WASHINGTON, D.C. – Senator Steve Daines today called on the U.S. Air Force to prioritize the modernization of Montana’s critical military missions and take additional steps to address Montanans’ ongoing concerns regarding the proposed expansion of the Powder River Training Complex.
This morning, the Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense held a hearing on the proposed FY 2016 U.S. Air Force budget. During the hearing, Daines pressed Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James and Chief of Staff General Mark A. Welsh for details about the Air Force’s plan to modernize the avionics of the Montana Air National Guard’s (MANG) C-130 fleet.
Daines also reaffirmed his opposition to President Obama’s efforts to further reduce the nation’s intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) force, a third of which are based at Montana’s Malmstrom Air Force Base, and requested James provide details about the Air Force’s plan to implement improvements to the mission.
“Many of us believe a peace through strength strategy, particularly in this world that is increasingly more dangerous, is the right approach,” Daines stated. “Our ICBMs and nuclear mission is something that keeps the peace in this world.”
“I think it is crucial to maintain a flexible nuclear triad,” James stated. “When I talk about changes, I’m talking about changes in the way we train and evaluate our people, changes in the incentives we provide to our people. We’re really trying to shift a culture away from one that had been quite micromanaged and focused on ‘test, test, test’ and ‘evaluate, evaluate, evaluate’ to shift toward one of continuous improvement. These things take time, and modernization is part of that as well.”
Daines also called on the Air Force to make stronger attempts to address Montanans’ long-established concerns regarding the proposed expansion of the Powder River Training Complex in southeastern Montana.
Daines reaffirmed that numerous safety issues and economic factors have yet to be addressed by the Air Force and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and called on James to work alongside local residents to mitigate those concerns.
“We are working diligently right now with both the FAA and the Air Force to ensure we have a plan here that works for everybody,” Daines stated. “We [need to] make sure we have a plan that addresses the mission we need to protect – the B-1s at Ellsworth – but also ensures we protect the public safety in southeastern Montana. It’s a very different environment than it was when that plan first began and evolved back in 2008.”
Daines has long worked to protect the ICBM mission at Malmstrom Air Force Base and move forward modernization of MANG’s C-130 fleet. He worked to secure language in the FY15 appropriations bill to prohibit funds from being used to reduce the number of deployed strategic delivery vehicles and launchers, including the nation’s ICBM force, and to prevent funds from being used to cancel the avionics modernization program for C-130s.
Through Daines’ efforts, the National Defense Authorization Act passed last year also contains key language to maintain the nation’s ICBM silos in at least warm status, affirm the importance of all three components of the nuclear triad and call for continued support for the service members involved in executing the nuclear mission.
Daines has also worked closely alongside Montana Senator Jon Tester and Representative Ryan Zinke to push back against the Air Force’s proposed expansion of the Powder River Training Complex. The delegation has urged the FAA to address Montanans’ safety concerns and to reevaluate the Air Force’s plan in light of increased economic activity and air traffic in southeastern Montana.