WASHINGTON - Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel will unveil measures Friday designed to shore up the US military’s troubled nuclear force after a spate of embarrassing incidents exposed management and morale problems, officials said. Hagel will present “a comprehensive action plan to reform the nuclear enterprise based on the results of two reviews he ordered last February,” a senior defence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told AFP.

The reviews came in the aftermath of a cheating scandal on a proficiency test for airmen who oversee intercontinental ballistic missiles and the sacking of some senior officers for personal misconduct, including the head of the ICBM force after he went on a drunken bender during a trip to Russia. “While our nuclear arsenal remains safe, secure, and effective today, the reports tell us we must take action now in order to ensure that remains the case in the future,” the official said. Hagel’s reforms will seek to make the nuclear force a higher priority, increase funding, boost morale among the troops who maintain it and improve the way the force is managed, officials said.

After announcing his plan, Hagel is due to travel to Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota, where airmen oversee intercontinental nuclear missiles and bomber aircraft. Most of the problems have been centered on the land-based missiles maintained by US Air Force crews, though the Navy also had a cheating scandal among sailors who work on submarines armed with nuclear missiles.

Air Force commanders and top civilian officials have acknowledged the nuclear mission has suffered from low morale since the end of the Cold War, with service members often seeing it as a dead-end career path.

Former defence secretary Robert Gates fired the Air Force chief and civilian secretary in 2008 after accounts that troops were negligent in the handling of nuclear weapons.

A Pentagon review concluded the Air Force was not devoting sufficient attention and rigor to the nuclear mission.

Reforms were enacted afterward, but the force has been plagued by more problems.

With 450 ICBMs at three bases in Montana, North Dakota and Wyoming, more than 500 officers manage the missiles around the clock in steel bunkers 100 feet (30 meters) underground, rehearsing launch protocols again and again.

With the demise of the Soviet Union, arms control advocates say the mission is obsolete and that the morale problem is an inevitable result, as the “missileers” recognize their tedious job no longer serves any purpose.