Senator Kent Conrad met today with Col. James Dawkins, the commander of Minot's 5thBomb Wing, to consider the future of the base's B-52 bombers as the military begins to implement New START (STrategic Arms Reduction Treaty). Col. Dawkins also updated the Senator on challenges confronting airmen on the base in light of last year's record flooding and the ongoing impact of the oil boom in central and western North Dakota.
"The airmen stationed at Minot Air Force base are among the finest anywhere because of their collective commitment to executing the nation's nuclear mission," Senator Conrad said. "While the ratification of New START ensured the continued transparency of Russian nuclear forces and enhanced strategic stability, we must always remain vigilant in maintaining our ability to respond to crises and protect the homeland."
Senator Conrad and Col. Dawkins discussed Department of Defense plans to retain up to 60 bombers in the nuclear role, converting the remainder of the B-52 fleet to conventional-only aircraft. The Air Force has also proposed reducing the 450-strong deployed ICBM force by 30 to 50 missiles, while retaining all 450 silos in a warm status. If allowed to move forward, these plans would ensure New START compliance while also protecting force structure at Minot Air Force Base.
Senator Conrad said the Air Force has made tremendous progress in reinvigorating the nuclear enterprise, and the matter remains a top priority. In fact, the nominee to serve as the next Air Force Chief of Staff, General Mark Welsh, listed the nuclear mission as his top priority during his Senate confirmation hearing.
However, challenges remain for Col. Dawkins and airmen at Minot Air Force Base as a result of the severe housing shortage created by the flood and the oil boom. Col. Dawkins and Senator Conrad discussed attempts to mitigate the impact of the non-concurrent travel policy for dependents instituted last year and the successful effort to help airmen displaced by the 2011 flood find housing.
Col. Dawkins told Senator Conrad about successful progress on military construction projects to build new dormitories and repair the base's runway. The two also discussed $4.6 million in funding requested by the President for additions to the Minot Air Force Base B-52 munitions Aerospace Ground Equipment (AGE) facility. That funding was approved by the Senate Armed Services Committee earlier this year. Minot is one of just 11 bases to receive Air Force military construction funding this year.