WASHINGTON – House and Senate lawmakers unveiled their revised annual national defense policy and spending bill late Tuesday, going $45 billion above the Biden administration’s initial ask from March.
Congress is expected to vote Thursday on the $857.9 billion National Defense Authorization Act, which would boost spending on key weapons systems to keep pace with China’s rapidly advancing military — as well as replenish the Pentagon’s dwindling stocks after months of sending military aid to Ukraine.
The bill also makes key policy changes, increasing troop pay by 4.6% and funding a force of 452,000 soldiers, 354,000 sailors, 325,344 airmen, 177,000 Marines and 8,600 Space Force guardians.
It would also nix Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s August 2021 mandate that all service members be vaccinated against COVID-19 or face involuntary discharge. The White House opposed the latter, but 13 GOP senators vowed not to pass the annual spending bill if the shot order was not rescinded.
“This year’s agreement … focuses on the most vital national security priorities for the United States, including strategic competition with China and Russia; disruptive technologies like hypersonic weapons, artificial intelligence, 5G and quantum computing; modernizing our ships, aircraft and vehicles; and improving the lives of our service members and their families,” members of the House and Senate Armed Services committees said in the bill’s summary.
The legislation would assign $1 billion to resupply the national defense stockpile with “strategic and critical materials required to meet defense, industrial and essential civilian needs,” according to its executive summary. It would also order the stockpile’s manager to brief Congress on “strategic and critical materials shortfalls.”
The US has sent Ukraine nearly $20 billion in military aid since President Joe Biden took office last year – most of which was given after Russia invaded the country on Feb. 24. The new bill would authorize the US to send Ukraine another $800 million in aid over fiscal year 2023 – about $500 million more than the Pentagon requested.
“[The bill] expresses the sense of Congress that the United States must continue to assist Ukraine in its fight against the unjust and unprovoked attack by Russia,” the committees wrote.
The bill also calls for more than $2.7 billion to boost the defense industry’s capacity to produce munitions and weapons systems. The industry has struggled to meet delivery timelines as Russia’s invasion grinds on, and the bill would also order a study of industry production needs “to meet steady-state and surge requirements for propellants and explosives.”
The bill also directs money toward deterring potential war with Communist China. For example, it would direct the Pentagon to study future military needs in Hawaii, such as training areas, land-force ranges and other facilities “in light of posture changes in the Indo-Pacific region.”
It would also give $11.5 billion to the Pentagon’s Pacific Deterrence Initiative, whose funds are directed at investments in countering the China threat.
The bill also authorizes $32.6 billion for Navy shipbuilding – up $4.7 billion from last year. The Navy in March asked to build just nine more ships and cut 24, but the bill calls for 11 new ships and slashes the kill-list by half.
The 2018 NDAA ordered the Navy to achieve a 355-ship fleet “as soon as practicable,” but the service has made little progress toward that goal. The Navy had a total force of about 293 ships as of its latest update last week, while China has about 350 vessels with plans to build dozens more.
Congress and the Navy for years have been at odds over ship totals, with the sea service regularly campaigning to cut platforms, such as littoral combat ships, to afford advanced technologies. The idea is largely rebuked in Congress, which argues the LCS – first developed in 2008 – is too young for retirement.
Not all of the funding would go to the Pentagon. The bill also directs $30.3 billion to the Department of Energy, which oversees the nation’s nuclear weapons program. In addition to funding the roughly 5,428 nuclear warheads in the current US supply, it would support research and development of new systems to modernize the aging stockpile.
That’s particularly important as China is on pace to to grow its nuclear stockpile from its current 350 to at least 1,000 warheads by 2030, according to the Pentagon’s 2022 Nuclear Posture Review published in October.
“At a time of rising nuclear risks, a partial refurbishment strategy no longer serves our interests,” the document said. “We must develop and field a balanced, flexible stockpile capable of [keeping up with] pacing threats, responding to uncertainty, and maintaining effectiveness.”
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