Pentagon: Nuclear force health a 'top national security priority'

Pentagon officials called the health of the nuclear enterprise a 'top national security priority' on Wednesday, after two ongoing Air Force investigations revealed drug use and cheating on qualification tests among its forces. 

At least 34 airmen who were found to have cheated or known about others cheating on qualification tests have been suspended, and the entire force is being retested. 

"Without getting into the whole number, it has grown," said Pentagon Press Secretary Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby.

"To some degree you would expect that as the investigation goes deeper and they ask more questions and they talk to more people," he said. 

Meanwhile, defense officials have reached a general consensus that there are most likely systemic issues with personnel growth and development inside the nuclear force, Kirby said. 

“I think there was a general recognition that yes, there are systemic issues, and yes, we need to start trying to solve them,” he said. 

The conensus was reached during the first of a series of meetings on Wednesday that the defense secretary plans to hold on the issue. 

Officials at the meeting, which included Air Force Secretary Deborah James, discussed the issue of incentives and accolades, in order to provide the forces with incentives, as well as to let them know they are valued.