defense

The latest news and legislative activity affecting national defense

July 25, 2019
Legislative updates

New SECDEF:

The Senate confirmed Mark Esper as the next Secretary of Defense, replacing Jim Mattis, who resigned in December, and is expected to confirm General Mark Milley as the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who is the current Army chief of staff, on July 25. On Esper's first full day in office he briefed reporters on filling Pentagon vacancies, the budget deal and the situation in the Middle East. He noted that of 59 jobs requiring Senate confirmation, 14 of them are filled mostly by actings along with some other fully vacant positions so that is a top priority. He said, "738 is a good number," regarding the budget deal’s defense topline of $738 billion.

Saudi Arms Sales:

Trump vetoed three bipartisan measures passed by Congress intended to block arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, stating “This resolution would weaken America’s global competitiveness and damage the important relationships we share with our allies and partners.”

Rare-Earth Materials:

On July 22, President Trump ordered the Defense Department to spur the production of a slew of rare-earth magnets used in consumer electronics, military hardware and medical research (singling out magnets made of neodymium, iron and boron and those made with samarium and cobalt) due to concerns about China restricting exports of the products. Trump invoked the 69-year-old Defense Production Act -- once used to preserve American steelmaking capacity -- to remedy what “a shortfall” in the production of the super-strong magnets made with rare-earth minerals neodymium and samarium. That law allows the president to prioritize contracts for materials, equipment and services in order to preserve or build up domestic manufacturing capabilities since this is such a niche field, many businesses haven’t made this investment. It has been invoked to compel purchases of semiconductor manufacturing equipment so companies could churn out radiation-hardened microelectronics used by the military. It has also been deployed to finance research and procurement projects in lithium ion batteries, lightweight ammunition and other technologies.

Cybersecurity:

Katie Arrington, a Republican who lost in her campaign for a South Carolina House seat last year to a Democrat, Rep. Joe Cunningham after beating incumbent Rep. Mark Sanford in the primary -- a Republican who had repeatedly criticized the president – was appointed director of new Chief Information Security Office under Kevin Fahey, assistant defense secretary for acquisition. Fahey is very concerned that our adversaries are increasingly focused on using cyber to reduce the effectiveness of the DoD weapon systems, critical infrastructure and supply chain security so CISO will focus on better responding to cyber threats.

VETERANS

Veterans’ Health:

On July 23, the House passed legislation authorizing an Energy Department program that uses high-performance computing to research veterans’ health-care data under a modified version of H.R. 617 introduced by Rep. Ralph Norman (R-SC). The Energy Department would have to establish a research program using artificial intelligence and high-performance computing to help the Veterans Affairs Department identity health risks for veterans, using DNA samples from veterans. The Energy Department would be authorized to use artificial intelligence, modeling, machine learning, data analytics, and predictive analysis to develop new algorithms for disease treatment and recovery. The department also could enter into reimbursable agreements with the VA and other entities to expand the use of its research. It would require the department to carry out research to also help other agencies and private entities solve “big data” challenges and consider applications from national laboratories, universities, and multi-institutional collaborations to support both initiatives. The funding authorized would total $15 million from FY2020 through FY2023.

The Energy Department and the VA announced a similar initiative, known as MVP CHAMPION, in May 2017 and has strong bipartisan support on Capitol Hill. The VA at the time had already enrolled more than 560,000 veteran volunteers who provided DNA samples and granted access to their electronic health records. The Military Construction-VA funding for FY2019 (Public Law 115-244) included $27 million in VA research funds for the program. A report from the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee also states support for this effort. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee approved similar legislation (S. 143) from Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) unanimously on July 16.

July 11, 2019
Legislative updates

House NDAA Update
The defense authorization bill (H.R. 2500) approved by the House Armed Services Committee, would authorize $727.6 billion in discretionary spending, an almost $3 billion increase from the panel’s own calculations, according to the Congressional Budget Office. The CBO released the score for the must-pass measure with the House set to vote on it this week. More than 600 amendments were filed to that bill. The report accompanying the defense authorization bill states that the measure is “consistent with the overall national defense spending level of $733 billion projected in the fiscal 2019 Future Years Defense Program, and therefore would authorize approximately $724.9 billion in discretionary spending for the national defense programs within the committee’s jurisdiction, including approximately $69.0 billion of Overseas Contingency Operations funding.” The CBO is basing its estimate on the assumption that the bill would be enacted near the start of FY2020. H.R. 2500 would specifically authorize $727.6 billion for 2020; of that amount, $726.9 billion would be for defense programs, and $0.7 billion would be for nondefense programs. The Pentagon would be allowed to buy 90 F-35s and eight upgraded F-15 EX fighter aircraft under the $733 billion authorization bill approved by the House Armed Services Committee earlier this month. The Pentagon would be authorized to spend $633 billion in regular funds and another $69 billion in Overseas Contingency Operations money under the measure. The Energy Department would be allowed to spend $22.7 billion. The measure would also permit a 3.1% pay raise for troops.

Senate Defense Bill Passes
The Senate passed its $750 billion defense authorization measure that would boost Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighters and Boeing F-15 EXs, while delaying efforts to rein in President Donald Trump’s war powers amid rising tensions with Iran. The bill passed 86-8.


Senate Democrats have considered the must-pass annual defense authorization bill (S. 1790) an opportunity to resolve a long-standing fight over whether Trump and other presidents abused their power in taking the country into war. Democrats will be able to vote today on an amendment sponsored by Democratic Sens. Tom Udall (D-NM) and Tim Kaine (D-VA) that would block funds for military action against Iran without explicit authorization from Congress. The bill would allow $642.5 billion for the Defense Department’s regular budget, and $75.9 billion in war funds. The measure authorizes $23.2 billion for national security programs within the Energy Department. It also counts $8.4 billion in other defense-related activities to reach the total of $750 billion. The Trump administration requested almost $174 billion in war funds not subject to the annual cap on defense spending. The Senate measure instead would move a $97.9 billion authorization into the Pentagon’s regular budget. The bill would also authorize a 3.1% pay increase for troops. It also would offer Trump and the Pentagon a win on their efforts to build barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border by authorizing $3.6 bilion that could replace money pulled from the military’s construction budget to pay for the work.


The Pentagon would see 94 Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, a boost of 16 planes above the Pentagon request. The panel would also authorize $948 million for eight upgraded Boeing F-15 EX aircraft.

DoD Plans to Cut 18,000 Uniformed Health Positions
The Defense Department’s 2020 budget proposes the Defense Health Program reduce nearly 18,000 personnel — a 22 percent decrease compared to the size of the active duty medical force in 2019. Senior officials indicated the department intends to convert a large number of military medical billets to civilian ones so that it can redirect uniformed manpower toward more direct warfighting functions. But there are no corresponding increases for civilian staff in the 2020 budget. In fact, their numbers would shrink slightly as well. Although DoD has determined it needs the military manpower for other operational and modernization priorities, it hasn’t yet determined how it will replace the medical care that’s no longer being delivered by those military members. Defense officials say around 2,000 of their currently-authorized medical billets are already vacant. The military services plan to move the remaining roughly 16,000 into other non-medical areas over the next three-to-four years, mostly through attrition.

Opening DOD to Venture Capitalism
Long kept out of one of the Pentagon’s coveted innovation programs, small companies financed through venture capital investments would have a way to sell their technology to the military under legislation (H.R. 3014, the Small Business Act to Improve Innovation in Defense Procurement) proposed by Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX), Ranking on the House Services Committee. The proposal expected to be offered as an amendment to the House NDAA that is being marked up next week would create a pilot program to allow innovative companies to be eligible for the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program. In 2003, the courts ruled that companies with more than 50% venture capital ownership were ineligible for grants given under that program, effectively shutting them out of the DoD. With Congress’ help there’s a waiver that allows companies owned by domestic investors to participate but the Pentagon has never used it, essentially turning away innovative businesses with promising military and commercial technologies. Thornberry’s proposal would also increase the Pentagon’s engagement with commercial tech companies and allow for new technologies to come out of universities and defense laboratories and introduce small businesses to cybersecurity practices early on in the process. Separately, Thornberry will seek to ensure that the Pentagon enforces reforms that Congress has enacted—63 of those were authored by Thornberry when he was Chairman. He is also proposing to withhold funding if the Pentagon doesn’t make progress on key provisions, including development of a policy for defense business systems, establishment of an intellectual property policy, and the overhauling the Fourth Estate -- the moniker for defense support agencies and implementing policies for rapid prototyping and rapid fielding of weapons.

Storm Damage Impacting Military Bases
Heather Wilson, the outgoing Air Force secretary, thinks the Defense Department desperately needs Congress to quickly bankroll recovery from recent storm damage at military bases, which officials say will cost nearly $10 billion to fix. The pending $19.1 billion disaster aid supplemental bill that can aid Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida, Camp Lejeune in North Carolina and Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska. The military services have already shifted scores of millions of dollars from other projects to address the most pressing disaster damage. Without getting at least some of the rest of the money soon, more construction, training and other activities will have to be curtailed, officials have argued. Secretary Wilson also said that readiness rates for F-22 Raptor fighter jets have been adversely affected by the Tyndall damage.

Barrett Nominated for Air Force Secretary
President Trump recently nominated an aerospace executive and former ambassador to Finland to be the next secretary of the Air Force. Barbara Barrett, 68, of Arizona, served as ambassador to Finland in 2008 during President George W. Bush's administration. She also previously served as deputy administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration and was vice chairman of the U.S. Civil Aeronautics Board. She was previously picked for this position in 2003 by President Bush but never officially considered since the AF secretary John Roche, who was to become Army secretary, had his nomination blocked in the Senate and remained at AF. Barrett, an attorney, serves on a number of boards, including for RAND Corporation, the Smithsonian Institution and the California Institute of Technology, and she's held a number of senior executive positions for Fortune 500 companies.

May 31, 2019
Legislative updates

Defense Funding

The Defense Department would receive $690.2 billion in discretionary appropriations for fiscal 2020 under a draft measure from the House Appropriations Committee – an increase of $15.8 billion above last year and $8 billion below the request. The measure, which the Defense Subcommittee approved by voice vote on May 15, includes $68.1 billion in Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) funds that aren’t subject to discretionary spending caps. That amount would be $96.2 billion less than the president requested, which is opposed by Committee Republicans. Details include:

The FY2020 Military Personnel recommendation is $149.438 billion in base funding for active, reserve and National Guard military personnel, $1.854 billion below the budget request and $3.368 billion above FY2019 enacted level.

  • Funds active duty end strength of 1,337,500, a decrease of 600 below current year and a decrease of 2,000 below the request. Funds reserve component end strength of 800,800, a decrease of 16,900 below current year and equal to the request.
  • Provides full funding necessary to support the proposed 3.1 percent military pay raise.
  • Increases funding above the request for the Department and Services’ Sexual Assault Prevention and Response programs for a total of $297 million, an increase of $38 million above the request.

The FY2020 Operation and Maintenance recommendation is $206.691 billion in base funding, an increase of $82.746 billion above the budget request and $13.003 billion above the FY2019 enacted level.

  • Provides $1.055 billion above the request for key readiness programs to prepare forces, including the National Guard and reserve, for combat operations and other peacetime missions: flying hours, tank miles, and steaming days; equipment, aviation, and ship depot maintenance; training; spare parts; and base operations.
  • Provides $22.9 billion to the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force for depot maintenance, $2.3 billion above the fiscal year 2019 enacted level.

The FY2020 Procurement recommendation is $130.304 billion in base funding, an increase of $11.4 billion above the budget request and $5 billion below the FY2019 enacted level.

  • Provides $11.4 billion above the base funding request for increased investments in ground vehicles, aircraft, ships, munitions, and other equipment.

Aircraft

  • Funds 90 F-35 aircraft, 12 more than the request ($8.7 billion).
  • Funds eight F-15EX aircraft to recapitalize the F-15C/D fleet ($986 million).
  • Funds 73 UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters, 15 more than the fiscal year 2019 enacted level ($1.4 billion).
  • Funds 14 V-22 aircraft, four more than the request ($1.2 billion).
  • Funds nine P-8A Poseidon aircraft, three more than the request ($1.7 billion).
  • Funds 16 C/MC/KC-130J aircraft, four more than the request, including an additional 4 C-130Js for the Air Force Reserve ($1.4 billion).

Shipbuilding

  • Provides $21.7 billion to procure 11 Navy ships.
  • Funds are provided for three DDG-51 guided missile destroyers, two SSN-774 attack submarines, one Frigate, one Ford class aircraft carrier, two TAO fleet oilers, and two towing, salvage, and rescue ships.
  • Funds advance procurement of the first Columbia Class submarine ($1.6 billion).
  • Funds advance procurement for three Virginia Class submarines ($4.3 billion).
  • Funds one Ship to Shore Connector, one more than the request ($65 million).

Vehicles/Force Protection

  • Provides $249 million above the request to upgrade the Stryker vehicle by procuring 86 Stryker weapon systems (30mm cannons and weapon stations).
  • Funds the request for the upgrade of 165 Abrams tanks to the upgraded configuration ($1.75 billion).

Other

  • Provides $1.24 billion for four space launch services.
  • Provides $200 million to fully support Israeli Cooperative procurement programs (Iron Dome, David’s Sling, and Arrow).
  • Provides $425.9 million to procure 37 THAAD interceptors as requested.
  • Includes $1.3 billion for the National Guard and Reserve Equipment Account (NGREA).

The FY2020 RDT&E recommendation is $100.692 billion in base funding, an increase of $1.9 billion below the budget request and $5.7 billion above the FY2019 enacted level.

  • Invests in basic and applied scientific research, development, test and evaluation of new technologies and equipment, and supports the research community so forces will have the systems and equipment for tomorrow’s challenges.
  • Fully funds the Block 4 follow-on development of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter ($1.5 billion).
  • Fully funds the continued development of the Air Force’s B-21 bomber program ($3 billion).
  • Fully funds the Army’s Improved Turbine Engine Program ($206 million).
  • Funds the continued development of the Columbia class ballistic missile submarine ($419 million).
  • Fully funds the Army’s number one priority of Long Range Precision Fires ($418 million).
  • Provides $300 million for the Israeli cooperative research and development programs, including David’s Sling and Arrow-3.

Defense Health Programs

  • $33.46 billion plus $347.7 million for OCO/GWOT Requirements.
  • Adds $920 million for the congressionally directed medical research program.

Congressional Oversight

  • Rejects the President’s $98 billion OCO tactic, restoring funds to base accounts.
  • Prohibits the use of Defense funds for the President’s border wall at our troops’ expense.
  • Responds to the Department of Defense’s abuse of congressionally granted reprogramming privileges by reducing transfer authority from the $9.5 billion requested to $1.5 billion, and reducing thresholds for prior approval reprogrammings.
  • Prohibits the transfer of F-35 fighters to Turkey to prevent the exposure of cutting-edge U.S. technology to Russian missile systems.

Senate NDAA Authorization

The Senate held closed markup on May 22 and has not made public the bill report. The legislation totals $750 billion and contrasts with the $733 billion in funding that House leaders envision for national security programs. The Senate Armed Services Committee signaled in approving the bill on a bipartisan 25-2 vote it will head off battles over setting new budget caps. Instead of approving almost $174 billion in war funds not subject to the annual cap on defense spending, the Senate panel moved authorization of $97.9 billion into the Pentagon’s regular budget, leaving an overseas contingency operations account of $75.9 billion.

Overall, the Senate bill authorizes $642.5 billion for the Defense Department’s regular budget, and $75.9 billion in war funds. The measure allows $23.2 billion for national security programs within the Energy Department. The panel also counts $8.4 billion in other defense-related activities outside the committee’s jurisdiction to reach the total of $750 billion. The measure would authorize a 3.1 percent pay increase for troops. It also would offer President Donald Trump and the Pentagon a win on their efforts to build barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border by authorizing $3.6 billion that could replace money pulled from the military’s construction budget to pay for the work. More details are below.

Supporting our Troops and their Families

  • Includes numerous provisions that improve the quality of life for our military families—including extensive reforms to the Military Housing Privatization Initiative to address recent, egregious problems with the health and safety of private, on-base housing across the country.
  • Provides for a 3.1 percent pay raise for our troops and authorizes Active-Duty end strength at the administration-requested level.
  • Authorizes $18.07 billion in base and OCO funding, including $3.6 billion to replenish funds for military construction projects repurposed for the national emergency declared on the southern border, and $2.63 billion for disaster recovery on military installations.

Combat Advantage

The Senate NDAA includes many provisions to rebuild readiness, modernize our force, and preserve our status as the world’s preeminent military power. The bill authorizes funding for new battle-force ships, aircraft, combat vehicles and weapons, as well as for investments in our future fighting force. The legislation invests in critical research, development, test and evaluation programs, including hypersonic weapons and missile defense, and prioritizes our cybersecurity strategy and capabilities.

Building a More Efficient, Effective Pentagon

It continues to reform the Pentagon’s business operations, ensuring leaner, more effective administration that provides strong support to our Armed Forces. Building on reforms enacted in years past, the legislation:

  • Improves contracting processes
  • Expands the capacity and integrity of the defense industrial base
  • Adopts modern software development and information technology acquisition practices.
  • Makes reforms to increase oversight and improve procurement processes, which will ensure our military gets the equipment it needs faster and at a lower cost to the American taxpayer.

DoD Plans to Cut 18,000 Uniformed Health Positions

The Defense Department’s 2020 budget proposes the Defense Health Program reduce nearly 18,000 personnel — a 22 percent decrease compared to the size of the active duty medical force in 2019. Senior officials indicated the department intends to convert a large number of military medical billets to civilian ones so that it can redirect uniformed manpower toward more direct warfighting functions. But there are no corresponding increases for civilian staff in the 2020 budget. In fact, their numbers would shrink slightly as well. Although DoD has determined it needs the military manpower for other operational and modernization priorities, it hasn’t yet determined how it will replace the medical care that’s no longer being delivered by those military members. Defense officials say around 2,000 of their currently-authorized medical billets are already vacant. The military services plan to move the remaining roughly 16,000 into other non-medical areas over the next three-to-four years, mostly through attrition.

Opening DOD to Venture Capitalism

Long kept out of one of the Pentagon’s coveted innovation programs, small companies financed through venture capital investments would have a way to sell their technology to the military under legislation (H.R. 3014, the Small Business Act to Improve Innovation in Defense Procurement) proposed by Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX), Ranking on the House Services Committee. The proposal expected to be offered as an amendment to the House NDAA that is being marked up next week would create a pilot program to allow innovative companies to be eligible for the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program. In 2003, the courts ruled that companies with more than 50% venture capital ownership were ineligible for grants given under that program, effectively shutting them out of the DoD. With Congress’ help there’s a waiver that allows companies owned by domestic investors to participate but the Pentagon has never used it, essentially turning away innovative businesses with promising military and commercial technologies. Thornberry’s proposal would also increase the Pentagon’s engagement with commercial tech companies and allow for new technologies to come out of universities and defense laboratories and introduce small businesses to cybersecurity practices early on in the process. Separately, Thornberry will seek to ensure that the Pentagon enforces reforms that Congress has enacted—63 of those were authored by Thornberry when he was Chairman. He is also proposing to withhold funding if the Pentagon doesn’t make progress on key provisions, including development of a policy for defense business systems, establishment of an intellectual property policy, and the overhauling the Fourth Estate -- the moniker for defense support agencies and implementing policies for rapid prototyping and rapid fielding of weapons.

Storm Damage Impacting Military Bases

Heather Wilson, the outgoing Air Force secretary, thinks the Defense Department desperately needs Congress to quickly bankroll recovery from recent storm damage at military bases, which officials say will cost nearly $10 billion to fix. The pending $19.1 billion disaster aid supplemental bill that can aid Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida, Camp Lejeune in North Carolina and Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska. The military services have already shifted scores of millions of dollars from other projects to address the most pressing disaster damage. Without getting at least some of the rest of the money soon, more construction, training and other activities will have to be curtailed, officials have argued. Secretary Wilson also said that readiness rates for F-22 Raptor fighter jets have been adversely affected by the Tyndall damage.

Barrett Nominated for Air Force Secretary

President Trump recently nominated an aerospace executive and former ambassador to Finland to be the next secretary of the Air Force. Barrett, 68, of Arizona, served as ambassador to Finland in 2008 during President George W. Bush's administration. She also previously served as deputy administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration and was vice chairman of the U.S. Civil Aeronautics Board. She was previously picked for this position in 2003 by President Bush but never officially considered since the AF secretary John Roche, who was to become Army secretary, had his nomination blocked in the Senate and remained at AF. Barrett, an attorney, serves on a number of boards, including for RAND Corporation, the Smithsonian Institution and the California Institute of Technology, and she's held a number of senior executive positions for Fortune 500 companies.