The US Air Force sacked nine commanders Thursday following a probe into a test-cheating scandal that spanned a far longer period than originally reported.
The mid-level officers at Malmstrom Air Froce Base, Mont., who were assigned to safeguard the nation’s nuclear arsenal, were fired in response to an exam-cheating scandal implicated scores of airmen.
None of the nine commanders was directly involved in the cheating, Fox News reported, adding that they had failed in their leadership responsibilities one way or another.
In addition, dozens of junior officers will be disciplined in what described by the Air Force as an unprecedented move in the history of the intercontinental ballistic missile force.
“We do have some systemic issues in our missile community,” Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James told reporters Thursday afternoon at the Pentagon.
Officials said Thursday that their investigation also disclosed that the cheating goes back as far as November 2011.
They said the missileers shared answers to a job proficiency test through texting or exchanging photographs of tests.
Early in January, 34 officers, who were in charge of launching nuclear missiles, were suspended either for cheating on the monthly proficiency test last year or for knowing about the cheating but failing to report it.
The cheating was discovered during a previously-announced investigation into drug possession by 11 officers at some other Air Force bases.
The Air Force’s nuclear arm had been under criticism by a series of security lapses and morale-related issues, leading one officer to complain of “rot” in the force.
The cheating scandal is the latest of the controversies about officers in charge of maintaining and operating America’s 450 nuclear missiles.
Last year, a missile unit at Malmstrom and another outfit based at Minot North Dakota failed in safety and security inspections. The latter disclosure resulted in the removal of 17 military personnel from their jobs.