Members of the Senate ICBM Coalition this week pressed Adm. James Winnefeld Jr., vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to retain the intercontinental ballistic missile silos in North Dakota, Montana and Wyoming.
The coalition group members included Senators John Hoeven, R-N.D., Jon Tester, D-Mont. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., John Walsh, D-Mont., and John Barrasso, R-Wyo.,
Hoeven and Tester, as members of the Senate Appropriations Committee, authored a provision in the Department of Defense appropriations bill that explicitly blocks the administration from undertaking any environmental analysis to reduce the number of active silos containing Minuteman III ICBMs, all of which are located at bases in North Dakota, Montana and Wyoming.
The senators are concerned that the study is designed to facilitate the removal of the missiles and destruction of the silos, weakening the nation's nuclear deterrent. The bipartisan Senate ICBM Coalition, to which all of the senators belong, supported the Hoeven-Tester legislation.
Last week the senators learned that the Pentagon believes it has other authority to start the process of eliminating silos, prompting Hoeven to organize a meeting with top Pentagon officials. In addition to Winnefeld, Defense Department officials who participated in the meeting were Madelyn Creedon, assistant secretary of defense for Global Strategic Affairs and Eric Fanning, undersecretary of the Air Force.
After the meeting on Wednesday, Hoeven met with Gene Dodaro, the comptroller general of the United States and head of the U.S. Government Accountability Office, the senators are recommending that the GAO review the legislation and make a determination as to what the law requires.
Minot AFB has 150 Minuteman III ICBMs in underground facilities in several counties surrounding the base. The 91st Missile Wing at the Minot base is in charge of the Minot missile complex. It is one of three operational ICBM wings in Air Force Global Strike Command.
"Land-based ballistic missiles are a strategic asset and the most cost-effective nuclear deterrent in the U.S. arsenal," Hoeven said. "Senator Tester and I wrote the language in the bill to bar the Defense Department from initiating any process that could result in the loss of these vital assets. We need to keep these silos up and running because they are vitally important, not just to Minot and North Dakota, but to the entire nation."
"I made it very clear to Admiral Winnefeld and Secretary Creedon, just as I have with Secretary Hagel, that it is unacceptable for the Defense Department to ignore our provisions and move forward with this premature and strategically misguided study. Our Senate ICBM coalition is united in pushing back forcefully to make sure the Defense Department follows federal law. The incredible Minot Air Force Base servicemembers support the strongest possible deterrent for those who wish the United States and our allies harm, and we will continue to support their efforts," said Heitkamp.