A drug probe uncovered evidence that dozens of Air Force officers assigned to the strategic missile force conspired to cheat on proficiency tests, which has provoked a new investigation into the status of the command that controls the nation's land-based nuclear deterrent.

"Earlier today, Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James briefed [Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel] on allegations that several dozen ICBM officers cheated on their proficiency tests," Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby said. "He asked Secretary James to update him regularly on these investigations, and to make the health of the ICBM force a top priority. Having just returned from visiting with ICBM officers in Wyoming, Secretary Hagel understands the importance of their mission and the necessity that it be executed according to the highest standards of professionalism. He will be following the issue closely."

The 34 officers implicated in the cheating scandal are stationed at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana, home of "150 missiles, providing strategic [nuclear] deterrence for the nation as the wing has continuously done since 1962 -- remaining America's 'Ace in the Hole'," according to a Malmstrom fact sheet.

"The certification test was a monthly launch officer proficiency test. One missile officer texted answers to the monthly test to 16 other officers. Air Force investigators found out that an additional 17 missile officers knew about the cheating and didn't take part, but failed to report it," as Defense Tech explained.

"Air Force investigators discovered the cheating ring while investigating a [separate] drug scandal that has implicated 11 individuals across six bases in the Air Force," Defense Tech also noted.

In October, the commander of the Air Force's missile force was relieved of his command for "conduct unbecoming of an officer" after he "boozed, fraternized with 'hot women' and disrespected his hosts during an official visit to Russia this year," according to a CNN summary of an inspector general report.