As the first North Dakotan to serve on an Armed Services Committee, it was my honor to play a pivotal role in crafting this year’s National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which fulfills the federal government’s most foundational obligation of providing for the defense of our nation. Our bill, which became law on January 1, contains several North Dakota priorities, including investments in North Dakota’s nuclear modernization; intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) missions; space capabilities; and the livelihood of our troops.
Our nuclear deterrent has prevented world wars for 75 years, with North Dakota’s strategic location giving us the opportunity to house two of the three legs of the nuclear triad. Both legs are effective deterrents, but as they age past their intended lifespans, their maintenance costs have increased while their reliability has decreased.
That is why the NDAA provides almost $1.5 billion for the ground based strategic deterrent, the replacement for the Minot Air Force Base’s 40-year-old Minuteman III missiles. It also funds testing and procurement of the MH-139 helicopter, which will replace the Vietnam-era helicopters protecting our nuclear missiles.
Minot is home to our B-52 fleet, a critical part of our nuclear deterrent that is almost 70 years old. Through efforts to upgrade its engines and weapons to match emerging threats, this NDAA ensures the B-52 will be viable for years to come.
Bolstering our nuclear arsenal is not the only part of this NDAA that makes it so invaluable to our state.
North Dakota helps execute ISR missions around the globe, providing information to our leaders and protect our troops. This NDAA includes language delaying any retirement actions of the RQ-4 Global Hawk until the Pentagon certifies the combatant commanders won’t lose ISR capability without gaining improved capability. The NDAA authorizes the purchase of 16 MQ-9s, like those operated in Fargo and adds $17.5 million for an improved operations center for the Happy Hooligans to make sure we can hold terrorists accountable at any moment.
An invaluable part of such intelligence efforts is space. Thanks to provisions in this NDAA, Space Force will grow to meet its rapidly evolving mission of protecting America’s space interests. North Dakota is an important asset for this new military branch, as we saw from visits by the first Chief of Space Operations General John “Jay” Raymond, the Commander of Space Command General James Dickinson, and Space Development Agency Director Dr. Derek Tournear. Their time at the University of North Dakota’s (UND) Space Studies program, coupled with NDAA language urging Space Force to look at university consortium research relationships, will help North Dakota stay on the cutting edge of defense and commercial space.
The NDAA also funds another critical space asset located in North Dakota, Cavalier Air Force Station. They’ll go toward operating the Perimeter Acquisition Radar Attack Characterization System, an essential part of the Radar Warning System for detecting and warning of a missile attack against North America. It is also identifies and tracks objects in space, increasing its importance to Space Force.
Most importantly, this NDAA supports our troops who are not only protecting us from external threats, but also helping to fight COVID-19. It includes a 3% pay raise, significantly increases hazardous duty pay, and reauthorizes over 30 other types of bonuses or special pay. It also ensures troops have adequate equipment, testing capabilities, and personal protective equipment, and the resources needed to keep the virus away from military bases.
North Dakota contributes greatly to America’s national defense, and our unique potential is unlocked through the NDAA. I look forward to working with state and federal partners to ensure we maximize our potential for years to come.
Kevin Cramer, a Republican, represents North Dakota in the U.S. Senate.