HILL AIR FORCE BASE — While a presidential veto threat has made the status of next year’s federal defense bill somewhat uncertain, there is much at stake for Hill Air Force Base in the massive piece of legislation.
Late last week, the U.S. Senate passed the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act — a nearly 4,000-page bill that authorizes more than $740 billion to be spent on American defense programs.
Perhaps most significantly for Northern Utah, the bill funds the Department of Defense’s Ground Based Strategic Deterrent program, America’s next generation of nuclear deterrence, in excess of $1.6 billion.
Headquartered at Hill, the GBSD program will replace the United States’ current land-based ballistic missile force, which is currently made up of some 400 Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles. The full program is estimated to cost more than $80 billion over its 30-year lifespan. The total cost includes the acquisition of missiles, new command and control systems, and large-scale renovations of launch control centers.
Currently being built up near Hill’s southwest border with Roy, the program will eventually include six new buildings with over 1 million square feet of office and lab facilities. In August 2019, Northrop Grumman broke ground on the Roy Innovation Center, which will serve as future headquarters for Northrop’s work supporting the program.
Officials from Hill and members of Utah’s congressional delegation have said repeatedly that the program will be the largest source of growth across the base during the next several years, bringing as many as 4,000 new employees to the northern Wasatch Front, along with the construction of the new buildings.
The 2021 bill includes $86 million in GBSD-related construction at Hill.
The NDAA also includes a measure that would remove the 180-day waiting period required of retiring military members wanting to compete for civil service jobs within the Pentagon. Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, and Rep. Rob Bishop, R- Utah, have both been strong backers of the measure, saying the mandatory waiting period is preventing military installations from hiring the most qualified candidates for civilian jobs.
The bill also includes a request that the defense department complete a report on potential reductions to its Chemical and Biological Defense program, which includes Dugway Proving Ground in Tooele, to detail the impact that cuts would have on national security threats.
A provision to support the acquisition and maintenance of F-35s at Hill is also in the bill. Hill operates the Air Force’s first F-35 combat-ready fighter wing, and the 388th and 419th fighter wings have 78 individual F-35s, divided equally among three squadrons.
Despite support from both sides of the aisle, President Donald Trump has threatened to veto the bill.
According to Reuters, Trump has previously objected to the bill’s failure to repeal Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which protects technology companies like Google, Twitter and Facebook from liability on content that appears on their platforms. The president also wants to block a measure in the bill that would remove the names of Confederate generals from military bases and opposes parts of the legislation that could slow plans to withdraw troops from Afghanistan and Germany, according to Reuters.
Romney has been a strong proponent of limiting the German troop reduction.
“At a time when we should be focused on linking arms with our allies to address threats from Russia and China, a withdrawal of our troops would be a grave error with harmful and lasting consequences,” Romney said in a statement. “This provision signals support for our friend Germany and reflects a commitment to our mutual relationship, which is vital to our national security interests and our ability to deter foreign aggression.”
Romney said the NDAA is “one of the most significant pieces of legislation Congress passes each year” and noted that this year’s version is critical in supporting work at Hill and keeping the country safe.