Hoeven, Heitkamp Join Bipartisan Group of Senators Urging Department of Defense to Swiftly Replace UH-1N Helicopters

WASHINGTON – Senators John Hoeven (R-N.D.) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) today joined a bipartisan group of 10 Senators, led by Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), in urging the Department of Defense (DoD) to replace the Vietnam-era UH-1N helicopters as soon as possible. While these helicopters are responsible for protecting our nation’s intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) fleet, including those located around the Minot Air Force Base, the Commander of U.S. Strategic Command has deemed them insufficient for addressing current threats to our national security.

“Our nuclear forces are a vital aspect of our nation’s security, and we must ensure they are protected against modern threats,” Hoeven and Heitkamp said. “The UH-1N no longer has the capabilities our service members need to secure the ICBM fleet. We cannot wait years for a replacement, and we will continue to press DoD and Air Force leaders to find a timely solution.”

In response to the Combatant Commander’s calls, the Air Force decided that procuring Black Hawk helicopters on the Army’s current production line would be the fastest way to address the situation. Accordingly, the Senate passed legislation providing financial support for this plan.

However, the DoD has since changed course, opting to pursue an acquisition strategy that would add years to the time it will take to replace these ailing helicopters. The senators today sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Ash Carter expressing concerns and requesting a full justification for this change in plan, as well as calling for the replacement of these aircraft as expeditiously as possible.

Today’s letter is the latest in the senators’ efforts to secure a timely replacement for the aging helicopters and ensure the security of the nation’s ICBM forces. Hoeven and Heitkamp, members of the bipartisan ICBM coalition, have previously pressed DoD officials on the issue, including Secretary Carter, Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James and Lieutenant General Jack Weinstein, Deputy Chief of Staff for Strategic Deterrence and Nuclear Integration.

Senators Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), and Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) joined in sending the letter. The full text is available here.