Sen. wants silos retained

Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D. Friday told the commander of Air Force Global Strike Command that the nation’s missile silos are a long-term defense asset that should not be degraded.

Hoeven told Lt. Gen. James Kowalski that he strongly opposes any Defense Department effort to reduce the number of nuclear missile silos and will work from his position on the Senate Appropriations Committee to oppose such plans.

Last week, the Secretary of Defense and the Defense Department comptroller acknowledged that they want the Air Force to study the possibility of eliminating intercontinental ballistic missile silos and requested funding in the fiscal year 2014 budget for this purpose.

The 91st Missile Wing at Minot Air Force Base has 150 Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles in underground facilities in the Minot missile field. The 91st is one of three operational ICBM wings in Air Force Global Strike Command.

Global Strike Command is a major command headquartered at Barksdale AFB La., in the Shreveport-Bossier City community. The command is responsible for the nation’s three ICBM wings, the two B-52 wings and the only B-2 wing.

Minot AFB is the only base with two legs of the nuclear triad both ICBMs and B-52 bombers.

“I believe the administration’s request for funds to study how to eliminate nuclear missile silos is misguided,” Hoeven said. “The fact is we can achieve the force levels required under the New START agreement without reducing silos and hurting our nuclear deterrent capabilities. I will therefore oppose such funding as the Appropriations Committee considers the fiscal year 2014 budget for the Department of Defense.”

START stands for Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty.

Since the New START agreement’s ratification in 2010, the Defense Department has debated how to restructure U.S. strategic forces to comply with the treaty’s limits on nuclear warheads and the missiles, bombers and submarines that deliver those warheads.

Under the New START the 450 ICBMs would be reduced to about 412 ICBMs, leaving a number of missile silos empty which Hoeven is urging should be retained because they are critical infrastructure.

“New START reductions should preserve as much of our deterrent capability as possible. This means minimizing any reductions to the ICBM force, preserving all existing ICBM squadrons and ensuring all 450 silos remain fully functional,” Hoeven said.

Hoeven and Kowalski also discussed the Defense Department’s fiscal year 2014 budget request as it relates to Minot Air Force Base. Hoeven underscored the importance of supporting the B-52 and ICBM missions as well as the ongoing construction projects at the base, including work on the runway, air traffic control tower, a new dormitory and aircraft and maintenance facilities.

Hoeven is a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on Military Construction.