Weekly Column

By U.S. Senator Deb Fischer

**Click here to download audio of this week’s column** 

Each year, the Senate comes together to pass the National Defense Authorization Act, the bill that authorizes funding for our military for the year to come. Our men and women in uniform deserve our utmost respect and support, and this annual legislation makes sure they have the resources they need to protect our country.

I was proud to work on NDAA as a member of the Senate Armed Services committee, and I am proud to report that the full Senate has passed a strong, bipartisan bill this year, which authorizes a total of $740.5 billion for national defense. Among other things, this legislation grants a three percent pay raise for all members of the uniformed service. 

The Senate NDAA also prioritizes child care and employment opportunities for the spouses of service members. The men and women who serve our country can only stay focused on their mission when they know their families are taken care of, and this year’s bill does just that.

As the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, I have the honor of overseeing STRATCOM, U.S. Strategic Command, the unified combatant command responsible for the nation’s nuclear deterrent. While STRATCOM’s mission is global, it is headquartered at Offutt Air Force Base in Sarpy County.

Our nuclear forces are aging; most of it dates to the height of the Cold War and has been in service far beyond its original design life. In recognition of the need to modernize our deterrent, our nation began a long-term effort to replace these systems almost a decade ago. My subcommittee sustained this vital effort and secured full funding in this year’s NDAA to continue modernizing the bedrock of our national security.

This includes such critical programs as the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent, which will replace our aging ballistic missile force, and the next-generation nuclear cruise missile, the Long Range Standoff weapon. As countries like Russia continue to expand their nuclear arsenal, we cannot afford to allow our aging force to decay further.

Nebraska’s Offutt Air Force Base is also home to the 55th Wing, the unit of the Air Force that carries out intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions across the globe. An essential element of the 55th Wing is the RC-135 aircraft, and this bill includes nearly $200 million for its continued modernization and upgrading, as well as a provision I authored directing the Air Force to look at potential new ways to expand the fleet through the conversion of other aircraft. 

Currently, the Air Force faces a broader problem of having fewer squadrons than it needs to meet the threats the nation faces. To help address this issue, I worked to include provisions in the NDAA that encourage them to meet their target of 386 operational squadrons by 2030.

There are many other provisions in the Senate NDAA bill that Nebraskans can celebrate. I helped make sure that this year’s NDAA recognizes the success of the State Partnership Program, which encourages cooperation between the National Guard and our partners and allies.

This innovative Department of Defense training program allows individual units of the National Guard to partner with the militaries of developing nations, which helps us cultivate relationships that are crucial to our success around the world. Nebraska has two of these partnerships: One with the Czech Republic and a newer partnership with Rwanda. 

The Senate NDAA also authorizes $5 million to implement a pilot program on civilian and military partnerships that will help the National Disaster Medical System better respond to future pandemics and other threats. It will give institutions with an established expertise in this area, such as the University of Nebraska Medical Center, an opportunity to participate.

The most fundamental duty of Congress is to provide for the national defense, and these are just some of the ways the Senate has done that with this year’s bipartisan NDAA.

Thank you for participating in the democratic process. I look forward to visiting with you again next week.