05.18.16

Daines Leads ICBM Coalition Urging Defense Department to Expedite Security of Nuclear Weapons

U.S. CONGRESS — U.S. Senator Steve Daines today led the bipartisan ICBM coalition urging the Department of Defense (DoD) to outline a clear plan for the security of the nuclear missiles stationed in Montana, North Dakota and Wyoming following the news that the Department of Defense failed to approve the Air Forces’ request for a faster acquisition process. 

In a letter to DoD Secretary Ash Carter, the members expressed their concerns with DoD’s announcement to proceed with the slowest proposed route to replace the Vietnam-era UH-1Ns.

“We write to express serious concerns with the absence of an appropriate and timely path to replace the UH-1N helicopters that provide security for America’s intercontinental  ballistic missile (ICBM) fleet,” the members wrote. “The Senate and House of Representatives have both put forth proposals in their Defense Authorization that would give the authority to the Air Force to procure Black Hawks. Moreover, a bipartisan coalition in the House and Senate wrote in support of an urgent fix to this matter.  The Department of Defense has failed to act, however.”   

The members also requested that detailed actions be taken to ensure that the nation's nuclear assets are secure.

“Today, we request detailed actions that will be taken by the Defense Department to better secure our land based nuclear assets, including a timeline for each of those actions,” the members continued. “Specifically, we wish to know what steps will be taken to mitigate the failure of current aircraft at the missile bases to reach an ICBM in the prescribed time should there be a security incident.”

The letter is signed by U.S. Senators Jon Tester (D-MT), Mike Enzi (R-WY), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), John Hoeven (R-ND) and U.S. Representatives Ryan Zinke (R-MT), Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), Kevin Cramer (R-ND) and Adrian Smith (R-NE). 

Last month, Daines led the Senate ICBM Coalition in calling on the Air Force to expedite their decision on the course of action to replace Vietnam–era UH-1N helicopters.  However, last week, the Air Force told Daines and members of the ICBM coalition that DoD is going to move forward with a normal acquisition process. 

The full letter is available below and to download here: 

Dear Secretary Carter: 

We write to express serious concerns with the absence of an appropriate and timely path to replace the UH-1N helicopters that provide security for America’s intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) fleet. Today, we request detailed information, including the options currently under consideration, for how the Defense Department will act to better secure our nation’s most powerful weapons.

On April 27, 2016 you testified to the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee that the UH-1Ns “definitely need to be replaced and need to be done urgently.” However, we were informed last week that you have disapproved of the Air Force’s preferred path to replace the UH-1Ns through the sole-source option that would address this capability gap most expeditiously and instead have directed the Air Force to pursue other options.  This approach could take as much as four years and waste an estimated $40 million per year to provide an interim security capability. The nuclear security forces located at Malmstrom, Minot and F.E Warren Air Force Bases all depend on these antiquated Vietnam-era helicopters to provide quick reaction force protection and convoy security protection. The UH-1N, however, meets the requirements for neither - something the Defense Department has known about for too long. 

In a House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee Hearing in February, both Admiral Haney and Undersecretary McKeon stated their concern regarding the aging UH-1N aircraft and the need to replace these aircraft as soon as possible. And just two months later you told the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense that we “need a safe, secure and reliable nuclear deterrent as far into the future as I can see.”  The decision made yesterday contradicts these statements, and leaves security risks - in Montana, for example, where 165 sites over 14,000 square miles rely on outdated helicopters for the security forces.

The Senate and House of Representatives have both put forth proposals in their Defense Authorization that would give the authority to the Air Force to procure Black Hawks. Moreover, a bipartisan coalition in the House and Senate wrote in support of an urgent fix to this matter.  The Department of Defense has failed to act, however.  Today, we request detailed actions that will be taken by the Defense Department to better secure our land based nuclear assets, including a timeline for each of those actions.  Specifically, we wish to know what steps will be taken to mitigate the failure of current aircraft at the missile bases to reach an ICBM in the prescribed time should there be a security incident.

We hope that the Defense Department will support the Air Force’s work to carry out the most expedited acquisition process possible, and look forward to your response. Thank you for your continued attention to this very important priority. 

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