Bill secures missile defense, icebreakers, F-35s
The latest National Defense Authorization Act requires 20 new ground-based missile interceptors at Fort Greely near Fairbanks, additional F-35s at Eielson Air Force Base and the construction of six new icebreakers to serve an Arctic increasingly seen as threatened by Russia’s buildup of nuclear-capable icebreakers.
Alaska Sens. Dan Sullivan and Lisa Murkowski voted in favor of the National Defense Authorization Act, a measure that easily passed the Senate in a vote of 89-3 Sept. 18. It recommends $700 billion in defense spending for fiscal year 2018 beginning Oct. 1.
Just before going to the Senate floor to vote, Sullivan held a press conference to talk about how the measure will benefit Alaska during this “severe time” of threatens from North Korean President Kim Jong-un.
“He (Kim Jong-un) is creating a capability to reach Alaska,” Sullivan said. “He leaked to the press that by next year, by some international community estimates, they can range at Lower 48 cities as well.”
The overwhelmingly bipartisan passage of the NDAA is a significant step toward rebuilding America’s military strength, Sullivan said.
“Despite increased U.S. diplomatic pressure, North Korea continues its highly provocative missile and nuclear testing,” Sullivan said. “Meanwhile, our nation’s top military leaders continue to warn that it’s no longer ‘if’ North Korea will have the capability to strike U.S. cities with a nuclear missile, but ‘when.’”
Sullivan sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee where his priorities for defense spending were worked into 28 NDAA amendments. But NDAA is mainly just a roadmap for defense spending that authorizes plans for the next fiscal year that begins on Oct. 1, Sullivan said. It’s not an appropriation.
Spending $700 billion will need to be approved in appropriations, set for a vote later this month. Yet Sullivan said he is optimistic the majority will be funded in the current mood of bipartisan cooperation and acknowledgement of the severe global threats.
Earlier this year, Sullivan introduced Senate Bill 1196, the Advancing America’s Missile Defense Act. Sullivan’s missile defense amendment to the NDAA — like the AAMD Act — includes an increase of up to 28 ground-based interceptors or GBIs.
“This is the second largest GBI capacity increase ever, and up to 20 of these GBIs are slated to go to Fort Greely,” Sullivan said in a call with the Alaska press.
The amendment also includes language to help jump-start silo construction at Fort Greely and calls for a report analyzing the potential for up to 104 GBIs distributed across the U.S, he said. As part of $630 million in added funding for the Missile Defense Agency, Sullivan said he worked to secure an additional $27.5 million to begin the development of new space-based missile defense sensor technologies.
Included also are six new icebreakers, the largest single authorization of icebreakers ever, Sullivan said.
Gaining the icebreakers is still several years out, he acknowledged and must be funded through appropriation. But now Congress is acknowledging it has to improve America’s Arctic capabilities and access to this region for its growing strategic importance, he said.
Sullivan included 10 Arctic-related provisions in the NDAA, including the authorization of the six new polar-class icebreakers, an examination of ice-hardening Navy vessels, and a Department of Defense review of what forces, capabilities, infrastructure, and deep water ports are needed to protect U.S. security interests in the Arctic region.
But Russia has 40 icebreakers, Sullivan acknowledged at the press conference, and 14 of those have nuclear capacity, he said.
“By comparison, they have super highways; we have dirt roads and pot holes,” he said. “Russia is intending to build 13 more, including nuclear icebreakers. This is an area we are woefully behind.”
To counter Russian activity in Europe and the Arctic, Sullivan’s amendment supports the European Deterrence Initiative or EDI – a fund developed to counter Russia’s provocative activities. It is authorized at $4.6 billion in this year’s NDAA – and includes the Arctic as an area where U.S. military forces are needed to counter increased Russian aggression, he said.
A total of more than 300 amendments were proposed to the fiscal 2018 NDAA, including a measure for a new round of base closings by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. But Sullivan said that’s not in step with the majority viewpoint, and he doesn’t see concern for base closures at a time when military buildup is required.
This year’s bill authorizes a major hike in military spending that exceeds the $54 billion defense budget increase requested by President Donald Trump for 2018 aimed to gain more aircraft and ships.
Given Alaska’s status as a strategic hub and the incoming F-35A squadrons, Sullivan advocated for the possibility of increasing the number of tankers at Eielson Air Force Base. Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage already has a large F-22 presence and he believes it’s an appropriate location for the aerial refueling transport aircraft KC-46A because “it’s a strategically-located installation with abundant training opportunities.”
The NDAA authorizes $168.9 million for military construction at Eielson AFB related to the bed-down of two F-35A squadrons by 2020.
It requires $6.3 billion for procuring 60 F-35A fighters with $1.8 billion to fund 14 aircraft more than the administration requested. These authorized F-35As are likely part of the number designated for Eielson AFB, Sullivan said.
This additional request for F-35As comes because it allows to “full-rate production” as planned in 2019.
“This will help bring the cost down,” he said.
Sullivan’s amendment supports future local reserve training projects in Alaska, including Operation Arctic Care, which provides roving medical and dental care to Rural Alaska villages.
The Kodiak Pacific Spaceport Complex has become more important in global defense. Given the importance of assured access to space to U.S. national security, Sullivan’s amendment urges expanding the Department of Defense’s and the Missile Defense Agency’s use of FAA-licensed spaceports such as the one on Kodiak that hosted a pair of missile defense tests earlier this year and is scheduled for more under Defense Department contracts as well as one for the Israeli Arrow-3 interceptor.
Sullivan also wants to modernize Alaska’s Air National Guard combat rescue units, encourage active duty rescue units to do additional training in Alaska, increase the number of helicopters in Alaska’s rescue squadrons, and secure funding for the Arctic Sustainment Package or kits that can be dropped to stranded individuals.
NDAA secured increases of 5,000 additional active-duty soldiers and 1,000 active-duty marines. NDAA supported an across-the-board 2.1 percent pay raise for U.S. service members.
Naomi Klouda can be reached at [email protected].