALCS Aircraft and busted because of a hook at the end of the ride. Because of that bust, he was eliminated from ALCS.
I also know that rules can be bent because as the Training Officer for the 28th BMW I did it. Aircrews were required to maintain 100% monthly EWO testing proficiency according to SAC Reg 55-45 Vol III. If they didn't, the Training Officer was to submit a list of the names of those people to the Wing CC. The 28th had just busted an ORI when I took over as Training Officer (The first non flier to have that position in SAC).
I threw that 100% crap out, and wrote challenging tests that made the aircrews think and KNOW what they were doing when it came to EWO. These guys, just like Missileers were professionals. They knew that the days of easy tests were over (but also knew they weren't as prepared as they should have been on the previous ORI). I cut them some slack too: Anything above 90% was passing, (and your name didn't go to the Wing CC). I never had even one aircrew get below a 90% (except for that PACCS Major, I mentioned elsewhere). I treated them like the professionals they were, and they in turn learned what they needed to know to pass the upcoming ORI. (I also did a host of other things that made Monthly CCP (EWO) more palatable, and yes interesting and fun. The Wing was rewarded with an "Outstanding" on the following ORI. It was the best Air Force job I ever had.
I had a Lt.Col. from the 37th Bomb Squadron come up to me before the ORI and say: "Captain Bob, I wouldn't want your job for all the money in the world." I said I was having a ball and asked why he would say that. He said, and I quote: "Well, I wouldn't want the fate of MY career left up to the answers a bunch of aircrews gave on an EWO test".
The point is, that when you treat people like the professionals you expect them to be, you get professionalism in return. "When you treat a man like dirt, show him no respect for who he is, expect something dirty in return." When you expect them to reach some pie in the sky goal, and you don't have their backs or are only concerned about your own, you get what is happening now.

The article is great; I busted that test today.
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Re: Are You Smarter Than a Nuclear Launch Officer?

Postby Capt. Bill on Fri Feb 14, 2014 4:14 am

If on question 1 a seismic alarm is what we called an Inner Zone alarm 40 years ago, it should have been an immediate call to the FSC and declare a security situation. You learned that first thing,
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Re: Are You Smarter Than a Nuclear Launch Officer?

Postby Capt. Bill on Fri Feb 14, 2014 4:27 am

As I remember all the FSCS were sergeants.
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Re: Are You Smarter Than a Nuclear Launch Officer?

Postby TerrorOfTucson on Fri Feb 14, 2014 6:17 am

My recollection (no guarantees!) was Staffs and Techs.
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Re: Are You Smarter Than a Nuclear Launch Officer?

Postby Capt. Bill on Fri Feb 14, 2014 6:43 am

TerrorOfTucson wrote:My recollection (no guarantees!) was Staffs and Techs.


What I remember too, but can't remember which was more prevalent. Certainly no E-4s or E-7s
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Re: Are You Smarter Than a Nuclear Launch Officer?

Postby MajorG1000 on Fri Feb 14, 2014 2:28 pm

From what I remember, Staffs and Techs.
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Re: Are You Smarter Than a Nuclear Launch Officer?

Postby Kris Kross on Fri Feb 14, 2014 3:16 pm

They were using a few sharp SrAs as FSCs and FMs by the time I left (2004).

These questions must have been "leaked" by a Deuce guy - not a lot here applicable to an A-sider, unless I felt like translating whatever a MOSR is to English....

We had IZs also, again Deuce? Some other off-alert WS?


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Re: Are You Smarter Than a Nuclear Launch Officer?

Postby Mspiege23 on Fri Feb 14, 2014 3:26 pm

Back in the day when an EWO instructor was about to PCS he would write a "death test" as his parting gesture to the crew force. These tests were very difficult, and several crew members were guaranteed to fail, more so than usual. They had lots of twists and "hooks", but they were valid in the questions that were being asked. When I was chief of EWO training and was about to PCS, I tried to follow in that tradition. At that time, the EWO procedures were pretty straightforward, and there was very little the crew force hadn't seen on tests already. It was very difficult to come up with new "gotchas". As a result, my "death test" was pretty lame and just about all the crew members passed (which was good).
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Re: Are You Smarter Than a Nuclear Launch Officer?

Postby Batman on Fri Feb 14, 2014 4:31 pm

Staffs and Techs here also. Staffs and Sgts for SATs; SRAs for Camper Cops.
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Re: Are You Smarter Than a Nuclear Launch Officer?

Postby PASMAN II on Fri Feb 14, 2014 4:38 pm

On Facebook, I just uploaded a Codes and Weapon System monthly self-study from El-Forko. Not trying to induce PTSD, just FYI! :D
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Re: Are You Smarter Than a Nuclear Launch Officer?

Postby Batman on Fri Feb 14, 2014 4:43 pm

PASMAN II wrote:On Facebook, I just uploaded a Codes and Weapon System monthly self-study from El-Forko. Not trying to induce PTSD, just FYI! :D


I hope to God you sanitized it first.
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