October 21, 2020
Yesterday, U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) spoke on the Senate floor about how important Oklahoma military installations are to the well-being of our nation and the victories secured in the FY21 NDAA for the Oklahoma military.
As prepared for delivery:
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 do 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: Because each and every American benefits from this bill. Each family, in each community, in each state. Oklahoma is no exception to this rule. But what makes Oklahoma special is this: Just as much as this bill takes care of Oklahoma, Oklahoma takes care of our country.
As Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, I’ve already been down here a lot, talking 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. And as Chairman, I made certain the NDAA did the maximum benefit possible for Oklahoma.
So, 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 competitors, especially 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, sometimes they 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 —over 60 years.
And 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 still in the development phase, is going to be vital to our Air Force. It will be a critical part of our deterrence posture: a strong military that lets our enemies know they can’t escape us.
This is cutting-edge technology – designed to replace a few types of bomber aircraft that have lived in Oklahoma for the last half-century.
So what this year’s NDAA means is the Air Force will be guaranteeing Tinker’s workload for the next 50 years and beyond. A third kind of aircraft we have in Oklahoma are the planes that help 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 progress on developing this new aircraft – which will be flying in the skies over Oklahoma for at least the next six decades.
So right here, 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 munitions 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.
The Paladin Integrated Management system, or PIM, is a critical piece of this Army modernization effort, and it’s based at Fort Sill, at our very own Fires Center of Excellence. It’s also assembled in Elgin.
Now, this is really important, especially when you know the history. We’ve been working to build a modern artillery system for decades.
First, starting back in 1994, we were working to build the Crusader. The Crusader was going to be our new, modern system that would set us up above Russia and China.
What happened to it? Nixed – prematurely in 2002– because it was over budget and we thought the needs of warfare were changing.
Then, some of the same mistakes were repeated with the Army’s Future Combat Systems Program, which was cut in 2009. Again, invested considerably – but stopped prematurely.
The result? Billions, billions wasted…and no modern artillery system. That’s why China and Russia are ahead of us right now. But not for long. We’re catching 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 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.
That’s just one example of the amazing technologies we’re building across the state. But it’s not just our military installations and industries that are supporting America’s national defense.
In Oklahoma, we work well together across the state — military, industry, and even our educational universities.
Down in Lawton, just outside Fort Sill, we have something called the Fires Innovation Science and Technology Accelerator, or FISTA, where we try to get all these stakeholders together in one building.
I included provisions in my bill that will complement the FISTA’s work and harness the research and innovation being done at Oklahoma’s universities. For example, the University of Oklahoma is working on research that will accelerate the work of the Long-Range Precision Fires and Air and Missile Defense Cross-Functional Teams at Fort Sill – top modernization priorities for the Army.
The FISTA is just one piece of this research and innovation done in Oklahoma. It is really happening all around the state. Oklahoma State University is also conducting critical research on drones and unmanned systems, where our military has growing needs. This will support operations where traditional methods are not sufficient for takeoffs and landings – ensuring our military can penetrate any environment.
I made sure that we committed funding especially for this kind of research, and Oklahoma State is a perfect candidate because of the successful work they’ve already done on these systems.
And Tulsa University is designated by the National Security Agency as a cyber center of academic excellence. In this year’s NDAA, I directed the Army Corps of Engineers to forge a partnership with an academic institution like TU to conduct critical cyber research that will support our national security. TU has a track record of success, and they are certainly a go-to for just this type of research.
Our universities really are second to none in terms of this research, and their hard work and ingenuity is going to help us catch up to China and Russia and ensure our military superiority for years to come. With the massive amount of work lined up for the state of Oklahoma, I knew my bill had to help communities across the state provided the number of workers needed.
One provision we included to address this allows for the appointment of recently retired members of the Armed Forces to DOD positions at a certain pay grade without waiting the requisite length of time.
This ensures more people are going to stay in Oklahoma – that skilled workers won’t need to leave the state to find work.
These are the people who know the programs best, and will be able to continue working on them, even after they transition out of active duty.
Our work ethic is just one of the trademarks of the Oklahomans I’m lucky to represent. Another is what we call the Oklahoma Standard. Oklahomans know how important it is to care for and support each other — especially our military families.
Our military families don’t have it easy. The nature of the job means frequent moves, around the country and around the world.
This means they make a lot of sacrifice. We can’t ask military spouses to sacrifice their careers as well. In last year’s NDAA, we took steps to make sure military spouses have access to meaningful employment, even when they move to a new state.
One way we did that was by extending a DOD program to reimburse spouses for the cost of a new professional license or credential.
This year, we improved on that, and made it easier to transfer those licenses across state lines. We know that when we improve family readiness, we improve overall military readiness.
The last thing I want to point out about this year’s NDAA is also a readiness issue. I made sure that this year, we will not have any BRAC. Now is not the time to reduce our military footprint any further — not when we face so many threats around the world, and not when we’ve worked so hard with President Trump to rebuild and repair our readiness.
It’s easy to see how these provisions I fought hard to include in this bill are going to help Oklahomans – and really, all Americans. That’s why I think the NDAA is just about the most important bill not only for Oklahoma, but for the rest of our nation as well. And that’s because of how important Oklahoma is to the rest of the nation.
Serving as Chairman of the Armed Services Committee – what I think is the most important committee in all of Congress – and representing Oklahoma are two of the things I’m most proud of. I’m proud that I can do right by our Armed Forces and Oklahomans with this year’s NDAA.
The next step to making this bill law is going to be working with our colleagues from the House on a Conference report. This isn’t going to be easy. We have a lot of differences to iron out. The same thing was true last year. But no matter what, we’re going to get this done. We have for the last 59 years, and we will again this year.
The past and present of our national defense is based in Oklahoma, and thanks to this year’s NDAA, the future will be, too.