U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) spoke on the Senate floor yesterday about the NDAA.
Remarks as prepared for delivery:
Mr. President, this week we are going to be passing a bill that I consider every year to be the most significant bill of the year. We know it is going to pass because it has passed every year for the last 57 years. It is going to pass. It is named the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act, and I am pleased that this conference report is the result of an open and bipartisan process.
I have to thank, first of all, Chairman McCain and his staff for working so diligently in leading the legislation that bears his name. This year’s NDAA is a fitting testament to him. We are talking about John McCain’s policies and his priorities and the lasting legacy on our nation.
John is a true American hero. So it is appropriate that we name this bill after him. I also want to thank Ranking Member Reed. Senator Reed has been by my side. The two of us have worked this defense authorization bill now for several months, and we have been very busy doing that.
We have been working closely with Chairman Thornberry over in the House, as well as with Ranking Member Smith in the House. I thank them for their hard work on this bill.
It always gets around to the big four, after we all meet and we have the meetings with the House and the Senate, our joint conference meetings. But then there are always some things that need to be done, and they have to be done by the big four. I have been involved with several of these, and this year, of course, the chairman of the House committee, the acting chairman of the Senate committee, and the ranking members worked very hard, and we got this done.
So we should all be proud of this week’s National Defense Authorization Act, but we shouldn’t lose sight of why it is so important. We need to remember the degraded state of our military.
I don’t mean this in a partisan way, but we had eight years of the Obama administration, and one thing that I have always appreciated about previously Senator Obama and then-President Obama is that he is a real, sincere, in the-heart liberal.
So we are really hurting. At the end of the Obama administration, in 2016, only 33 percent of our brigade combat teams were at sufficient levels to be deployed; only a quarter of our aviation brigades were ready; and just 40 percent of the Marines’ F–18s were flyable—only 40 percent—because the first thing somebody does when they are cutting down on the expense of a strong military is they do away with the maintenance, and that is the problem we had. We were short 1,500 pilots and had shrunk the force by nearly 100,000 service members despite growing threats around the world.
I don’t think anyone can argue that this isn’t a threatened world. I think it is the most threatened our country has ever been. Countries around the world have the capability of firing a rocket and hitting a city in America. That didn’t used to be the case.
You had to be a giant in order to be one of the leaders. Now we have people out there whose judgment we have to question, and they have this capability. So we have a lot of things. We have fallen behind China and Russia. This year’s National Defense Strategy—the first in a decade—rightfully recognized that China and Russia are strategic adversaries and competitors.
We are also falling behind especially in technologies that will define the future of deterrence and capabilities. Look at hypersonic weapons. Hypersonic weapons operate at five times the speed of sound. They are still in the experimental stage. We are working on it, but we are behind China and Russia. They are both ahead of us at this time.
The nuclear triad is a modernization program. Over the eight Obama years, we didn’t do anything in that. Consequently, during those years, both China and Russia passed us up. Long-range artillery. Artillery is measured by the rapid fire and by the range, and right now, in both cases of rapid fire and range, China and Russia are ahead of us.
The National Defense Strategy identified these vulnerabilities, but it is our responsibility to take that strategy and turn it into policy, and that is exactly what we are doing. This year’s NDAA does that. We are investing in training, maintenance, and modernization, restoring our qualitative and quantitative advantage around the world. I say restoring, not achieving, because we lost it.
The Chairman of our Joint Chiefs of Staff, in the fifth year of the Obama administration, said that we are losing our qualitative and quantitative advantage around the world. It is kind of hard for people to conceive of this. I am used to the fact that most people believed and probably still believe today that the United States has the very best of everything.
Well, we have the best troops and the best-trained troops, but our equipment is not all that good, and so we are doing everything to try to change that. So that is the situation in which we find ourselves. This year’s NDAA will fully fund the key priorities we have identified that will ensure that our armed forces have the training, resources and equipment they need to complete their mission.
We fully fund what is needed to modernize the force, including procurement for aircraft, shipbuilding and artillery. Procurement has always been a problem. It has been a problem since I was serving in the House on the House Armed Services Committee. We are addressing this problem as it has not been addressed before.
We have now fully funded in this bill the modernization of our nation’s nuclear strategy, including the development of low-yield nuclear weapons and a layered missile defense. A lot of people don’t realize that Russia had low-yield nuclear weapons and we didn’t. So we are trying to catch up in those areas.
We fully funded support for critical allies and partners, including the Afghanistan security forces, coalition support, Iraqi security forces, and Israel. We have increased end strength to align with the President’s budget request and adapt to the growing threats from around the world. Now, this sounds easy, but it is not because we are starting from behind.
The NDAA bill we are going to vote on this week goes beyond the President’s request to provide greater funding for research and development, ensuring that we can continue to focus on new and emerging threats, like hypersonics, space and cyber.
We are standing up to China by strengthening our position across the Pacific region. This bill provides support to our allies who stand up against China’s military and economic coercion and procures deployable airbase systems to enhance credible combat power.
The NDAA also calls out China for illegally creating and fortifying islands in the South China Sea. I was in the South China Sea about a month ago. Our allies are looking at us and looking at China, and wondering, whose side do we want to be on? Because all they see is what is happening in China.
Those are illegal islands. They don’t own the land under them. There are some seven different islands exceeding 3,000 acres that are as if they are preparing for World War III. So we know what their capability is. We know what the problems are.
Then, of course, the NDAA counters Russia’s growing aggression and influence across Eastern Europe by directing a study on permanently stationing U.S. forces in Poland and conducting a study on Russia’s malign influence around the world. That is in this bill. So we are actually going to take some action.
It wasn’t long ago—I think in March—that the RAND Corporation, which makes assessments as to what our capabilities are, said that Russia is to the point right now that if they were to take on NATO, including our forces in NATO and Western Europe, that they would win. That is a pretty frightening thought.
The bill continues limitations on U.S.-Russia military cooperation and provides defensive lethal aid to Ukraine. I happened to be in Ukraine with President Poroshenko way back when they had their Parliamentary elections.
It keeps faith with our troops by providing a 2.6-percent military pay increase—the largest one in about 10 years—and it is modernizing the officer personnel system and supporting our troops and military families.
When Senator Reed and I started on this process, we shared a commitment to making sure that this year’s NDAA is more than just another piece of legislation; rather, that it is a message to each and every one of our service members. And we did that.
The NDAA tells them that they are our top priority. It is what we have to do to defend America. After all, the number one thing we should be doing around here is defending America.
A lot of people have forgotten that there is an old document around that nobody reads anymore called the Constitution. The Constitution says what we are supposed to be doing: defending America. I am proud to say that we did.
Every Soldier, Sailor, Airman, and Marine can look at this legislation and know they have the support and commitment of their country. I want to speak for a minute about the historical significance of this legislation because the history of the National Defense Authorization Act is a distinguished one.
As I mentioned before, we have passed this for 57 consecutive years. This is the 58th year. But what is unique is the fact that we are passing the legislation this week—a record for how quickly in the year it will be passed and signed into law. This was deliberate. We are moving quickly, but we are thorough, considering hundreds of bipartisan amendments in both committee markup and on the floor.
This will be the earliest an NDAA has passed since 1996 when we were considering the legislation for fiscal year 1997. So it is the result of the legislative process working. We set a budget in February and are authorizing the funding well in advance of next year’s fiscal year. So now we can and should turn our attention to passing the necessary appropriations bill on time that aligns with that which we are authorizing today.
About five years ago, we were all the way to December before we passed this bill. To remind you, if we don’t get it done by the end of December, it means we are not going to get flight pay and hazard pay to our troops who are standing in harm’s way. So we have done a good job on this.
I am anxious to get this out of the way and vote it into law, which is going to take place on this week. We have to remember that without consistent, continued funding, the critical reforms in this year’s NDAA will not be possible, and we won’t be able to make the needed investments to restore our competitive advantage over China and Russia.
That is exactly what we are going to do—we are going to restore what we have lost, and it is all happening in this bill. I think we will have the chance this week to vote for what I consider to be the most significant legislation each year.