WASHINGTON — The Navy said Tuesday that it is investigating about 30 senior sailors linked to alleged cheating on tests meant to qualify them to train others to operate naval nuclear power reactors. Representing roughly one-fifth of the reactor training contingent, sidelining 30 may put a pinch on the Navy’s training program, senior officials said.
It is the second exam-cheating scandal to hit the military this year, on top of disclosures in recent months of ethical lapses at all ranks in the military.
Unlike an Air Force cheating investigation that has implicated nearly 100 officers responsible for land-based nuclear missiles that stand ready for short-notice launch, those implicated in the Navy investigation have no responsibility for nuclear weapons. The Air Force investigation is centered on Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont., but could spread to its two other nuclear missile bases in North Dakota and Wyoming.
The Navy said the implicated sailors are accused of having cheated on written tests they must pass to be certified as instructors at a nuclear propulsion school at Charleston, S.C. The Navy uses two nuclear reactors there to train sailors for duty aboard any of dozens of submarines and aircraft carriers around the world whose on-board reactors provide propulsion. They are not part of any weapons systems.
The accused sailors previously had undergone reactor operations training at Charleston before deploying aboard a nuclear-powered vessel. In the normal course of career moves, they returned to Charleston to serve as instructors, for which they must pass requalification exams. Admiral John Richardson, director of the Navy’s nuclear propulsion program, said an undisclosed number of senior sailors are alleged to have provided test information to their peers. He was not more specific, but one official said the information was shared from the sailors’ home computers, which could be a violation of security rules because information about nuclear reactors operations is classified.
“That’ll be an active part of the investigation to fully understand” the extent of any security rule violations, Richardson said.
Richardson said the alleged cheating came to light Monday when a senior enlisted sailor at the Charleston training site reported the cheating to higher authorities. Richardson said the unidentified sailor “recognized that this was wrong” and chose to report it.
The matter was still under investigation by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service.
Admiral Jonathan Greenert, the chief of naval operations, told reporters at a Pentagon news briefing that he was upset to learn of the breakdown in discipline.