The Air Force plans to restructure its scandal-plagued nuclear missileer career field to emphasize experience and encourage officers to stay longer.

In a Thursday release, Air Force Global Strike Command said that the 13N career field, nuclear and missile operations, needs to become a "self-sustaining" field that holds on to officers after their first assignment.

"For nearly 50 years, our [intercontinental ballistic missile] crew force has been manned almost entirely of first-assignment officers," said Gen. Robin Rand, the head of Global Strike Command. "We employed young officers for four years, and then forced many of them out of the career field to meet manpower needs across the Air Force. No other career field does this, and it has created a number of challenges for the ICBM community."

The Air Force began a major overhaul of its troubled nuclear enterprise after the 2014 revelations that some missileers had been using drugs and cheating on tests, calling into question the career field's professionalism and effectiveness and setting off alarm bells throughout the service.

Rand offered a preview of the changes coming to the missileer career field at the Air Force Association's Air Warfare Symposium in February, when he said those airmen are moving to a new system where they spend their first three-year tour as crew members, and then another three-year tour in a supervisory position.

That "three year plus three year" system has been a good start, the Air Force said in the release, but will not, on its own, create a career field that sustains itself over time.

The next step toward reaching that goal will be to rebalance how many new officers the Air Force brings into the missileer career field, and how many it retrains and reassigns to other jobs. Because the Air Force will be holding on to officers after their first assignment, it won't be reassigning — or crossflowing — as many to other jobs. This, in turn, means the Air Force will not have to bring as many new officers on board over time.

And this will mean more mid-level leaders with experience will be around to oversee the younger officers. In previous years, the release said, missile squadrons were almost entirely made up of very young instructors, evaluators and flight commanders in their first four years of service. They were led by a lieutenant colonel-level operations officer and squadron commander, but no intermediate leaders, the Air Force said.

"Overly strict policies and procedures were set in place as a substitute for a more experienced, mature and engaging mid-level leadership," Brig. Gen. Fred Stoss, director of operations for Global Strike Command, said in the release. "Wouldn't we rather have an experienced instructor engage young lieutenants one-on-one to show them the way rather than subject the lieutenants to large group training sessions with make-or-break exams three times a month?"

Stoss said the restructuring plan should be ready for review by Air Force leadership this May.

"While it will take several years to grow the right rank structure, we believe we can terminate crossflows as early as 2019," Stoss said.

The overhaul will also review and adjust grade structures throughout the career field, aiming to redistribute major and lieutenant colonel billets "to create a smooth rank structure pyramid seen in all other career fields," the release said.

And other billets related to the nuclear enterprise will be reviewed to see if they should be folded into the 13N career field, which could provide more assignment opportunities for those officers.

"I see the Air Force relying heavily on the 13N career field as the backbone of [the] nuclear enterprise," Rand said. "In the future, just about every organization with a nuclear mission should have a 13N officer assigned to provide expertise in nuclear policy, command and control, and weapons effects."

Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter for Defense News. He previously covered leadership and personnel issues at Air Force Times, and the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare at He has traveled to the Middle East to cover U.S. Air Force operations.

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