North Dakota's two U.S. senators and six other senators have joined together to request the Department of Defense not to fund an environmental assessment on active Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile silos until after Congress has completed fiscal year 2014 funding for the Defense Department.
Minot Air Force Base's 91st Missile Wing has 150 of the 450 ICBMs located in underground facilities in the Minot missile complex. Missile wings at Malmstrom AFB in Montana and F.E. Warren AFB in Wyoming also have ICBMs.
The letter from the eight senators, dated Dec. 18, was sent to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller) Robert Hale.
This February 2011 photo shows a missile launch facility, also known as a missile silo, that is in the Max area. It is part of the Minot missile complex overseen by the 91st Missile Wing at Minot Air Force Base. Eight U.S. senators, including North Dakota’s two, are asking the Defense Department to delay a study of active Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile silos.
Senators John Hoeven, R-N.D., and Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., signed the letter, as well as Senators Max Baucus and Jon Tester, both D-Mont., Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., and Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La.
Hoeven said they are trying to make sure all the missile silos are retained.
The senators said, in the Dec. 18 letter, that the Defense Department initially requested appropriations for an environmental impact study on the Minuteman III silos in its fiscal year 2014 budget request.
"Though the recently passed National Defense Authorization Act permits the Department to begin a silo environmental assessment, Congress's final response to the Department's budget request will come through the fiscal year 2014 appropriations process. Prior to taking any action, the Department should await a formal decision by Congress on fiscal year 2014 funding.
"We recognize that a continuing resolution creates difficult circumstances for the Department to effectively manage its responsibilities. However, we also do not believe that such a resolution should be construed as approval of the Department's request, nor should it be considered as the final word on Congress on this matter," they wrote.
According to The Associated Press, the Great Falls (Mont.) Tribune reported the study is required before the Air Force can make any changes to the structure of the ICBM force.
The Obama administration has a plan to shut down one Minuteman III squadron and destroy the 50 underground silos, according to national media reports.
When Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., and Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., visited Minot AFB's missile and bomb wings earlier this month, Rogers, at a news conference at the base Dec. 14, said he did not know the location of the squadron that was proposed to be closed. At that time, he said there had been some discussion about such a plan but thought it had been squashed.
The Washington Times reported recently that the administration's rationale in the plan to shut down an ICBM squadron is so it will be in compliance with the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, better known as New START treaty, with Russia, but critics in Congress said there is no such requirement in the treaty to cut land-based strategic missiles. Critics of the plan to remove missile silos said destroying the silos could undermine U.S. strategic nuclear deterrence, the publication reported.
The AP said President Obama signed the legislation allowing the Defense Department to begin the study and that the legislation withholds half the funds until the department gives Congress options for the nuclear force structure under the New START treaty, with Russia.
The senators, in their letter to the Defense Department officials, said both the Senate and House versions of the fiscal year 2014 defense appropriations bills clearly prohibits funding a silo environmental assessment.
The senators urged Hagel and Hale not to begin the study before it is clear whether funds will be available to complete it. They said they expect Congress to complete final action on fiscal year 2014 defense appropriations in January.