North Dakota senators support new defense bill

Senators John Hoeven and Heidi Heitkamp joined 82 other senators on Capitol Hill Thursday night in passing the National Defense Authorization Act for the upcoming fiscal year. Awaiting signature by President Barack Obama, in addition to authorizing appropriations for the Department of Defense totalling $632.8 billion the bill would also set some new priorities, such as combating sexual assault and discrimination within the military, as well as loosening restrictions to the transfer of detainees held in the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Hoeven issued a statement on Friday supporting this bipartisan piece of legislation:

“This legislation includes important provisions for our troops, including increased pay and measures to address sexual assault in the military. It also contains measures important to our bases including the authorization of three new military construction projects at Minot Air Force Base, language that protects and upgrades the B-52 fleet at Minot, and a provision that prevents the retirement of the Global Hawk Block 30 unmanned aircraft.”

“Today’s vote shows the Senate was again able to come together to support our troops and defense operations,” Heitkamp said in a release. “In our state, we understand the importance of military service and the need to support those who put their lives on the line every day to protect each one of us. Whether it’s the National Guard, our air bases, or our burgeoning UAS industry, the military plays such an important role in our state.”

“Still, I do have concerns about some of the provisions in this bill,” Hoeven’s statement added, citing language “that enables the Air Force to initiate a process that could result in the unilateral destruction of some U.S. nuclear missile silos, possibly including some in North Dakota.”

While section 1055 of the new bill prohibits use of the appropriated funds for 2014 toward reducing, converting, or decommissioning any leg of America’s nuclear triad, section 1056 allows a limited preparation of documents needed to support an environmental assessment process for nuclear force reductions in order to comply with the terms of the New START Treaty signed with Russia in 2010.

The 91st Missile Wing currently headquartered at Minot AFB maintains 150 nuclear-armed Minutemen III ICBMs in underground silos, a third of the nation’s arsenal. Such being the case, during the drafting of the NDAA Hoeven has been an active opponent of permitting any study which might lead to an eventual reduction of that mission.

In Friday’s statement, Hoeven promises to address the silo issue once the appropriations process begins next month.

– Dan Rudy