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WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) today spoke on the Senate floor ahead of the final passage of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for fiscal year 2024, which contains numerous priorities that benefit South Dakota and the B-21 bomber mission at Ellsworth Air Force Base. Thune noted that in addition to the NDAA, Congress must prioritize passing a national security supplemental bill that provides support to the United States’ allies – like Israel and Ukraine – and contains meaningful measures to secure the southern border.
Thune’s remarks below (as prepared for delivery):
“Mr. President, this week the Senate will vote on the final version of the National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA – one of the most important bills we consider each year.
“We had a robust floor debate on the Senate version of this bill in July, featuring the kind of open amendment process that we should be using on a regular basis to debate important legislation.
“All told, more than 900 amendments were considered and 121 amendments were adopted during floor consideration – making this the most open NDAA floor debate in years.
“I wish we had been able to take up a final version of this legislation earlier.
“But I am glad we are on track to finally pass it this week.
“Mr. President, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – if we don’t get national security right, the rest is just conversation.
“The security of our nation is the precondition for everything else – for the continued enjoyment of our freedoms, for a flourishing society, for a healthy economy, for government’s ability to do anything.
“And so there is no time when we can afford to let our readiness slide or take the security of our nation for granted.
“But the unfortunate truth is that we have some catching up to do when it comes to military preparedness.
“We have military services that are well below their recruitment targets.
“We are behind on shipbuilding and ship maintenance.
“There’s a persistent pilot shortage, and in a number of cases we have too few mission-capable aircraft.
“We’re not doing an adequate job of maintaining the kind of supply we need of munitions.
“And the list goes on.
“This is not an acceptable situation, Mr. President.
“And it could have very serious consequences.
“To give just one example, recent war games envisioning a U.S.-China conflict following an attack on Taiwan have had grim results, showing enormous military and economic costs on both sides.
“One story on these war games noted, and I quote, ‘And while the ultimate outcome in these exercises is not always clear — the U.S. does better in some than others — the cost is [clear]. In every exercise the U.S. uses up all its long-range air-to-surface missiles in a few days, with a substantial portion of its planes destroyed on the ground.’
“‘In every exercise the U.S. uses up all its long-range air-to-surface missiles in a few days, with a substantial portion of its planes destroyed on the ground.’
“Needless to say, Mr. President, we have some serious work to do.
“And I am pleased to report that this year’s NDAA does make some genuine progress on the readiness front.
“The bill expands the Pacific Deterrence Initiative and deepens our ties with our ally Taiwan to help deter Chinese aggression.
“It rejects the president’s dangerous plan to shrink the U.S. Navy, and authorizes investment in new ships.
“And it contains multiple measures to increase our supply of munitions, including the addition of six critical munitions to the Pentagon’s multi-year procurement program.
“Two of these munitions – Tomahawk missiles and Mark 48 torpedoes – play an important role in our ability to deter China.
“I’m also pleased that the committee responded to my requests and included significant funding for Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile procurement, the Long-Range Anti-Ship Missile, and development of the nuclear Long Range Standoff weapon, or LRSO.
“These are essential arrows to have in the quiver for our bombers, and the future LRSO will help modernize the air leg of our nuclear triad.
“This year’s NDAA also – critically – invests in recruitment.
“As I mentioned earlier, we have multiple military services that are well below their recruitment targets.
“These represent serious future personnel deficiencies.
“And all the ships, planes, and munitions in the world will be of very limited help if we don’t have the personnel necessary to deploy those resources.
“And so expanding and improving our recruitment efforts has to be a priority.
“We also have to continue to work to improve the quality of life of our military members and their families – which is why I am pleased to report that this year’s bill includes a 5.2 percent pay increase for our troops, as well as measures to improve barracks quality and expand access to mental health care, among other things.
“I’m also pleased that this year’s NDAA takes measures to keep our military’s focus on warfighting, and not the dissemination of ‘woke’ ideologies by Pentagon bureaucrats.
“Above all, I’m proud to report that this year’s bill authorizes full funding for the next steps of the B-21 mission – the Air Force’s new long-range strategic bomber, which will revolutionize our long-range strike capabilities and be hosted at South Dakota’s own Ellsworth Air Force Base.
“The Air Force calls the B-21 Raider the future backbone of its bomber force.
“And one of my top priorities here in Congress over the past several years has been ensuring that the Air Force – and Ellsworth in particular – has everything it needs for this critical advancement in our nation’s readiness.
“And this year’s NDAA will once again fund not only the B-21 bomber, which we excitedly saw take flight one month ago, but the support facilities at Ellsworth that will be needed to maintain this aircraft once it enters service.
“Mr. President, while, as I said, we are passing this bill a little late, I am pleased that we are finally passing it, and in what I expect will be a strongly bipartisan fashion.
“Now we should turn to addressing another important aspect of our national security in a bipartisan fashion – securing our border.
“The kind of unchecked illegal immigration we’re currently experiencing at our southern border represents a serious national security threat – one that so far Democrats are refusing to meaningfully address.
“I hope that their position will shift in the coming days and that we’ll be able to work together to pass a supplemental bill that not only provides support for our allies but also contains real measures to secure our border.
“The NDAA should not be the only national security legislation we pass this December.“Mr. President, I yield the floor.”