The House and Senate both passed their versions of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and are ready to begin negotiations to merge the bills. The Senate passed S. 4049 on July 23 with a bipartisan 86-14 vote. The bill provides a total of $740.5 billion for defense programs within the United States, which includes $636.4 billion for the Department of Defense, $25.9 billion for the Department of Energy’s national security programs and $69 billion for the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO).
Some highlights of the Senate NDAA include:
The Senate Report requires the DOD to develop a framework to improve the effectiveness of cyber forward operations. This will deploy US teams to other countries to prevent harmful cyber activity within their own networks. The bill also directs Cyber Command to expand its efforts to develop tools and techniques for offensive cyber operations. It allows the DOD to provide financial assistance to manufacturing extension centers overseen by the National Institute of Standards and Technology to support delivery of services for small manufacturers. However, this authority would end five years after the bill’s enactment. Due to the Coronavirus the DOD could waive requirements related to the provision of health-care items and services for 60 days during a declared public health or other emergency, including by deferring a beneficiary’s coverage termination. Waivers could be renewed for additional 60-day periods during an emergency declaration. The department would also have to develop a plan to protect the mental health of service members during the pandemic. The department would have to provide a National Guard member separating from active service with transitional health benefits if their service supported the government response to the pandemic.
The House passed their version of the NDAA on July 21 in a bipartisan vote of 295-125. The House bill provides $740.5 billion for FY21, including $635.4 billion in base funding and $69 billion in OCO funding. This bill also includes:
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic the House bill creates a Pandemic Preparedness and Resilience National Security Fund, directing $1 billion to efforts to proactively increase the country’s ability to prepare for and respond to future pandemics. It also creates the Small Business Industrial Base Resiliency Program and the DOD to purchase or make commitments to purchase materials or services from small business in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This initiative is intended to support the small businesses and domestic manufactures by addressing important issues relating to the needs and support of small businesses in response to the pandemic, as well as to identify and assist with supply chain vulnerabilities related to the pandemic for small businesses. In terms of cyber, the bill extends the Solarium Commission for two additional years and provides full responsibility for certification and coordination to the Principal Cyber Advisor. The bill adds $600 million in funding for science and technology and another $50 million for additional funding for biotechnology and pandemic preparedness. The bill also will require the DOD to rename military bases and forts that bear the names of Confederate officials.
Twitter, which just experienced the worst breach in its 14-year history, is working to uncover whether its employees were victims of sophisticated phishing schemes or if they deliberately let hackers into access high-profile accounts and has assured the public that there is no evidence that attackers accessed the passwords of its users. Speculation over the identity of the hack’s perpetrators and the purpose of the attack has caused the government to respond. The FBI has opened an investigation into the hacking attack, an act that is normally triggered by national security threats or attacks from foreign adversaries. Meanwhile in Congress, Senate Commerce Chairman Roger Wicker (R-MS) asked Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey to brief the panel’s staff about the incident and Rep. James Comer (R-KY), the ranking Republican on the House Oversight and Reform Committee, requested information from Dorsey about the hack.
Of the $10.5 billion provided to the DoD aspart of the CARES Act, the department is spending the funding as follows:
The HEROES Act that passed the House on May 15 contained $200 billion for “essential” workers, including medical staff and first responders as well as workers at defense plants with key Pentagon contracts, like Electric Boat. While this bill is not being considered in the senate, some of that funding may make it into a negotiated bill expected in late June or early July.
The Senate Armed Services Committee is planning to pass its version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) before the July 4th holiday. The Committee is planning to mark up its version of the bill the week of June 8. Unlike the House, which marks up its version of the annual NDAA in a marathon open markup, the Senate typically speeds through the process behind closed doors. The House Committee has not set a specific date, but now that the proxy voting is allowed in that chamber, the dates will be set soon. As for details of the bills, both chairmen are keeping quiet. As for funding levels, Ranking Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX) favors maxing out the 2021 NDAA to $740 billion, the level approved by Congress and the White House last year in a bipartisan budget agreement that did away with the final two years of sequestration cuts from 2011 while Chairman Adam Smith (D-WA) is more reserved on those top numbers. In addition, to COVID-19 response, the bill will include several cybersecurity initiatives that were recommended in the recently announced report issued by the Solarium Commission headed by Senator Angus King (I-ME) and Mike Gallagher (R-WI) report that advocates a new strategic approach to cybersecurity of layered cyber deterrence. The desired end state of layered cyber deterrence is a reduced probability and impact of cyberattacks of significant consequence by shaping behavior, denying benefits and imposing costs.
Lockheed Martin said it will temporarily slow production of the F-35, the Pentagon’s costliest weapons system, because of subcontractor parts being delayed as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Starting last week and possibly continuing through August, Lockheed said it will divide around 2,500 union workers at its plant in Fort Worth, Texas, into three teams, each working shifts of two weeks and one week off to avert layoffs.
Women are being encouraged to pursue pilot positions as the height and weight requirements are being eliminated within the Air Force. Previously, the requirement of 5'4" to 6'5" in height and 34 to 40 inches in sitting height could be waived, the restrictions eliminated about 44% of the U.S. female population ages 20 to 29. Instead of the height standards, medical and operations teams will now apply an anthropometric screening process (that takes into account weight, body mass index, body circumferences, and skinfold thickness) to applicants to place them in an aircraft that they can safely fly.
The Senate by unanimous consent confirmed Kenneth Braithwaite to be secretary of the Navy and USS Theodore Roosevelt is underway for the first time since its deployment was interrupted for 55 days due to a COVID-19 outbreak that infected almost a quarter of the crew. With more than half of its crew (all of whom had to test negative twice in order to re-board the ship), the aircraft carrier left the pier at Naval Base Guam for drills and training to return to deployment under new procedures. These procedures include constant disinfection of the ship, as well as having each of the 3,000 sailors aboard wear a mask and fill out a daily questionnaire that can help identify flu-like symptoms and contain any possible infections aboard the ship. Despite this crackdown, last week 14 sailors had once again tested positive for the virus, weeks after they had cleared their self-isolation and twice tested negative, indicating the asymptomatic stage can be the most dangerous as it enables broad spread of the virus. The outbreak initially infected 1,200 of the 4,865 sailors aboard and resulted in the death of Aviation Ordnanceman Chief Petty Officer Charles Robert Thacker Jr. The service is in the midst of an investigation into the firing of former TR commander Capt. Brett Crozier for sharing his concerns about the COVID-19 outbreak outside the chain of command after he received no order to dock following his initial reports of the virus on the carrier as well as issues surrounding the wider operational chain of command. The report is due to Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday on May 27.
President Trump will withdraw the U.S. from the Open Skies Treaty, citing repeated Russian violations of the agreement going back as far as 2005. Withdrawal from the treaty, an agreement among 35 nations including the U.K., Russia, and Germany to permit surveillance flights over members’ territories to encourage transparency, will take effect in six months. U.S. consulted allies before making the decision to withdraw, however, leading congressional Democrats in April urged Trump not to withdraw from the treaty. This follows Trump’s decision last year to pull out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, a Cold War pact banning short- and medium-range missiles, as well as the Iran nuclear agreement. The remaining and only arms control treaty between the U.S. and Russia, the New START, which limits the number of nuclear missiles each nation can deploy, expires in February 2021 and there is uncertainty how the administration would handle it next year.
The number of Veterans Affairs patients who have died from coronavirus complications rose to more than 1,000 one week ago, even as the number of active cases of the illness within the department’s medical system continued to decline. That number excludes the 30 VA employees who have died from the illness. More than 12,000 VA patients have contracted the COVID-19 virus since early March. That total increased almost 11 percent in one week alone mid-May.
Outside of COVID-19, critical combat care and prolonged field care remain top priorities for the Army Futures Command. G2G talked with several portfolio managers within DoD over the past few weeks and heard the same message about priorities, directing of funding and the upcoming MHSRS that is still planned to take place mid-August in Florida. With 53,000 veterans having suffered significant physical injuries from explosions and gunshot wounds, many need surgeries, long-term rehabilitation and requisite medical devices and tools. Four in five of these injured veterans will have complex head, neck and extremity trauma for the rest of their lives. While improvements in military gear, armor, training and medicine have drastically reduced the death rates of service members, there has been an increase in lifelong injuries, which account for nearly two-thirds of discharges from the military in recent conflicts and nearly two-thirds of the dollars devoted to health care for veterans and service members. Recognizing there are still too few treatment options for these traumas, the military is investing in regenerative medicine therapeutics and tissue-engineering implants for wounded warriors. The Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs (CDMRP) and initiatives such as the Multi-Agency Tissue Engineering Science (MATES) Interagency Working Group have laid the groundwork for DoD, VA, NIH and NSF to make these investments. Together, they have engaged in, conceptualized and coordinated their efforts to invest nearly $3 billion in the promise of complex, multidisciplinary projects and solutions that may make it possible to one day regenerate limbs and grow new organs in place of injured body parts. As programs, such as ARMI/BioFabLab and the JPC-8/CRMRP which runs the $10 million Regenerative Medicine Focused Research Award (RMFRA) as its next iteration of the Armed Forces Institute of Regenerative Medicine (AFIRM), AFIRM III, DoD will continue to support the development of regenerative medicine solutions.
For Phase III coronavirus response legislation, the White House is requesting more than $25 billion for the Defense, Veterans Affairs and State departments and the Coast Guard as part of an emergency funding package to replenish federal agencies as they work to blunt the coronavirus pandemic. The $48 billion total proposal includes $8.3 billion for the Pentagon to "mitigate the risk of COVID-19 to United States servicemembers, their dependents, and DOD civilians; minimize the impacts of the virus on strategic mission readiness; and support national response efforts." Another $16.6 billion would primarily go toward bolstering testing and treatment in the VA medical system. The Coast Guard would receive $128 million — $48 million would fund six months' worth of protective equipment and $81 million to mobilize reservists. The State Department would receive $115 million under the proposal.
As for the regular appropriations process, President Trump sent his FY2021 budget proposal to Congress on February 10th totaling $740 billion. This contrasts with $738 billion in defense funding for FY2020, which is roughly a $20 billion increase over FY2019, but less than the $750 billion Trump called for in his FY2020 budget proposal. The defense FY21 budget includes $637 billion in base spending and an additional $69 billion for operations. For civilian agencies, the budget proposes cuts that overall fall between 5-7% below the overall FY20 civilian agency total, depending on the baseline and cuts for some agencies are 20% or more. This is the fifth year in a row that the president has recommended such cuts, however Congress is expected to reject them as it has done in each of the previous four years.
Overall, the president’s budget aims to retire older warplanes, drones, and ships, including some less than two decades old, freeing up hundreds of billions of dollars to develop and buy new weapons that defense officials say are necessary to win a war against China and Russia—all in line with the 2018 National Defense Strategy. The Trump administration’s first two defense budgets spent heavily on readiness, and particularly on training and maintenance for forces. Now the shift is toward developing a new generation of weapons: $107 billion in the FY21 proposal although procurement would drop to $137 billion from $144 billion.
For the second consecutive year, the Pentagon is proposing $109 billion in R&D funding—a $2 billion increase over FY20. This would be the largest R&D budget ever requested and is very focused on the development of crucial emerging technologies. Meanwhile, procurement spending would decrease $6.8 billion from the current levels to $136.8 billion. The budget does include $11.4 billion to purchase 79 F-35 jets, which is two fewer than planned last year. It would also request 12 of the new F-15EX plane that the Pentagon started to buy last year as a hedge against F-35 delays, which is up from eight in FY20. It also would fund $110 million to continue development of a “Dual Capable” nuclear weapon-carrying F-35—an increase of about $40 million from FY20. The plane is scheduled to be nuclear-certified by 2024.
Air Force and Space Force:
The budget would boost funding for nuclear weapons systems, including intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarines and F-35 jets as well as provide more money for emerging technology research and the Space Force. The budget includes a $15.3 billion transitional budget transferred from the Air Force to the new Space Force, that includes space-related weapons systems and operations, sustainment, support and civilian support costs—an increase from $40 million in FY20. Of the $15.3 billion, $10.3 billion would be for the Space Force research, development, test and evaluation of systems and $2.4 billion for procurement and $2.6 billion for operations and maintenance. The FY21 budget would also fund $4.4 billion for the new Columbia-class nuclear missile submarine, which begins construction this year—a $2.1 billion increase over FY20. The Pentagon is also promoting the creation of a Space National Guard for already existing state military space units and personnel as they transition to the new active-duty Space Force service. Gen. John Raymond, the Space Force chief, considered five scenarios for managing 1,244 Air National Guard space personnel in six states and the territory of Guam, including making no changes. Moving them into an independent new Space National Guard is a top recommendation for FY21.
Hypersonics is also prioritized in this budget, just as it was last year. The DOD set up a Joint Hypersonics Transition Office with FY20 funding and would continue to prioritize R&D projects, develop and implement an integrated science and technology roadmap for hypersonics, and establish a university consortium for hypersonics research and workforce development. Another continuing focus is implementation of the Securing American Science and Technology Act, which was incorporated into last year’s National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and funded with $3 million. It directs DoD and other federal agencies to coordinate their efforts to protect federally funded research from exploitation by foreign governments and to sponsor a National Academies roundtable on the subject due to concerns US government grants are funding adversaries.
The DoD budget would also continue to increase funding for A.I. It would include a nearly 8% increase for DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) efforts and continues the A.I. pathfinders of the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center and Project Maven. In addition, the DoD's other digital modernization efforts, such as mature man-machine teaming, cloud and big data applications to improve information integrity and increased network resiliency, are all working closely with joint cyberspace operations. Related, the DoD is establishing a new consortium to conduct electronic spectrum-related research and prototyping in a wide variety of advanced technology fields using an Other Transaction Agreement (OTA), according to a solicitation released on March 10th. The office of the undersecretary of defense, research, and engineering (USD R&E) is directing the Army’s contracting command to establish an OTA with a consortium to be known as the Spectrum Forward Consortium. Consortia are basically sellers’ clubs clustered around specific research areas and are created as a way to group companies by technology area. Through OTAs, the government will solicit proposals for research and prototype work totaling $2.5 billion with a focus on these areas:
• Ubiquitous connectivity
• Cognitive spectrum access & sharing
• Radio frequency-free space optics cooperative systems
• Autonomous systems (ground/air/maritime)
• Internet of things (narrow band/critical/massive)
• Electronic warfare intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR)
• Software-defined radios/networking/architectures
• Radar systems
• Digital signal processing
Within the Defense Health Agency, it plans to restructure 50 military hospitals and clinics to better support wartime readiness of military personnel and to improve clinical training for medical forces who deploy in support of combat operations around the world. Now that all facilities are now run by DHA, as part of the 2017 and 2018 NDAAs, it will work to ensure all function similarly. Of the 343 facilities in the United States initially screened, 77 were selected for additional assessment, with 21 identified for no changes. Of the 50 facilities ultimately designated for restructuring, 37 outpatient clinics now open to all beneficiaries will eventually see primarily only active-duty personnel. Active-duty family members, retirees and their families who currently receive care at those facilities will transition over time to TRICARE's civilian provider network.
The House Committee on Veteran Affairs recently passed over 22 bills through the Committee, including H.R. 4613, the VA Reporting Transparency Act, which would require the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) to grant public access to VA reports requested by Congress through a searchable website; and H.R. 6140, the Veterans in STEM Act, H.R. 6140, which would provide incentives for Veterans to enter STEM programs.
On March 13th, House Committee Chairman Mark Takano (D-CA) announced efforts to address the coronavirus. The plans include saving costs for COVID-19 testing and medical visits; continue to monitor oversight of the VA’s emergency preparedness and protect student veterans from having their stipends lowered or other benefit interruptions due to the VA’s efforts to combat COVID-19. Chairman Takano also announced that all hearings between March 23rd and April 3rd will be postponed.
On March 16th, the Senate passed Senators Moran (R-KS) and Tester’s (D-MT) legislation, S.3503, which would ensure student veterans keep their GI Bill benefits when colleges close due to the COVID-19. On March 12th, Senator Tester introduced the bicameral Fair Care for Vietnam Veterans Act, which would require the VA to provide benefits to veterans who are suffering from Bladder Cancer, Hypothyroidism, Parkinsonism and Hypertension due to their exposure to Agent Orange.