With the Fiscal Year 2024 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) having passed the Senate, our nation is taking a necessary step to secure our freedom at home and abroad. For 63 consecutive years, Congress has passed the NDAA to keep America strong and her enemies on their back foot. In this year’s bill, I was able to secure many victories for the Volunteer State that will boost our military and research installations and give our servicemembers the tools they need to keep our homeland safe.
Fort Campbell plays a critical role in our nation’s defense. It is home to the Army’s only Air Assault Division, which is among the military’s most-deployed contingency forces. This bill will authorize the long overdue planning and design of a new air traffic control tower at Fort Campbell and secure funding to support a multipurpose training range. Additionally, the bill contains increased funding to support and modernize the AH-64 Apache Helicopter, the backbone of our Army’s helicopter fleet, as well as provide funding for CH-47 Block II Chinook helicopters, the Army’s only heavy-lift helicopter.
This year, the Senate renewed its promise to promote innovation by empowering servicemembers to help develop new military equipment. Through the Pathfinder Program, soldiers at Fort Campbell will continue to collaborate directly with elite research teams at Vanderbilt University, the University of Memphis, Tennessee Technological University, and the University of Tennessee at Knoxville to develop cutting-edge equipment. Recently, Tennessee researchers designed a lightweight exoskeleton for soldiers to wear that would allow them to do heavy lifting without hurting their backs and increase their endurance. Soldier-led innovation is what will keep Tennessee and America at the forefront of military preparedness.
As part of this year’s focus on innovation, I supported improved and expanded research capabilities and technological development at Arnold Air Force Base in Tullahoma. The defense bill also bolsters operations at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge by authorizing funding for the construction of a uranium processing facility which is key to strengthening our national security and reducing the global threat of weapons of mass destruction.
It is critical that we look beyond immediate threats and begin planning for the future of warfare. 21st-century threats require 21st-century solutions. In fiscal year 2021, I established a pilot program that allows the National Guard to provide assistance to state and local governments as well as critical infrastructure in the event of a cyberattack. This year’s NDAA expands this program to allow qualified civilian personnel to assist in shoring up vulnerabilities and responding to cyberattacks.
We must also fight for those who put their lives on the line to defend freedom. That is why the Senate authorized a 5.2 percent pay raise for our servicemembers and approved my program to fund better access to breast cancer screenings for female veterans. The bill also requires the Department of Defense to submit a revised pay table to increase junior enlisted pay.
The wins for our country’s military don’t stop there. The bill includes the FINISH IT Act, which will guarantee our border wall panels are put to good use. In a win against the woke Left, we included a provision to eliminate Department of Defense “equity” initiatives that are fueling an unprecedented recruiting crisis. These are huge accomplishments that will equip our military to face our adversaries around the world.
The challenges posed by the New Axis of Evil—Communist China, Iran, Russia, and North Korea—make this renewed focus critical. The defense bill creates a new U.S. training program with Taiwan and funds new weaponry, including Tomahawk and Mk48 torpedoes, which are essential to keeping Beijing in check. Importantly, the bill mandates a complete public accounting of Chinese military spending to alert the international community of the CCP’s global military goals. This is crucial to combating their growing power and regional influence.
While China threatens peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific, Russia continues to bombard Ukraine, Iran relentlessly pursues nuclear weapons, and North Korea sets new standards for instability. Amid these constantly evolving threats, it is critical that our military has the resources it needs to protect the homeland and our national interests abroad.
A strong America is an America that can deter her enemies by putting her readiness, capabilities, and determination on display. By passing our version of this year’s NDAA, the Senate has brought our nation one crucial step closer toward building a safer world.