WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The House of Representatives and Alaskan Congressman Don Young today passed H.R. 4435, the Fiscal Year 2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), bipartisan legislation to authorize $521.3 billion in national defense spending and $79.4 billion for overseas operations. In addition to a number of critical Alaska amendments included by Congressman Young, the bill calls for an automatic 1.8% pay increase for our troops and substantial reforms aimed at preventing sexual assault and suicide in the military. H.R. 4435 passed with overwhelming support today by a vote of 385 to 98.
"This bill not only address Americans' concerns for their national security, it also ensures that our nation's military receives the support necessary to carry out its vital mission," said Congressman Don Young. "This proposal makes difficult choices, something that Congress will be asked to do in the years to come, and works to protect our military from cuts proposed by the President that slash TRICARE, housing allowances, and commissary benefits. I was proud to include a number of Alaskan amendments to this year's NDAA, which highlight Alaska's unique landscape and strategic location and work to make a number of improvements to our robust military operations."
Within H.R. 4435, Congressman Young was able to include an amendment to express the Sense of Congress for basing criteria of the two OCONUS F-35A squadrons, which included emphasis on bases that have sufficient range capabilities and airspace for training, the ability to robustly train with our international partners, the presence of existing facilities to support operations, and a limited amount of encroachment. Of the five locations identified to house the F35's, this criterion is found only at Eielson AFB.
Congressman Young's second amendment would require the Air Force to perform a Business Case Analysis for forming an Active Association with Alaska National Guard's 168th Air Refueling Wing at Eielson Air Force Base.
"For the last few years, the Alaska National Guard has told me that, due to a manpower shortage, the nation's most strategically important Guard refueling wing cannot meet the refueling demands of the Air Force," said Congressman Young. "In fact, due to this manpower shortage, 40% of the of Air Force's refueling mission in the region has been outsourced at great cost. My amendment simply asks the Air Force to study whether forming a partnership with the Alaska Guard makes sense and saves money."
Following the passage of H.R. 4435, the Commander of the Alaska National Guard offered his praise and support for Congressman Young's amendment.
"Forming an Active Association within the 168th Aerial Refueling Wing is the Alaska National Guard's number one legislative priority," said Major General Thomas Katkus, Commander of the Alaska National Guard. "Alaska conducted a business case analysis itself and identified cost savings to the Air Force north of $15M per year. Increasing readiness and saving money, while creating another partnership between Active and Reserve forces - the decision to conduct an analysis should be a foregone conclusion. I would like to thank Congressman Young for his work on this amendment and his continued effort to fight for issues important to Alaska's National Guard."
Congressman Young was able to secure an additional amendment in the House Committee report, which would work to identify shortfalls within President Obama's new Arctic Strategy that was released last year, and to study the need for Arctic based programs similar to the U.S. Army Alaska's (USARAK) Northern Warfare Training Center.
"Last year, after much prodding, President Obama finally released his "National Strategy for the Arctic.' While this document is an important step, it does have many flaws. My amendment asks GAO to report back to Congress to tell us what we need to fund -- in terms of capabilities, infrastructure, and training -- so that U.S. can become a real player in the Arctic. Currently, the other Arctic nations are way ahead of us, and if we don't start doing something soon, I guarantee we will lose out on all the Arctic has to offer."
Provisions included in the 2014 NDAA of Alaskan benefit and interest:
Clear Air Force Station Military Construction: Authorizes $11.5 million for the Emergency Power Plant Fuel Storage at Clear Air Force Station.
Ground-based Missile Defense: Authorizes $1.044 billion, an increase of $40 million, for the Ballistic Missile Defense Midcourse Defense Segment. The funding helps support the Missile Defense Agency's top management focus areas which include a return to Ground-based Interceptor deliveries and refurbishment of Missile Field 1 at Fort Greely, Alaska.
F-35s: Authorizes the full $3.6 billion requested for Lockheed Martin's F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Currently, Alaska is home to two Air Forces bases which are candidate bases for the OCONUS F-35 basing of two squadrons for F-35As.
Gray Eagle: Authorizes $239.5 million, an increase of $49.0 million, for improved MQ--1C Gray Eagle modifications in order to provide extended range capabilities.
Currently, the U.S. Army is looking to base a Gray Eagle company of 12 aircraft within interior Alaska. The Gray Eagle provides critical intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities to combatant commanders. Alaska's JPARC provides the ideal training environment for this aircraft.
BRAC: Rejects the proposed BRAC round, which many argue does not yield true savings but rather imposes large up-front costs only then to shift property between federal agencies.
Commissaries: Rejects cuts to compensation programs that result in increased out-of-pocket costs for military families. Requires DOD to consult with outside experts in retail grocery sales to find efficiencies in the commissary system.
National Guard: Includes a provision to have the Government Accountability Organization (GAO) study the appropriate balance between the Active force and the Guard. Additionally, reductions to National Guard strength and re-distribution of aviation assets are blocked for FY 2015, which allows Congress to study Active and Guard force structure.