AP Exclusive: Air Force sidelines 17 ICBM launch officers; commander cites 'rot' within system

The Air Force has stripped an unprecedented 17 officers of their authority to control — and, if necessary, to launch — nuclear missiles.

The action follows a string of unpublicized failings, including a remarkably dim review of their unit's launch skills.

In an internal email obtained by The Associated Press and confirmed by the Air Force, the air group's deputy commander says the group is suffering what he calls "rot" within its ranks.

The tip-off to trouble was a March inspection of the 91st Missile Wing at Minot Air Force Base, N.D. The group earned the equivalent of a "D'' grade when tested on its mastery of Minuteman III missile launch operations.

The Air Force says the lapses never put the security of the nuclear force at risk.