December 01, 2020
In July, the Senate passed the Fiscal Year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act with 86 Senators, from both sides of the aisle, voting in support. I’m glad we had such a strong vote, because I think it’s the most important bill we consider all year. The NDAA, as we call it, is how Congress provides the policy and resources for our national defense, and it always passes with bipartisan support. It’s been that way for 60 years in a row.
There’s not much we do around here anymore on a bipartisan basis, for this long, but the NDAA is special. Here’s why: each and every American benefits from this bill -each family, in each community, in each state. Oklahoma is no exception to this rule. What makes Oklahoma special is this: just as much as this bill takes care of Oklahoma, Oklahoma takes care of our country and our military. As Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, I’ve talked a lot about the NDAA: how this bill protects all Americans, how it cares for our military families and how it gives our military the resources needed to defend this nation.
Now, I want to talk a little bit about what the NDAA does for Oklahoma, and how what we do in Oklahoma makes the rest of the country more secure. Oklahoma is home to some of the Department of Defense’s most valuable installations and assets, and it’s been this way for a better part of a century. It is also the epicenter of public-private collaboration, where industry partners and universities work in close coordination with our military. The Defense programs based in Oklahoma protect our military advantage, making sure we can stay ahead of our adversaries, notably China and Russia. While Oklahomans know how important these programs are, not just to our economy, but to our national security, not all Americans may know. So, here are a few examples.
When our planes fly long distances across the globe to conduct missions, they sometimes need to refuel in mid-air. Right now, the KC-135 is one of the tankers our military uses to do this. We’ve relied on the KC-135 since 1956—nearly 65 years. Where is KC-135 training and maintenance based? Oklahoma. Now, it’s time to update that aircraft. The KC-46 is the next generation tanker, and Oklahoma’s going to play a key role for this aircraft as well, thanks to the NDAA. All training for this new aircraft is conducted at Altus Air Force Base, in Altus, Oklahoma, and all depot-level maintenance will be performed at Tinker Air Force Base, in Oklahoma City.
We will also conduct depot-level maintenance for the B-21 bomber at Tinker. The B-21, which is in development and scheduled for delivery in the middle of this decade, is going to be vital to our Air Force. It will be a critical part of our deterrence posture: projecting a strong military that lets our enemies know they can’t escape us. This is cutting-edge technology – designed to replace several types of bomber aircraft that have lived in Oklahoma for the last half-century. So what this year’s NDAA means is that the Air Force will be guaranteeing Tinker’s significance and workforce for the next 50 years and beyond.
A third kind of aircraft we have in Oklahoma that helps our Air Force pilots become the best in the world—our training aircraft. Many of the pilots in our Air Force conduct their pilot training at Vance Air Force Base, using aircraft like the T-38. That plane was introduced in 1962 and it’s still used today. Like our bombers and tankers, it’s time to upgrade our training aircraft as well. Our pilots need to be training on the newest equipment so they are ready to face our adversaries. The T-7 is going to be that newest aircraft, and in this year’s NDAA, I ensure we continue to make progress on developing this new aircraft, which will be flying in the skies over Oklahoma for at least the next six decades.
Oklahoma is home to aircraft that support three critical prongs of our national defense, making sure we have the skills, equipment and reach needed to deter and defeat our adversaries, but the Air Force is not the only service with a large footprint in Oklahoma. The Army is also a rich part of our military heritage, and Oklahoma’s military installations help support the Army’s number one modernization priority: Long-Range Precision Fires. These are systems that will be able to reach across hundreds, if not thousands of miles, and accurately strike targets. They can be used on land, in the skies, at sea and beyond. Unfortunately, this is an area where we’ve really fallen behind our competitors like China and Russia, but Oklahoma is going to help us catch up.
There are more than just DOD programs based in Oklahoma—our countless industry partners work here as well, to help make sure our forces are on the cutting edge of innovation. The Paladin Integrated Management system, or PIM, is a critical piece of this Army modernization effort. It’s based at our very own Fires Center of Excellence at Fort Sill. It’s also assembled in Elgin. The XQ-58A Valkyrie is an unmanned aerial system that does not need a runway to take off. It will accompany next-generation aircraft, like the world-class F-35 on its missions. This is one of the Air Force’s top priorities – what they call a Vanguard program. It’s what the future of air superiority looks like, and it is assembled in – you guessed it – Oklahoma.
This op-ed originally appeared in The Lawton Constitution on November 26, 2020.