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Launch operations were not part of the Malmstrom inspection failure, Kowalski said.
The trouble at Minot was the latest in a longer series of setbacks for the Air Force's nuclear mission, highlighted by a 2008 Pentagon advisory group report that found a "dramatic and unacceptable decline" in the Air Force's commitment to the mission, which has its origins in a Cold War standoff with the former Soviet Union.
Following a series of nuclear embarrassments in 2008 — including the inadvertent transport of six nuclear-tipped missiles on a B-52 bomber, whose pilot did not know they were aboard when he flew from Minot to Barksdale Air Force Base, La. — then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates fired the top two Air Force officials.
Kowalski's command was created in late 2009 as part of an effort to fix what was broken in the nuclear force. In Tuesday's interview he said he is encouraged that inspections after 2009 began finding an increasing number of problems at the ICBM wings, followed by a decrease since 2011. He said this tells him that the Air Force has come up with more rigorous, effective means of inspecting, and that they are spurring change.
"This is a difficult inspection," he said, so occasional failures do not point to a systemic failure to adhere to safety and security regulations.