Hoeven Discusses Defense Priorities With Ashton Carter, the President's Nominee to be the Next Defense Secretary

WASHINGTON – Senator John Hoeven today met with the administration’s nominee to serve as Secretary of the Department of Defense to discuss a range of issues of importance to the nation and North Dakota, including the need to modernize the nuclear deterrent at bases like Minot Air Force Base and a possible role for Grand Forks Air Force Base in a new Arctic mission.

“I pressed Dr. Carter on the importance of our nation’s strategic deterrent and the need to maintain our technological edge,” Hoeven said.  “We need to ensure we have a safe, reliable and effective nuclear deterrent, and the best technology available to support our warfighters, including unmanned systems like the Global Hawk.  I look forward to working with Dr. Carter when he is confirmed on these priorities for our nation’s defense.”

In particular, Hoeven stressed the importance of the Nuclear Force Improvement Program (NFIP), begun under Carter’s predecessor, Secretary Chuck Hagel. The NFIP is designed to reinvigorate the nuclear enterprise by increasing personnel assigned to the nuclear mission and improving their career paths, upgrading outdated equipment and modernizing aging facilities.  Hoeven previously worked to promote and support the plan with Secretary Hagel and Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James when they visited Minot Air Force Base in 2014.

In addition to support for upgrades to the B-52 and the eventual replacement of the Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), Hoeven discussed the need for the Air Force to develop a long-range stand-off weapon to replace the air-launched cruise missile (ALCM) carried on the B-52.  The senator is working on the Senate Appropriations Committee to ensure it is funded in a timely way. Hoeven also said that he would support accelerating that program as proposed in the Fiscal Year 2016 budget and urged Carter to do the same.  Minot Air Force Base hosts both ICBMs and nuclear bombers, making it the only location in the country to host two legs of the U.S. nuclear triad which also includes submarine launched ballistic missiles.

Hoeven emphasized the need for technologically advanced platforms to support U.S. personnel, especially the RQ-4 Global Hawk.  The Air Force has spent several years developing and upgrading the Global Hawk for highly specialized intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions.  The senator urged Dr. Carter to pursue advanced technology like the Global Hawk to ensure America maintains a qualitative edge in military technology against any potential adversary. Grand Forks Air Force Base hosts the Block 40 variant of the RQ-4 Global Hawk.

In a related matter, Hoeven underscored the strategic advantages of assigning a role for the Grand Forks Air Force Base in a new Arctic mission the Air Force is considering. Last October, Hoeven met with top officials at Northern Command (NORTHCOM) headquarters at Peterson Air Force base in Colorado to assess the role unmanned systems at Grand Forks Air Force Base can play in NORTHCOM’s Arctic operations. NORTHCOM is the joint command responsible for all U.S. military missions in and around North America, including the Arctic region.

Carter was confirmed by the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday morning and the full Senate is expected to take up his nomination later this week.

Hoeven is a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee.