Law Includes Provisions Benefiting North Dakota National Guard & Air Force Bases, and Heitkamp Amendment to Protect U.S. and Allies from North Korea Threat
U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp released the following statement after President Trump signed bipartisan defense legislation Heitkamp helped pass to authorize U.S. Department of Defense funding levels and set our nation’s defense policy, which includes several key provisions Heitkamp pushed for to support North Dakota’s defense installations and jobs.
“Today is a win for North Dakota’s military installations, as well as our government’s ability to consistently support our nation’s servicemembers and defense operations,” said Heitkamp. “The military plays such a vital role in our state, whether it’s in keeping us safe or boosting our economy. This strong, bipartisan defense bill provides our military with the resources, technology, and training it needs to protect American families, and it provides North Dakota reservists with the health care they earned through their service. In the face of North Korean aggression, it was also encouraging that my provision to reinforce our nation’s commitment to our Pacific allies was signed into law. To address emerging global threats, this legislation recognizes that many of North Dakota’s key defense capabilities require upgrades, such as the B-52 bombers, ICBMs, and UH-1N helicopters. I’ll continue pushing for these modernization efforts, and I will not stop fighting for North Dakota’s service men and women and defense communities.”
Heitkamp helped pass an earlier version of the bill in September, and she successfully pushed for several provisions to support North Dakota by:
Defending against the North Korea threat: Heitkamp’s amendment reassures our allies of America’s steadfast commitment to protecting against the North Korea nuclear threat. As North Korea continues to threaten regional stability and peace with its missile and nuclear weapons tests, Heitkamp’s amendment makes clear that the United States stands ready to provide its full range of capabilities in the defense of our allies.
Helping veterans join the workforce: The legislation encourages the expansion of a Department of Defense program known as SkillBridge, a key provision of legislation Heitkamp introduced, to allow service members to participate in an internship at a federal agency during their final 180 days of service, giving them skills to help them succeed in the workforce.
Boosting Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) research: The bill encourages the military to use facilities such as the Northern Plains UAS Test Site in Grand Forks to research and develop capabilities to defend against the threat that unmanned aircraft could pose to military installations like those in North Dakota. Heitkamp has long advocated to expand and strengthen Grand Forks’ UAS mission.
Heitkamp, a cofounder of the bipartisan Senate Defense Communities Caucus, also successfully fought to include several provisions that help bolster North Dakota’s defense efforts by:
• Modernizing our nuclear capabilities. The legislation includes support for B-52 squadrons and ICBM squadrons, and also extends special pay and bonus authorities for nuclear officers. This is an important step forward in Heitkamp’s years-long efforts to bolster critical nuclear deterrence missions.
• Protecting our missile fields. The bill urges the Secretary of the Air Force to expedite procurement of replacement UH-1N aircraft, used to protect our missile fields. For years, Heitkamp has pushed for the replacement of the aging UH-1N helicopters, and sent a letter to Defense Secretary Mattis pressing the need for replacement earlier this year.
• Supporting RQ-4 Global Hawks. Recognizing the critical importance of the missions performed by Grand Forks Air Force Base’s Global Hawks, Heitkamp pushed to secure funding and long-term support for the RQ-4 Global Hawk aircraft. The final bill notes that the Global Hawks are essential for providing warfighters with the intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance they need and should remain in the Air Force inventory as long as they provide such unique capabilities. Heitkamp has long-supported the Global Hawks mission.
• Authorizing an Indoor Firing Range at Minot Air Force Base. This funding will enable the Air Force to build a fully-enclosed firing range to ensure that airmen can complete their arms training in safe conditions. A new range will reduce air quality concerns, provide higher quality training with lower maintenance costs and ensure the range is available regardless of winter weather conditions. The new facility would provide greater capacity than the current range, consolidating four existing buildings into one fully-enclosed firing range.
• Strengthening our missile defense in the face of the North Korean threat. Following her October 2016 Asia-Pacific fact-finding trip focused on ballistic missile defense, Heitkamp pushed to enhance defenses against emerging North Korean ballistic missile threats. The National Defense Authorization Act includes several provisions to bolster our defenses, including authorizing more interceptors.
• Supporting reservists. The bill includes a provision Heitkamp supported to allow deployed Reserve Component members to receive pre-mobilization and transitional TRICARE health care. This is another step forward to support reservists like the North Dakotan’s currently deployed to Washington, D.C., after Heitkamp helped pass the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act earlier this year.
• Enhancing Asia-Pacific Stability. To further strengthen U.S. posture to deal with North Korea as well as threats from China, the legislation calls for the expansion of exercises, investments in infrastructure, and additional U.S. military presence in Asia, as Heitkamp called for in a letter to Defense Secretary Mattis.