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Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James / Cliff Owen, AP

WASHINGTON - A test cheating scandal that has engulfed the Air Force's nuclear missile force has expanding to include 92 officers, up from the 34 initially implicated, the Air Force said Thursday.

Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said the scandal reflects "systemic" problems within the nuclear force. She said the emphasis on the need for perfection has created a climate of fear and stress.

"This is not a healthy environment," James said.

The 92 airmen implicated in the scandal include those who cheated on the proficiency test and those who knew about it and did not report it. The 92 missile officers have been decertified.

The cheating scandal has been limited to Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana. But James visited the other missile bases in the Air Force and concluded that there are broader issues affecting the entire nuclear missile force.

The nuclear missile mission, while critical, has been overshadowed in recent years as the military focused on fighting wars in the Middle East.

Even with the end of the Cold War, the nuclear missiles have to be manned 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

The control centers are scattered in remote locations on bases in Montana, Wyoming and North Dakota.

Nuclear missile officers typically are on 24-hour shifts in underground control centers, where they are wired into intercontinental ballistic missiles in nearby silos.

James told Pentagon reporters at a briefing that the security of the force has not been compromised as a result of the scandal.

James said she visited nuclear missile bases and discovered a zero-defect atmosphere where officers felt they had to score 100% on proficiency tests in order to win promotions. A 90% is required to pass.

She said they appeared motivated to cheat not because they couldn't pass the test but because they felt they needed to get 100%.

The Air Force is exploring ways to fix the problems, including the possibility of awarding ribbons and medals that would help reflect the importance of the mission.

She said the Air Force is also exploring ways to base promotion on a broad assessment of an individual instead of just test scores.

Follow @jimmichaels on Twitter.



Copyright 2014 USATODAY.com

Read the original story: Air Force's nuclear test cheating scandal expands

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