[WASHINGTON, DC] – U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Conference Committee for the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), released the following statement today after the Senate voted to approve the Conference Report:
“This powerful bipartisan measure means thousands more jobs, stronger economic growth, and enhanced national security-- for Connecticut and the country. It's a victory in our fight for more submarines, helicopters and joint strike fighters-- made largely in our state and vital to our national defense. Quick signature by the President will mean 55 straight years of Congressional approval and cooperation across the aisle. In an increasingly dangerous world, the fight for next year's bill begins now.”
As a member of the Committee tasked with crafting the bill, Blumenthal championed provisions that will boost jobs and support critical industries with defense contracts in Connecticut:
Investing in Connecticut’s Submarine Industrial Base: Blumenthal worked to secure more than $5 billion for two Virginia Class submarines, including $85 million in advance procurement above the President’s request for items that will be built on Virginia Class submarines.
Blumenthal also secured $1.9 billion for Ohio Replacement Program submarines. Ohio Class – ballistic missile submarines that are particularly valuable because they are the leg of the nuclear triad most likely to survive nuclear conflict – will soon begin to retire. Electric Boat has been selected as the Navy’s prime contractor to build the twelve replacement submarines. Blumenthal also secured funding for the Ohio Class Replacement Program in the proposed Continuing Resolution. In addition, the NDAA provides authority to purchase critical components for multiple years to support continuous production of the common missile compartment for the Ohio Replacement Program.
Also included in the final NDAA is a resolution Blumenthal authored commemorating Connecticut’s Submarine Century, which passed the Senate earlier this year.
Funding the Future of the F-35: Connecticut’s Pratt and Whitney is the sole engine-maker for F-35 Joint Strike Fighters. This year’s defense authorization bill includes over $8 billion in procurement funding for 63 Joint Strike Fighters across the Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps, and fully meets the President’s budget request.
Ensuring Robust Production of Helicopters: Blumenthal fought for robust funding in the NDAA for helicopters including the UH-60M Black Hawk, CH-53K King Stallion, and MH-60R Seahawk. Blumenthal secured $929.3 million in funding – fully meeting the President’s budget request – for 36 Black Hawks, and also secured authority to block buy Black Hawks that allows the Secretary of the Army to buy up to 268 Black Hawks over the next four fiscal years. In addition, Blumenthal also secured the President’s request for $437 million for the first year of procurement funding for two Marine Corps’ new heavy-lift CH-53K helicopters. Also funded in the NDAA is $53.2 million for the MH-60R Naval Hawk helicopter, which will finish production the coming fiscal year.
Supporting the Connecticut National Guard: Blumenthal secured $6.3 million in military construction funding for the Small Air Terminal at Bradley International Airport for the Connecticut National Guard. This funding will allow the 103rd Airlift Wing to have the facilities they need to support their recent conversion to the C-130 mission. It will consolidate several Logistics Readiness Squadron functions into one facility, conveniently located adjacent to the flight line to support the new C-130 mission.
Buying American Products: For more than a decade, the Defense Department has supplied the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces with Russian-made Mi-17 helicopters, but ongoing sanctions resulting from Russian aggression have beleaguered the program and halted the flow of aircraft, parts, and supplies. Blumenthal worked to include $264 million to procure and modernize 53 UH-60A Black Hawks to replace the Mi-17 helicopters in the bill. The Army will divest UH-60As to make room for new UH-60Ms made in Stratford, Connecticut. Blumenthal has long advocated for this change, most recently sending a letter in July urging the Defense Department to develop a plan to field an American alternative to the Mi-17 helicopters.
Blumenthal also fought for provisions to support servicemembers and improve defense policy, including:
Supporting Servicemembers with Post-Traumatic Stress (PTS): Blumenthal included a provision requiring the Board for the Corrections of Military Records and Discharge Review Boards to publically disclose online the number of claims considered in which a mental health condition, including PTS, of the claimant could have contributed to the charges of dismissal. Blumenthal also supported a provision to ensure Discharge Review Boards give liberal consideration to discharge upgrade claims where PTS or traumatic brain injury potentially contributed to the circumstances resulting in a less favorable discharge from the military – as instructed in the 2014 Hagel memo.
Modernizing Caregiver Leave: Blumenthal worked to help craft a provision to modernize caregiver leave by revising maternal, spousal, and adoption leave policies to ensure these policies are inclusive of non-traditional families. Updating outdated caregiver leave will help improve retention rates. This provision authorizes six weeks of convalescent leave and up to six additional week of uncharged leave for servicemembers who are primary caregivers in the case of the birth of a child. It also provides for six weeks of leave for primary caregivers in the case of the adoption of a child. Further, it allows for 21 days of paid leave for secondary caregivers in the case of the birth or adoption of a child.
Window Coverings: Following the death of several children due to window-covering cords in recent years, Blumenthal included a provision that directs the Secretary of Defense to remove and replace window coverings with accessible cords from military housing units in which children under the age of nine reside.
Medal of Honor: Blumenthal included a provision that waives the statutory time limitation for the Medal of Honor to authorize the President to award it to servicemembers identified in a review directed by the Secretary of Defense earlier this year. Waiving the statute of limitations for the Medal of Honor is of particular importance to Senator Blumenthal because the Secretary of Defense is currently considering the posthumous nomination of Air Force Sergeant John Chapman for the Medal of Honor. Raised in Windsor Locks, Connecticut, Sergeant Chapman courageously served and made the ultimate sacrifice to protect his fellow war fighters and our nation. If the President decides to award the Medal of Honor to Sergeant Chapman, this NDAA provision would provide the authority to waive the five-year statutory time limitation for him to receive the award. Senator Blumenthal not only fought for this provision, but also led a letter to the Secretary of Defense supporting Sergeant Chapman’s heroism and candidacy.